Hopefully the Polisario will draw the right lesson from Scotland (and Aceh and Mindanao) and see that the vote was a confirmation of arguments for unity, stability, and peace, argues Caitlin Dearing Scott.
Middle East Online
Is there a lesson to be learned from the recent independence vote in Scotland? Was it about more than just Scotland as a precedent for separatist movements throughout the world? These are important concerns, since before the vote, separatists from Catalonia to Nagorno-Karabakh saw this campaign as an inspiration for their own claims for independence. Yet the result, though it may have disappointed some, really brings home a very important point about self-determination – that independence is not always the way forward.
As seen it Scotland, it is fraught with uncertainly – economically, politically, and socially. It remains to be seen what the impact of such a close vote (55% to 45%) will do to Scottish identity, but there is no doubt that Scotland’s social fabric is forever changed as families, siblings, and friends came down on opposite sides of the vote. Fortunately, things seem quiet for now. And Westminster and Holyrood seem committed to negotiations on devolution that will ensure the strength of the United Kingdom while providing the Scots with more of the self-determination they desire.
Indeed, the major lesson is that self-determination is best arrived at through a negotiated political settlement - a process that ensures stability and avoids the uncertainty and marginalization that could occur between victors and losers. Scots in favor of independence didn’t get what they wanted from the ballot box, but the devolution process will provide them with genuine self-determination. This is good for the United Kingdom, for Scotland, and for other countries that are undergoing decentralization in order to empower people at the regional level while still maintaining territorial integrity.
It is also in line with international law. There are many paths to self-determination - the UN sets out three means by which a territory can achieve self-government: independence, free association with an independent state, or integration with an independent state. Beyond this, the concept is constantly evolving as different countries negotiate creative means of resolving internal conflicts. Examples include Aceh, where a peace agreement established special autonomy for the territory and Mindanao, where the Filipino Congress is currently reviewing a draft law proposing the creation of an autonomous Muslim region. This is why legal scholars – from Hurst Hannum to Donald Horowitz – have called for a new vision of self-determination, one that recognizes nation-state efforts to address questions of majority and minority rights through autonomy and devolution before they result in conflict and demands for independence.
And lastly, it is also realistic. This is why Morocco is devolving power to its regions and offering an autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, as a model for the country. The Kingdom understands the vital importance of self-determination for the Sahrawi people as a viable and durable solution to the current impasse. And that the most stable and secure way of ensuring such self-determination – and avoiding a failed state in the middle of the chaos in the Maghreb and Sahel - is a negotiated political solution based on autonomy. Morocco understands this, the UN Security Council understands this, and the United States understands it. Hopefully the Polisario - the separatist group fighting for independence for the Western Sahara despite the consensus of the international community that it is not a feasible option - will draw the right lesson from Scotland (and Aceh and Mindanao) and see that the vote was a confirmation of arguments for unity, stability, and peace.
Caitlin Dearing Scott is Senior Vice President of Research, Projects, and Programs at the Moroccan American Center where she provides overall supervision and coordination of research for the Center, with a focus on political and security issues pertinent to Morocco, Moroccan-American relations, and North Africa. Fluent in French, Caitlin holds an MA in International Affairs from the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and a BA in History and International Studies from the College of New Jersey.
Middle East Online