Do we have a right to self-determination?

The right to self-determination has been implicit within a great deal of Western thought since the Enlightenment and the revolutions of the late eighteenth century. But do we really have such a right? Should we even have such a right? And what does such a right mean?

The Democratic Reform Party scorned the major parties’ efforts to prevent a democratic decision with regards to the Scottish referendum. All three parties openly tried to block the third choice (max-devo), as the Conservatives were able to do with the referendum over the electoral system. To me this is blatant disregard for people’s democratic right to take such a decision for themselves.

However on the other hand there is one thing on which I can agree with these parties, and also the Economist (which has recently been heavily criticised by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for declaring that it would be a bad decision for Scotland to vote for independence). I do agree that it would be a bad decision economically, and also socially, for Scotland to vote for independence. The question is whether this should negate their right to self-determination i.e. who takes the decision?

If you think the answer’s easy let’s take another example: the EU. Some people believe that there is decisive proof to say that thousands of people would lose their jobs, and thousands of lives would be ruined if the UK pulled out of the EU. These people say that the people cannot understand all the ins and outs of the labour market, and consequences of speculative forces; and they thus argue against the idea of a referendum on membership. But some of these very same people argue for the right to self-determination in other areas. Is this hypocrisy? Do we have a right to self-determination? If yes should it apply in all circumstances? If no how is it a right and not simply a principle?

2 comments

  • Yes we have a right to self-determination on an individual level, but can you really use the world ‘self’ when referring to a collective?

    I think by using this word we immediately encounter some problems, so I would like to take that word out of the equation and talk only of specifics.

    Does Scotland, identified as a cultural and historical entity aligned to those people who live within the pre-defined borders of it’s country, have a right to control their political decisions?

    Yes.

    Do countries within the EU, also noted by their common cultural and historical traits which are exhibited by citizens within its determined borders allowed to control their decision to join/depart from the EU?

    Yes.

    The caveat that is then raised by those who seek to deny these nations political self-control are arguments based on the idea of ad nauseum. E.g. York would like to become a country, Leicestershire would like to become a country, Basque province would like…….etc, etc.

    But the collective is always an ever decreasing/increasing subset. Suburb, Village, Town, City, Province, ….

    And for this debate we are only considering countries right to have political self control.

    And countries are those that have been accepted as such based on their historical and cultural lineage

  • But that’s a subjective decision. The Basque Province could be argued to have the same lineage, as could a single city like York. So how do you decide where the line is drawn?

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