post sovereignty

In this article for the Political Studies Association, Professor Michael Keating looks at the Scottish independence debate in the conext of ‘post-sovereignty’.

Post Sovereignty is described thus –

This is not mere political posturing but reflects a profound truth about modern constitutionalism, that the old sovereign nation-state formula no longer works.  We are in an era of ‘post-sovereignty’. This does not mean that sovereignty has disappeared but that in its traditional monist form it is no longer the only principle of political order.

More profoundly, sovereignty as a principle is in question. At the supranational level, the European Union has become a legal order in its own right and, within its domain, its laws trump national ones. The only redress to this, recognized in the Lisbon Treaty, is secession – but that option is also open to Scotland within the United Kingdom. Indeed the principle of state sovereignty is also in question domestically. Arguments that the Scottish Parliament is the creation of Westminster, which could abolish it tomorrow, carry little political credibility. Moreover, the issue of sovereignty has never been resolved in Scotland, where Blackstone and Dicey’s ideas have never commanded consensus. The existence of the Scottish Parliament focuses this alternative idea of where sovereignty might lie. Hence there are, and always have been, two interpretations of the union: as the incorporation of Scotland into a sovereign and unitary state; and as a bargain that can be revisited from time to time by either party. Similar arguments exist in Spain and in Canada, although their legal basis is perhaps less developed.

I think it is a compelling argument and would go further – the fact is it is questionable whether any nation can be truly sovereign in a world dominated by big suprantional blocks, trade alliances and defence pacts. A world of NATO, the EU, and more importantly the IMF, and the ratings agencies that can make or break an economy overnight.

Neither Scotland (independent or not) or the UK (or a post referendum former UK) could elect a radically redistributive government that threatened the current ownership of local branches of international capital or even national capital without experiencing serious and effective interference from outside.

Even North Korea relies to some extent on China.

Having said all that – just as Keating points out that Westminster would have a tough time abolishing the Scottish Parliament without the overwhelming active support of the Scottish people; neither could capital interfere in the UK’s internal democratic processes whatever the outcome of any election without paying high price in terms of diplomacy and political machinations in other nations.

So essentially what we seem to have now is a situation where it is both difficult to institute meaningful radical change within an independent nation, and requires effort and real global consensus building  to effectively challenge it from outside.

A post sovereign world really is one where agendas are set in various forums regionally and globally and where they can only be challanged and debated at that level.

None of which is to argue that people in Scotland should not vote for independence but that if they do it won’t make any real difference to the situation for the vast majority of people.

Instead if we want to organise to make real and meaningful social change surely we should look at how we can build power to influence the various overlapping levels of sovereignty whether local, regional, national, supranational, or global.

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