These are perilous times for national constitutions in the European Union. The present political order is slowly moving in a direction characterized by potent separatism that threatens to break up several states, some of them longstanding players on the international scene. If the devolved government of Scotland gets its way in a referendum planned for 2014, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will cease to exist as we know it. If the leaders of the Catalonia region of Spain succeed in winning the right to hold a referendum on independence, modern Spain may break up, with huge implications for separatist movements in other parts of Spain such as the Basque region. Today this column will focus primarily on the case of Scotland.
The drive for independence in Scotland has been a long one. Since the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) establishment in 1934, a sizeable percentage of the country-region’s population – usually estimated to range between 20% and 30% – has demanded the cessation of the 300-year-old political union between the previously separate Kingdoms of England and Scotland, believing that it is time for Scotland to enter the international community as a member in its own right and repatriate governmental powers that would be best exercised by the elected representatives of the Scottish people. (The historical reasons for the existence of this union are fascinating, and are discussed in detail in other places. Suffice it to say, the relationship between England and Scotland is not one between a colonizer and a colony; it is strictly a voluntary association.)