The Scottish Vote and Indian Country

Should Scotland be its own nation? Instead of bayonets and bombs, the decision comes down to the ballot. Is there a lesson here for “quasi” sovereign Native American nations?

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What about Scotland? Will it vote to remain a part of the United Kingdom or go its own way? And, could this be a future for tribal nations?

Thursday’s vote — a simple “yes” or “no” — is the ultimate question and answer in democratic form. Should we be our own country?

Should we? Rarely do citizens get to vote “yes” or “no.” Most of human history is about the war that follows such outrageous demands. We spend lives trying to answer that a question, fought by those who are willing to die (and kill) to prove their authority.

That’s what’s remarkable about Scotland. This independence movement and the alternative (which is yet to be defined) are based on individual sovereignty expressed on a ballot.  The draft constitution says elegantly: “In Scotland, the people are sovereign.”

I was in Aberdeen in 2009 for a conference on sovereignty and saw this movement first-hand. I talked to people who were enthusiastic about Scottish Gaelic being taught alongside English. There already was a sense of national purpose, rethinking what a country could and should be in the 21st century.

Photo: Andy Rain/European Pressphoto Agency
The vote on the Scottish referendum for independence is, obviously, front page news in Scotland.

The notion of “devolution,” or returning power to Scotland, has been unfolding since a new prime minister, Tony Blair, fulfilled his election promise. The Scottish Act of 1998 provided the legislative structure. Blair told BBC that devolution would “show the whole of the United Kingdom that there is a better way that Britain can be governed, that we can bring power closer to the people, closer to the people's priorities and that we can give Scotland the ability to be a proud nation within the United Kingdom.”

A lot of folks hoped that would be that. Scotland would have “enough” power. Or to use that clunky phrase from American Indian law, be a “quasi sovereign.”

Not quite sovereign. And not quite free.

So Scotland did enact laws better suited to its citizenry. For example, university education is free in Scotland, but not in England.

But the rub remains the “quasi” part. The not-quite-free part.

The United Kingdom is run by a conservative government, while Scotland is European socialist. There are real differences in policy and culture. (The current prime minister, David Cameron, says governments do change, thus encouraging Scots to wait for another day and another government.)

No matter which way the vote goes Thursday this will not be the end of the call for sovereignty.

If there is a no vote, then the promises that London made to send more authority north will likely follow. Or, if Scotland votes yes, then that process of “devolution” will speed up in Northern Ireland and Wales.

Then this question about country, and what a country should be, is ripe for discussion. Do the lines on a map make sense? Are they forever? Across the planet other people are also making their demands for self-determination, for sovereignty.

This week the Catalan people of Spain are set to pass their own resolution demanding a state. “Self-government for Catalonia is founded on the historic rights of the Catalan people, in their ancient institutions, and in Catalan legal tradition,” says the Catalan Sovereignty Declaration. That movement, like Scotland, would like a resolution through the ballot. Democracy as the final rule.

Could this movement even spread across the ocean? When you think about it, what’s the difference in the self-rule of Scotland to that of Hawaii? Or Alaska? Or Nunavut? Or even Navajo?

In Scotland, the people are sovereign.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. This article is from his blog, “Trahant Reports.”

 

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