Ten days ago the world held its breath as Scotland voted on whether to remain in the United Kingdom or go its own way. In a turnout of 84 per cent, 55.3 per cent Scots voted no for separation. This brought to mind the referendum in the 1980s on the independence of French-speaking Quebec from Canada. The separatists egged the issue on through fuelling chauvinistic, racist emotions and exploiting them to stir ‘nationalist’ separatist sentiments. The same ‘patriotic’ flare was used to rally the Scots to demand separation from the UK—England, Scotland, North Ireland and Wales—after more than 300 years of a stable union.
The referendum result meant that Scotland remains in the Union. A Scottish vote for separation would have dramatically impacted the British crown and unleashed serious repercussions that may have gone as far as bringing down the monarchy and setting up the first republic in England’s modern history, second only to that which was established by Oliver Cromwell in 1650.
The Scottish referendum represented a model application of democracy, full human rights, and the unreserved right to self-determination, without immaterial sensitivities, grudges or violence. Campaigning as practised by the Scots and Britons for or against division was peaceful and non-intimidating, even though both sides were practically before a ‘divorce’ case. I focus on this point because in our region of the world—actually in most of the Third World, a refined term used to denote underdeveloped countries—it is not customary to conclude conflicts among people of different ethnicities and cultures in a peaceful way. Not only that, but the motives behind conflicts and the secessionist tendencies they lead to differ diametrically from those in the civilised world. Where both Quebec and Scotland are concerned, there existed an emotional affinity for independence and sovereignty, hence separation. It did not at all involve the desire of a portion of the citizenship to dissociate themselves from the mother nation for reasons of persecution, abuse, usurped rights, or discrimination based on ethnicity, language, culture, religion, or colour. Such conflict erupted in East Timor in Indonesia, the South Sudan, Bosnia and Herzegovina in Yugoslavia, and in Crimea in Ukraine. The horrendous bloodshed in Iraq and Libya comes as a result of tyranny, injustice and disgraceful discrimination, and produces a fierce longing by different groups for separation and self-rule.
The campaigns and the counter campaigns which took place in England and Scotland calling for or against division, the conferences, seminars and political debates between politicians, economists, military men and international affairs experts riveted our attention. In a peaceful climate, the discussions were rational and based on analysis, conviction, and persuasion. What a difference from what we are accustomed to in our inflamed region of the world: the chaotic protest, violent conflict, bloodshed and terrorism. Matters get so out of hand that the international community has to be called upon to send corps to guard peace, and the United Nations has to step in to organise destiny-changing referenda which could very well lead to separation, ‘divorce’. Even though the new States formed are small and feeble, they at least provide safe haven to groups which seek an escape from persecution and ethnic discrimination.
What happens in the First World comes as no surprise. Quebec remains part of Canada and Scotland remains part of the UK through the consent of the majority of their citizens. The separation between the Czech and Slovakia in the 1990s, also by the consent of the majority of citizens, was peaceful and amicable. But the Third World brims with cases of bitter ‘divorce’ through which minorities seek deliverance from the persistent legacy of discrimination and double standards rampant in their region, and where the majority turns a blind eye to the injustice, tyranny, and discrimination against minorities. Its politicians demand that the world stays out of their ‘domestic affairs’ and endorse rhetoric such “unified Sudan”, “unified Iraq” and “unified Libya”, deliberately overlooking the bloodshed. If this persists, it will inevitably lead to fragmentation. This we cannot blame on outside conspiracy; it is brought about at the hands of a nation’s own nationals.
28 September 2014