Who rules who?

On what the Scottish people are really voting for

by David B Kopel

Holyrood. Mar 11, 2012

Do the people of Scotland deserve the right to rule themselves? While the major political parties joust about the independence referendum, it seems that no matter how the vote turns out, the Scottish people will be no closer to genuine self-determination.

The SNP will get a referendum on whether the Scots should be ruled by London. But they will not allow the Scots to vote on whether they should be ruled by Brussels.

Although the SNP and Labour are bickering over exactly how an independent Scotland could become part of the EU, the people of Scotland ought to choose whether to do so.

London has no right to rule the Scots without their consent. Nor does Brussels. The people of Scotland have never voted to surrender sovereignty to a eurocracy. In 1975 Scotland, like the rest of the UK, voted in favour of the European Economic Community. But 1975's very limited grant to the EEC of limited powers over trade is a far cry from today's EU.

The powers that the EU today uses to govern Scotland were never granted by the Scottish people; they were arrogated without public consent. Scotland never voted for the Treaty of Lisbon, or the Treaty of Milan.

Now that everyone knows what the EU really is for, good and for ill, the Scots have the right to vote on whether the EU should keep the significant portions of Scottish sovereignty which it has usurped.

What if you divorced your spouse, but your mother-in-law was still in charge of how you spent your weekends? A divorce from London is a good time to make a formal decision about whether to still be ruled from Brussels.

There should also be absolute protection for the right to vote on currency. As a newly-independent nation, Scotland can create its own constitution.

The Scottish constitution should explicitly require that if a government wishes to change the currency, the Government must submit the question to a popular referendum. Politicians may promise that there will be a referendum, but a constitution can guarantee that there will be.

When the Scots vote on independence, their only choice will be whether to be ruled by Holyrood, or by a combination of Westminster and Holyrood. Much more important, in a practical sense, would be people reclaiming their rights to home rule in their cities and towns.

Few things affect the public more directly than the quality of local policing. So Scots should insist on the right to elect their own local police boards. In most American states, the people elect their local sheriffs (the chief law enforcement officer in the county).

Elected sheriffs are more likely to pay attention to what the public cares about: suppression of violent crime and public disorder. In contrast, UK policing has been ruined by central control, with local police scrambling to comply with the latest paperwork mandates from central government.

In terms of practical improvement in the daily lives of the public, the election of sheriffs might be far more significant than whether Scotland has its own UN delegation.

Likewise, people should be able to elect local housing boards and education boards. Parents of children at local schools, not bureaucrats in London or Holyrood, best understand the strengths and weaknesses of those schools. With direct local control, schools would better serve the educational needs of children, rather than the dictates of educrats in a distant city.

If power in Scotland merely shifts from Westminster to Holyrood, then the power will remain in the hands of an irresponsible élite which spends other people's money recklessly.

A government that spent £414m on its own building, which was supposed to cost as little as £10m, is not to be trusted to spend responsibly in the future. The powers of local taxing and spending ought to be entirely in the hands of local people. They will invest their own tax money more frugally and constructively than will the apparatchiks of central government.

The opponents of direct local self-government may tell you that the Scottish people are not wise enough to make their own choices for police, housing, and education boards, or to control all their own local taxes and spending. If so, how could they possibly be wise enough to vote on the momentous question of independence?

Being a dual citizen of both the Republic of Ireland and of the United States, I appreciate the UK's willingness to allow a Scottish vote on independence. That's considerable progress since the difficulties of 1919 and 1996.

The United Kingdom is much more respectful of self-determination than it used to be.

Ironically, that is one reason for the Scottish people to consider staying in the Union. A union by consent is legitimate, whereas one by force is not.

The return of the Stone of Scone to Edinburgh Castle was a symbolic gesture. True selfdetermination requires more than symbols.

A Scottish national flag would be merely symbolic if the rule of self-seeking élites in Brussels, Edinburgh, and London were replaced with the rule of self-seeking élites in Brussels and Edinburgh.

Local devolution, a vote on the EU, and the constitutional right to vote on currency would be the foundations for genuine Scottish selfdetermination-- whether or not the Scots decide to remain in the United Kingdom.

Professor David B Kopel is Research Director, the Independence Institute and Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law, Denver University

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