Mises Daily Articles
Scotland and the Hoppean Blueprint for Secession
Over a week has passed since the release of the final voting results from last Thursday’s Scottish independence referendum. Upon further analysis, it would appear that (now former) Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Yes Scotland may have employed the wrong strategy. What they should have done is insist during pre-referendum negotiations that any unitary council area that voted “Yes” to independence would be permitted to leave the UK. In other words, the secession movement should have been decentralist and piecemeal.
Consider the following:
- The referendum question posed to voters last Thursday was: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The term “Scotland” was defined to include the existing Scottish territorial and maritime boundaries.
- The final vote result was Yes 44.7 percent and No 55.3 percent with 3.6 million votes cast. As required by the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013, those votes were cast and counted within 32 unitary council areas around Scotland.
- With 32 of 32 council areas declared, the results showed that four council areas (Glasgow, Dundee City, North Lanarkshire, and West Dunbartonshire) voted for independence. Voter turnout in those three areas ranged from 75 percent to 88 percent.
- The “No” vote prevailed in eight other council areas with slim majorities that ranged from 51 percent to 54 percent. Voter turnout in those eight areas ranged from 84 percent. to 89 percent.
The final vote results revealed just how difficult it was for Yes Scotland to obtain a majority vote for independence from 3.6 million voters spread across all of Scotland, and illustrates why they should have pushed for the small-scale secession of Scottish council areas using a model proposed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
In his book Democracy: The God That Failed, Hoppe suggests a means of employing secession to minimize conflict with central governments and maximize success:
[A] modern liberal-libertarian strategy of secession should take its cues from the European Middle Ages when, from about the twelfth until well into the seventeenth century (with the emergence of the modem central state), Europe was characterized by the existence of hundreds of free and independent cities, interspersed into a predominantly feudal social structure.
By choosing this model and striving to create a U.S. [or Scotland, etc.] punctuated by a large and increasing number of territorially disconnected free cities — a multitude of Hong Kongs, Singapores, Monacos, and Liechtensteins strewn out over the entire continent — two otherwise unattainable but central objectives can be accomplished.
First, besides recognizing the fact that the liberal-libertarian potential is distributed highly unevenly across the country, such a strategy of piecemeal withdrawal renders secession less threatening politically, socially and economically.
Second, by pursuing this strategy simultaneously at a great number of locations all over the country, it becomes exceedingly difficult for the central state to create a unified opposition in public opinion to the secessionists which would secure the level of popular support and voluntary cooperation necessary for a successful crackdown.
Hoppe further notes that:
[T]he danger of a government crackdown is greatest ... while the number of free city territories is still small. Hence, during this phase it is advisable to avoid any direct confrontation with the central government. Rather than renouncing its legitimacy altogether, it would seem prudent, for instance, to guarantee the government’s “property” of federal buildings, etc., within the free territory, and “only” deny its right to future taxation and legislation concerning anyone and anything within this territory. Provided that this is done with the appropriate diplomatic tact and given the necessity of a substantial level of support in public opinion, it is difficult to imagine how the central government would dare to invade a territory and crush a group of people who had committed no other sin than trying to mind their own business. Subsequently, once the number of secessionist territories has reached a critical mass — and every success in one location promoted imitation by other localities — the difficulties of crushing the secessionists will increase exponentially, and the central government would quickly be rendered impotent and implode under its own weight.
It is worth noting that the UK and Scottish governments each committed in the Edinburgh Agreement “to continue to work together constructively” in the best interests of their respective countries, even if the “Yes” side prevailed. Thus, in this particular case, a post-referendum crackdown by the central government would have been unlikely.
It is also possible that, based on the belief that most of Scotland would vote to stay within the UK, David Cameron and the Better Together coalition might have accepted a proposal from Yes Scotland to allow any council area that achieved a majority “Yes” vote to leave the UK.
Of course, there were various local non-libertarian political and ideological reasons that this strategy was not employed by the Scots. If Yes Scotland had used the Hoppe secession strategy, the newly independent city-states of Glasgow and Dundee City and council areas of North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire would have emerged and to survive they would have been forced to seek genuine free trade policies with the UK and the rest of the world, rather than for preserving the Scottish welfare state with tax revenues generated from North Sea oil and gas fields. They would have had to educate voters about the economic success stories of small and independent city-states like Hong Kong, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and others which adopt free-trade policies in order to survive and many of which have their own currencies.
Media sources reported last week that Nicola Sturgeon, the early favorite to become Scotland’s next First Minister, has not ruled out the possibility of another independence referendum in the future. If such a vote were to happen, a Hoppean approach of de-centralized and localized secession would bring far greater prospects for both political and economic success both in the short term and long term.