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Expel the nation state to the history books !

Will Scotland give a helping hand ?

, by Åsa Gunvén

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The poor old nation state is being kicked at from above and below. After decades of globalization and European integration the old monarch’s sovereignty crown is not shining quite as brightly anymore. And within the castle it seems to be movement toward uprising with a majority of Scots now being in favour of independence. Is this, together with similar movements in Catalonia and elsewhere a sign that we are indeed moving towards a Europe of its regions? And might this movement together with globalization put the very concept of the traditional nation state into question?


Last month the opinion polls showed that more then 50% of the Scottish were in favour of independence. With the Scottish elections coming up in spring 2007, and with the Scottish National Party (SNP) taking the lead in opinion polls, this vision does not seem totally unrealistic. Earlier it was argued that independence of different regions across Europe was unthinkable as the polities were simply too small to be efficient and often too poor or too rich to abandon their old states without welfare implications. But a Europe functioning as a federation that could take on the competence where economies/politics of scale is relevant, like defence and foreign policy as well as regional wealth redistribution, surely makes the discussion of regionalization of Europe more realistic.

A challenge to the sovereign monarch – and rightly so!

But the question of breaking up Europe has bigger implications then the mere redrafting of maps, something that has been done so often in Europe and elsewhere. Looking at these independence movements in an international context of European integration and globalization, we can see that they challenge not only the state they are trying to break free form, but also the very concept of the sovereign nation state. First of all, the independence movements are signs of how artificially and randomly states are often constructed, and how this gives rise to unhealthy tensions (that can of course be slightly reduced by federal structures). Outside Europe we don’t even have to go into the artificial shape of old colonies that were often the result of a ruler and a pen! How easy is it then to defend the shining sovereignty crown of the state ?

Moreover, in the last decades globalization has put the sovereign nation state into question as it is not anymore the state that is able to decide everything for itself. Rather the decisions of the state are subjected to everything from environmental and economical globalization to US big brother ambitions. The strengthening of international institutions like the EU and international law has also weakened the sovereignty of the state and its position as the decisive decision maker.

Is the state then really the organ that can represent and decide on behalf of its citizens on the issues that affect their lives? And what is the rationale for sub-state nations, or even citizens, to belong to an all mighty state that still cannot represent them properly?

It rather seems like we have to move to both smaller and to larger polity units to guarantee maximum influence of the citizens in their own lives.

Last but not the least the illegitimate actions of states have put the states sovereignty crown into question. We don’t even have to go as far as Rwanda to questions a states absolute sovereignty and start thinking about the importance of protecting individual’s sovereignty before anything else. Also the distrust in many governments ability to act on behalf of their electors has given rise to a weakening of the legitimacy of the state and its sovereignty, and here clearly large differences of regions within a state are of no help.

Will Scotland be prepared to put nationalist rhetoric behind to promote a federal Europe?

So do then the independence movements contribute towards a more federal world order moving away from an outdated state sovereignty concept or not? Looking at it bluntly you could say that these independence movements are fighting a nationalistic goal, which aims at reinforcing the nation state – as this seems to be exactly what they want to become through independence. But if the strive for independence happens within the framework of Europeanization and the building of a world governed by international law, it gives us reason for hope that these movements will rather lead to a very new concept of state and state sovereignty. And having the negative experience they have, we should be able to demand from these emerging states to avoid destructive nationalist rhetoric and promote a Europe where sovereignty and borders are weak.

A federal structure like this would mean that the diversity of Europe is promoted by power being decentralized as much as possible.

At the same time common action in areas where the nations/regions are simply too small to be efficient would be organized by Europe – in this way making borders less sharp and old-fashioned state sovereignty severely weakened.


Building a federal Europe goes further then setting up a system where states take joint decision in certain competences. It consist of moving towards a world order where borders are weak, international law is strong and where citizens rather then states are put in the centre. But to achieve this we must be prepared to put the nationalist rhetoric together with the monarch’s sovereignty crown to the history books.

Is Scotland prepared to take the lead?

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- Links :

- The Scottish Independence Guide: http://www.scottishindependence.com.

- Scottish National Party’s stance on Independence: http://www.snp.org/independence.

- The newspaper Telegraph on developments and opinion polls in the UK:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/mai....

- Read more on Catalan nationalism and the political parties defending it here..

- Image :

- Source : Flickr.

Your comments

  • On 24 December 2006 at 10:27, by Valéry Replying to: Expel the nation state to the history books!

    Excellent article !

  • On 24 December 2006 at 11:58, by Emmanuel Vallens Replying to: Expel the nation state to the history books!

    A very naive and dogmatic article, if you ask me. Let’s take it point by point.

    First, there is total lack of precision as to what the word sovereignty actually means in this article. Is it a political concept, or is it a legal one? the sovereignty of citizens, of a people, of a nation, is a political concept. The international sovereignty of a State can be both political and legal. The domestic sovereignty of a State is a purely legal concept (who has the ultimate power to decide on the rule of recognition (Kelsen’s Kompetenz-Kompetenz).

    Now saying that Europe’s independence movements challenge the concept of nation-state is slightly over-stated. If you look at what happened with the break-up of the former Soviet Union, all those countries who recently got their independance have proved very reluctant to move towards any federalisation of the EU. Their presence in it is probably one of the main obstacles that federalists will have to confront with (but certainly not the only one). I do not see why any other secessionist groupings would be any different (Vlaams Belang isn’t exactly demanding a federal Europe, is it?).

    Saying the contrary seems to me at best naive because it overlooks the reality of Human nature, its selfishness, its parochialism and its short-sightedness. I do not think you can ever unite Mankind by splitting it up in loads of small nations first. And supporting secessionist movements in the hope that they may turn up to be nice-looking and federalist is being as gullible as those who supported the euro without a federal government in the hope that national governments would be sensible and realise that you can’t have the euro without being a federation, or as those who believed that we could enlarge the EU and deepen it at the same time. I certainly was one of them, but at least, I learn of my errors.

    Of course, States are, by definition, artificial, i.e. Man-made. So what? Are you suggesting that “nations” are not ? To start with, any serious analysis of the situation would clearly consider separately the two Ideal-Types, namely Will-based nations (Willensnationen such as France and the UK) and ethnic nations (Kulturnationen such as those of most of Central and Eastern Europe). In the first case, the nation is a political construction, that evolved from the State that pre-existed, and that created the institutionnal and political structure in which a sense of common belonging and a common culture could develop. It developped in parallell with the claim for democratic institutions, and the need to break free of the rule of the absolute monarch. On the other hand, the second model was developped later, in the wake of nationalist movements in countries occupied by one of the big empires: France, Austria-Hungary, or the UK (as far as Scotland is concerned). Here, the construction goes the other way: nationalist movements try to find out national myths, heroes, cultures and roots that could serve as a justification of their claim to have a State of their own. And very often, these roots can be fake or embroided to fit the political objective. So, nations are in many ways as fake as States, the only difference being that they do not acknowledge it. And the fact that a State is artificial is in no way an argument for not being sovereign, provided it is legitimate (democratic and respectful of human rights).

    Besides, your article takes for granted that small is beautiful, and that traditional nations-States are too big or too small for their task. It therefore tacks a general ideological consideration on all Nation-States without considering their variety, their differences, as if “the nation-State” was a monolithic concept entailing the same thing all over Europe. Here again, Europe’s diversity if vastly overlooked and I think that it is precisely this type of standpoint that put people off when we talk about federalism.

  • On 11 May 2009 at 06:08, by stewart mcfarlane Replying to: Expel the nation state to the history books !

    Firstly I will respond to some of your statements and be quite frank. I will follow up with placing weight on a very significant part of the new world in relation to Scotland’s future within the EU.

    Your wrote:

    Will Scotland be prepared to put nationalist rhetoric behind to promote a federal Europe? So do then the independence movements contribute towards a more federal world order moving away from an outdated state sovereignty concept or not?

    My response:

    Firstly to refer to something as ’nationalist rhetoric’ is in my opinion using ’rhetoric’ to insert ’prejudice’ on something I think is perfectly legitimate and very positive for Scotlands future in more ways than one (as I will hope to explain).

    Your question:

    So do then the independence movements contribute towards a more federal world order moving away from an outdated state sovereignty concept or not?

    My response:

    The simple answer is independence doesn’t move towards a more federal world order - I think that is the quick answer, however I feel the question doesn’t give me room to have an opportunity to answer it correctly in a broader sense.

    Let me rephrase your question to this:

    So do then the independence movements contribute towards a ’better’ federal world order moving away from an outdated state sovereignty concept or not?


    Yes, let me explain the word ’sovereignty’

    Sovereignty is the right to exercise, within a territory, the functions of a state, exclusive of any other state, or Kingdom and subject to no other authority.


    So what is state sovereignty, is it the same thing as nationalism?


    NO - it is acutally a sovereign political entity.


    So why is this important, who cares if the political entity is sovereign or not, isn’t that what nationalism is?


    NO - A sovereign is a supreme lawmaking authority.


    So why is this important?, I’m confused already!


    Scotland is commonly refered to as a Sovereign nation and this says the people of Scotland have the right to determine their own future. In an ideal world the average person should be able to direct their own affairs which is called Democracy. Democracy is a form of government in which state-power is held by the majority of citizens within a country or a state.


    So is Democracy the same thing as Sovereignty?


    NO - what we really mean is WE THE PEOPLE are the supreme authority in this land, we have the right to exercise, within a territory, the functions of a state, exclusive of any other state, or Kingdom and subject to no other authority. NOTICE that its not the same thing as WE THE PEOPLE in ’practice’ are the supreme authority. It essentially safe guards a country like Scotland from being suppressed by an un democratic government and maintains their freedom as a nation in a legal capacity.

    If you go back to 1320 and the declaration of Arbroath it is firmly stating that the people have the right and no other authority has the right to impose it’s will against their wishes. For the people of Scotland is is a God given right, and is part of it’s full history.


    So what does this have to do with EU?


    EU is a fabulous concept and I’m sure the future of Scotland is with the EU. However with the EU the constitution they are trying to enforce (now changed to the Lisbon treaty) would give EU the power to literally dictate ever part of life for people in Scotland. With so much EU power in the hands of a few, it would be easy for a group of evil minded capatilists who are currupted by greed and power to take over and form a dictatorship without the people of Scotland having any legal right to challange it.

    Having National Sovereignty protects the people of Scotland from such things, and gives their position much more weight in upholding democracy. Provisions for the legal system known as Corpus Juris introduced throughout the EU.

    Corpus Juris will set up a European Public Prosecutor with over-riding criminal law jurisdiction throughout Europe, initially on matters of fraud against the EU budget, later to be extended to all criminal activities, which will thus come within the EU purview. Habeas Corpus and Trial by Jury - rights enjoyed by Britons since Magna Carta - are explicitly to be abolished under these proposals.

    The proposals are being drawn up by EU Commission (XX DG) which details an EU criminal code and code of procedure. Article 26.1 explicitly provides for cases (where the sentence can be up to seven years) to be heard by Courts “consisting of professional judges, excluding simple jurors and lay magistrates.”]

    The implications of this proposal cannot be overemphasized. As Churchill wrote “...the great principle of Habeas Corpus and Trial by Jury ... are the supreme protection invented by the British people for ordinary individuals against the state. The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgment by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments.”

    The problem is that Scotland has a certain history, what if black pudding was to be outlawed, what if your square sausage could no longer be square and had to be round etc. It sounds pretty trivial but the broad implication needs to be fully understood.

    European Union operates under the doctrine of acquis communautaire which declares that once the EU has determined it has the right to legislate in a new area, its authority in that area is guaranteed in perpetuity. This is a one-way street to centralization, its not like you can put something back once it’s changed. Once changed it’s changed for good - so people of Scotland need independence to fully protect themselves before going into EU. As it stands it is already going against the Scottish Constitution which has no formal legal basis if the people of Scotland expressed their sovereign right.

    England lost sovereignty in 1066 which is why the parliament called itself sovereign but actually only in England not for the UK and not for the people in Scotland. This right can never be taken away only by teritorial acquisition, and only after the Scottish people agree to give up some sovereignty rights. The act of the union was not an invasion it was a partnership.


    Indpendence for Scotland and EU membership means better world governence within the federal world order, anything else in my opinion is just unthinkable.

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