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Archive for the ‘secession’ Category

UK Labour MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party MSP Alex Salmond last night debated independence for Scotland as part of the campaign leading up to a referendum on September 18. While the “Yes” camp remains slightly behind in the polls, they have been catching over the past several months, and it is likely that the vote itself will be close.

Watch the debate here. It features many themes common to debates over secession in the Western world: risk and uncertainty, self-determination, ideological distinctiveness of the secessionist region, and economic costs and benefits of independence. It’s a sparkling and entertaining debate; Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com called it “by far the best TV debate there’s been in the UK.”

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Tyler Cowen thinks Scotland should stay in the UK, and so do I. But this bit of his blog post I can’t quite agree with:

If a significant segment of the British partnership wishes to leave, and for no really good practical reason, it is a sign that something is deeply wrong with contemporary politics and with our standards for loyalties.

I find this entire prospect depressing, and although it is starting to pick up more coverage in the United States and globally, still it is an under-covered story relative to its importance.

This is a referendum on the modern nation-state, an institution that has done very well since the late 1940s but which is indeed often ethnically heterogeneous at its core. While I expect Scottish independence to be voted down, if it passes I will feel the world’s risk premium has gone up, even if the Scots manage to make independence work. (emphasis original)

The main reason why some Scots want to leave the UK is ideological. Scotland consistently votes 15-20 points to the left of the rest of the UK, and with a current center-right government and a constantly improving prospect of a Conservative victory at the next election, many left-wing Scots fear the policies they’ll face in a united Britain. If you follow the Twitter feed of Yes Scotland, you’ll see a stream of claims about new social programs an independent Scotland could implement, and explicit fears about future Tory rule.

Furthermore, Scots are discontented with devolution, wanting something more, but many of them do not trust that David Cameron will follow through on promises to enact more generous autonomy for Scotland (his party is, after all, still the Conservative and Unionist Party).

Growing state intervention in people’s lives has made ordinary ideological disagreements more salient and fundamental. As a result, ideologically polarized people in advanced democracies often wonder whether they can live in peace with “the other side.” Is this depressing or just inevitable? Anyway, I’m not sure Scottish secession would raise the world risk premium any more than Norwegian or Icelandic secession did, or than Faroese independence would. It would at least be peaceful and negotiated. Still, I reiterate that it is probably a bad idea for Scots, and unlikely to happen according to the polls.

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Public opinion has moved very quickly there against Italy:

UPDATE: I misread the poll. These numbers are consistent with what we have seen in the past: a solid majority against independence.

UPDATE 2: Italian police have also arrested 24 Venetian secessionists on charges of “terrorism,” that is, George Washington-style rebellion. Italy is one of the cases I discuss in my book as being at higher risk of secessionist violence than Scotland, Wales, Puerto Rico, the Faroes, Quebec, or Flanders, because unlike these others it has no legal means for secession.

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Russia’s annexation of Crimea, de facto or de jure, is likely to spur violence in the peninsula. “Crimean Tatar representative” in Lviv, Ukraine Alim Aliyev is quoted as saying, “Tatars will launch a guerrilla war against the Russian forces if they do not pack up and leave the region.” While he could be communicating a mere bluff, I wouldn’t count on it, and I doubt Putin will either. Crimean Tatars currently have a low risk of secessionist insurgency, because they are just 12% of the region’s population, but they also see themselves as the indigenous population of the region and deny any other ethnic group’s claims to a homeland in the region. For those reasons, and because of a history of repression at the hands of Stalin, Crimean Tatars support Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea and reject the small ethnic Russian majority’s claims. If Russia effectively annexes Crimea, Tatar violence is likely to flare up. While the massive Russian military will be able to crush organized resistance, I doubt Putin wants to create another Chechnya, with the attendant risks of future terrorist attacks on Russian civilians.

Steve Saideman and Bill Ayres’ research suggests that irredentism is rarely consummated because it requires an infrequent coincidence of interests: a minority that wants to be rescued and a powerful state willing to pay costs to rescue it. Rescuing Crimea is likely to have significant long-term costs for Russia, and if Putin acts rationally, he will prefer a negotiated settlement permitting a military withdrawal from the peninsula over any kind of annexation.

In other news: the Crimean referendum will have two options: annexation by Russia and independence. Rejecting both and remaining within Ukraine is not an option for voters.

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That’s the title of a very good article by Princeton political scientist Carles Boix and J.C. Major. The article provides background to the Catalan self-determination movement but also discusses recent developments and the reasons for them. One takeaway is the enormous role that the Spanish government’s response to the last Catalan autonomy statute, essentially gutting it, played in provoking the growth of the independence movement. As I noted in a piece in Electoral Studies 10 years ago, when the central government spikes decentralization, secessionists strengthen, but when a referendum on independence or autonomy fails (the failure being internal rather than external in origin), secessionists weaken. The article also contains important information on what the Catalan government plans to do if the central government forbids it to hold a referendum, as seems likely. I won’t spoil it; just read the article.

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The Government of Scotland has just released its 600-odd-page white paper on independence in advance of the September 18, 2014 referendum on the question. First Minister Alex Salmond and the rest of the pro-independence side have their work cut out, with the latest poll showing a 47-38% plurality in favor of “No.”

In part, the white paper aims to show that independence would not harm the Scottish economy. There is a debate between nationalists and the British government about whether Scotland would face a significant fiscal gap after independence. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says Scotland would face a long-run fiscal gap amounting to 1.9% of national income after independence, while the British government says Scotland would have to raise taxes 9% upon independence to fund the same benefit levels. Nationalists retort that they would change policies to save money. Nevertheless, like most political parties, they are only specific about the new benefits they plan to introduce after independence.

Still, there is good evidence that most Scots are not concerned about the fiscal issues relating to independence. After all, somewhere between 52 and 68% of Scots express support for either independence or “devo max” in polls. “Devo max” is a term used in the UK for full fiscal autonomy, under which Scots would pay no direct taxes to and receive no direct benefits from the UK government (everything would be negotiated between the Scottish and British governments). The strong support for at least devo max implies that Scots aren’t worried about suffering from a fiscal gap even when fully fiscally autonomous.

The dropoff in support from devo max to independence reflects that Scots are more worried about the foreign, monetary, and trade policy uncertainties attendant upon independence. A major bone of contention has been nationalists’ desire for a currency union. The “No” side insists that there is no guarantee the British government will accept a currency union. Salmond has said Scotland could repudiate its share of British debt if the British government didn’t accept a currency union.

The key sticking point in the currency union debate is that the nationalists desperately want Scotland to retain a say in the Bank of England’s monetary policy. Absent that desire, it would perfectly straightforward for Scotland to retain the pound. They don’t need a central bank: people, including the new independent government, could go on using the pound as usual. Indeed, a better threat than debt repudiation that Salmond could make would be for Scotland to abolish central banking, legal tender laws, deposit insurance, and financial regulation, and suck financial business out of London into Edinburgh. (A libertarian can dream, right?) But Scotland’s political culture is solidly left-wing, and any suggestion of going without a lender-of-last-resort wouldn’t fly with voters.

So as we have seen with previous referendums in Quebec, the “Yes” side will insist that all will go on as normal after independence: same treaties, same trade relations, same monetary policy. Meanwhile, the “No” side will play up the uncertainties. They won’t “talk down” Scotland, which would risk a backlash, but instead they’ll just keep saying “there are no guarantees” and attacking the nationalists’ plans as “unrealistic,” “uncosted,” and “amateur.” Steve Saideman notes that there is a tension between nationalists’ desires to “keep everything the same” and promise improvements after independence: secession is either meaningful or it isn’t!

The way to square the circle is that Scots want more left-wing policies than the British status quo on welfare rights, education, the environment, Europe, labor, and defense, but they also like the risk-pooling advantages of a larger state. They see no advantage in a new Scottish currency or a nonaligned foreign policy. Therefore, nationalists promise Scots what they want on the former set of policies while trying to assuage their doubts about the latter.

The figure below shows how Scottish nationalism has tracked left-right ideological change in the Scottish electorate, for UK general elections only. The blue line represents the vote share for secessionist candidates in Scotland: mostly Scottish National Party (SNP), but also Greens, Socialists, and some independents. The blue line represents the UK vote for center and right parties minus the Scottish vote for center and right parties (mostly Conservatives, but also UKIP, Unionists, and the like). In general the two lines correlate pretty closely; the only major exceptions are the 1979 and 1983 elections, when Scotland moved left relative to the UK as a whole, even as the SNP vote collapsed. Since then, the lines have correlated rather well. There is some reverse causation here, since the SNP is a left-wing party, but the fact that the nationalists have adopted a forthrightly left-wing platform tells us something. The bottom line is that Scotland’s move further to the left of the UK has helped promote the secessionist cause. (The spike in the 1974 elections was due to the discovery of North Sea oil, which the SNP politicized under the campaign slogan, “It’s Scotland’s Oil!”)

lefties & nats in scotland

Whether Scotland votes “yes” or “no” in the referendum will depend on how the pivotal voters trade off concern over future Conservative governance in Britain against the uncertainties of full independence. One reason why “no” appears headed for victory is that the Conservatives look set to lose the next UK election, and over the last two decades, Labour has looked like the natural party of government in Britain and has in fact moved British policy significantly to the left, at least on fiscal issues. Scottish voters have less to fear from union.

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Today’s election results from Catalonia are in, and the verdict is: status quo. Turnout increased dramatically from 58.8% to 69.6%, but there was little change in the overall position of pro-independence and anti-independence forces. Explicitly pro-independence parties received 74 of 135 seats, down two from the previous parliament. However, if the pro-independence referendum quasi-nationalist Catalan Greens are included, the pro-referendum forces won 87 seats, up one from the previous parliament.

The biggest shift came within each camp, as there was growing polarization along the independence-centralism dimension. The most moderate pro-independence party, CiU lost 12 seats, from 62 to 50. The more radical and left-wing ERC went from 10 to 21 seats. Meanwhile, the most radically anti-independence party, Citizens, went from 3 to 9 seats, while the most moderately anti-independence party, the Catalan Socialists, went from 28 to 20 seats.

So the bottom line is that the apparent surge in independence support we heard so much about apparently came exclusively within the camp that was already nationalist, as reflected in CiU’s adoption of independence — or more properly, “statehood,” as their objective. Moreover, while a full analysis will have to wait until exit poll details are known, it is possible that among the Catalan-born there was a shift from non-nationalist parties to nationalist parties. The reason is that in most regional elections the Catalan born participate at much higher rates than immigrants. The big increase in turnout most likely reflects mobilization by immigrants, who are overwhelmingly anti-independence. Hence the status quo result, which will be somewhat disappointing for the pro-independence side. Nevertheless, independentists did win a clear majority of seats and will easily be able to push through a bill on a referendum if they decide to do so.

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Yet More on Catalonia

I don’t think Catalan secession is an easy issue. There are good arguments on both sides (that is, to the desirability of secession, not whether Catalans should have the right to decide their future status). Precisely because it is a complex issue without easy answers, the haughty dismissal of Catalan independence from Anglo-American elites rubs me the wrong way. Here’s the latest example from The Economist:

At first blush, it is hard to object to what Catalan nationalists call the “right to decide”. In fact, there are many reasons why Catalans should not waste their energy trying to break away from Spain. Start by recalling Orwell’s definition of nationalism as “power-hunger tempered by self-deception”.

Nationalism always involves popular self-deception and power hunger from elites who cater to it. But that is just as true of status quo nationalism (Spanish nationalism) as it is of minority (Catalan) nationalism.

Under Spain’s constitution of 1978, Catalonia enjoys more self-government than almost any other corner of Europe. It runs its own schools, hospitals, police, prisons and cultural institutions. It lacks only tax-raising powers and the Ruritanian trappings of statehood, which nationalist politicians appear to be hungry for.

It runs schools, hospitals, police, jails, and museums? Why, Catalonia seems to have as much autonomy as an American township! Complete with limited tax-raising powers. Even so, Catalonia enjoys far less autonomy than, say, Appenzell Ausser-Rhoden (or an American state).

The argument that Catalans should not subsidise feckless Andalusians is a dangerous one: apply that more widely and the euro zone would fall apart.

Catalonia on net subsidizes the rest of Spain to the tune of 8% of GDP, far, far beyond what any EU member state contributes to common institutions in aggregate, let alone on net.

Indeed, far from welcoming Catalonia as an independent member, the euro zone’s leaders hardly yearn for an extra nation-state.

The “timing is bad” argument is one of the best ones against independence — but it’s hardly a trump. It all depends on your discount factor.

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Catalonia Update

The Monkey Cage is carrying an interesting update on the Catalonia situation from Duke political scientist Laia Balcells. Catalonia is heading to elections, called by the premier Artur Mas, from the Convergence and Unity (CiU) party, a moderate Catalan nationalist party on the center-right. The CiU has always favored a “right to self-determination” for Catalonia, but now they favor holding a referendum on independence, unless Spain agrees to a new fiscal pact giving Catalonia broader powers.

She lays out three possible post-election scenarios:

1. A secessionist process scenario: a combination of Catalan nationalist parties (e.g. CiU ERC; CiUERC+SI) obtains a majority of the seats. Mas calls for a referendum. Despite the fact that the referendum is not likely to be recognized by Spain, it gives democratic legitimacy to the self-determination process. The medium-term outcome of this path is highly unpredictable at this point: Rajoy is not Cameron, and the PP government is making threats to deter Mas from the referendum (e.g. declaring it illegal). Some members of the Spanish military have even mentioned armed intervention in Catalonia to defend the “inviolable unity of the Spanish State”. The EU, on its end, delivers ambiguous messages regarding the permanence of Catalonia in the union if there is a breakup.

2. A fiscal pact scenario: CiU obtains a majority of the seats. Mas makes a credible threat of a self-determination referendum to Rajoy, who concedes on an agreement that improves Catalania’s fiscal capacities. CiU then renounces its secessionist demands, and ERC and other minority parties remain as the only ones asking for independence.

3. A stalemate/centralization scenario: Catalan nationalists do not obtain sufficient support in the elections and things remain at a standstill. Mas has a hard time governing given the economic and political gridlock. This scenario would probably imply asking for another bailout to the Spanish state and new attempts at centralization. (Given the results of the polls, this is however the least likely scenario)

Let’s look down the game tree to see what is likely to happen.

I think we can rule out 3 as a likely scenario, if the polls are right. Apparently 57% of poll respondents now say they would vote “yes” in an independence referendum and only 20% no. That’s a dramatic increase in secessionist sentiment even over the last few months. Catalan nationalist parties have frequently won significant majorities in the past, and I see no reason why they would not in the upcoming election with the radical turn in Catalan opinion.

So what happens after the election if nationalists win a majority? I think it likely that (more…)

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Cowen on Catalonia

At MR, Tyler Cowen has a rather strong reaction against an economist who supports Catalan secession:

He taught me Ph.d Micro I at Harvard, so it’s too bad he wants to wreck both Spain and Europe, and for so little in return. Didn’t one of his theorems suggest this was a bad idea? It’s not as if Catalonia is treated like Tibet.

Would Tyler also say the Velvet Divorce “wrecked” the Czech Republic and Slovakia?

As an aside, if only peoples treated like Tibet are granted a moral right to secede, then in fact no one will secede permissibly, for governments that treat Tibet like Tibet don’t let Tibet secede.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond have reached a deal on the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. It looks as if the SNP have gotten what they wanted in several respects:

  • 16- and 17-year-olds will be allowed to vote.
  • The referendum will be held in late 2014.
  • While the Electoral Commission will advise on the question, it will ultimately be up to the Scottish Parliament, controlled by the SNP.

The SNP have dropped plans to include a third option in the referendum, which would presumably have been “devo-max” or full fiscal autonomy with political union. As I have noted before, I think this is a missed opportunity for holding a ranked-ballot referendum and selecting the Condorcet winner. However, with no political party actually advocating the devo-max option, it was always unlikely that the referendum would include it. (And apparently the SNP was interested only as a way of splitting the anti-independence vote, i.e., not allowing ranked ballots.)

Reactions from around the UK:

  1. Guardian, “Scottish people would have voted for ‘devo-max.’ That’s why it’s not an option”
  2. Telegraph, “Alex Salmond ‘will have to defy history’ to win Scottish independence referendum”
  3. Politics.co.uk, “Scottish independence: Overconfident London could rue the day”
  4. Better Nation, “The Edinburgh Agreement”

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A pro-secession protest in Catalonia on September 11th brought out 8% of the region’s entire population, The Economist reports. Opinion polls have support for independence at about half of the electorate, possibly more. The moderate nationalists in power in Catalonia have even radicalized their platform. In the past, Convergence and Unity was a moderate nationalist, center-right party coalition dedicated to greater autonomy for Catalonia and a recognized right to self-determination. While refusing to rule out independence in the long run, they rejected secession as attainable or desirable in the near term. Now, they explicitly advocate eventual sovereignty (effectively, independence within the European Union).

In addition to Convergence and Unity, there has been, since the mid-1980s, a significant independentist strain within Catalan nationalism. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) has been the main exponent of this current. In the early 2000’s, ERC actually formed the regional administration along with the regional Socialists. They helped put together Catalonia’s new autonomy statute that, among other things, defines Catalonia as a “nation” rather than a “nationality” for the first time. (Yes, this sort of symbolism seems to matter to nationalist voters.) Over time, ERC support has been growing, and so has broader support for independence. Thus, this most recent outbreak is nothing new, rather the last expression of an upwelling of  “fed-up nationalism” that has been going on for at least a decade.

In one sense, Catalan nationalism is easily explicable as the (more…)

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For all the usual association of independence movements with violence and “separatism,” the fact is that secessionist movements in liberal democracies usually pursue their aims peacefully, through the democratic process, and central governments resolve not to use military force to prevent secession authorized by a democratic vote (imagine that!). Such is the case in Scotland, where a referendum on independence is to be held within the next three years.

Given that sending Her Majesty’s Armed Forces north of Hadrian’s Wall is simply not on offer, responsible politicians from all British unionist parties are starting to mull openly significant powers for Scotland. The Prime Minister himself has promised a semi-federal union for Scotland if they rejected independence, and business-funded think-tank Reform Scotland and Labour politician Alistair Darling are also on record as supporting substantial fiscal powers for Scotland. The reason such decentralization might be salutary is not only that it might preserve the union (if one believes that should be a goal), but that it moves the UK closer to the principle that each level of government should pay its own way: true fiscal federalism. Of course, for fiscal federalism to work as it ought, you need more than an autonomous Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland). You need English local governance to be comprehensively reformed as well.

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Libertarian “seasteading” gets a lengthy, respectful treatment in the latest print edition of The Economist. Here’s the online link.

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The debate over the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s imminent application for full recognition at the United Nations continues to rage domestically and internationally. The dominant perspective here in the U.S., at least among Republicans, is that Palestinian statehood should be denied except on Israel’s terms. The most common reason given seems to be that the Israelis are more trustworthy and just better people than the Palestinians. For instance, this Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial argues that the Palestinians are full of hatred for Israel, disqualifying them from their own state. (It also wrongly asserts that the PLO has not recognized Israel’s right to exist. The PLO has not recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.)

Should Palestine’s recognition depend on the virtue or justice of its people? Certainly, other governments should not reward terrorism or human rights violations by offering statehood to groups of people who use such means to control territory and establish a government. Recognizing the PLO in the 1970’s would have been gravely mistaken. But the internal mental state of Palestinians – the extent of their hostility toward Israel or the United States – should not matter at all. When considering how to use the recognition power, governments ought to place first and foremost the promotion of peace and stability. A secessionist movement does not have to be virtuous and high-minded to be recognized as a state. There have been many dubious aspects about secession movements in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Eritrea, Bangladesh, and South Sudan, but that hasn’t prevented the United States and other powers from recognizing these countries in order to establish stability and prevent further killing.

When considering whether to recognize Palestine as a fully independent state, governments should tough-mindedly consider the consequences of doing so for long-term peace and stability. As I argue in my forthcoming book, Secessionism, providing a legal path for secession does not require celebrating the motivations or consequences of secession, but “legalizing secession” does reduce the risk of major violence. Basing the recognition decision on the relative moral desert of the Israelis and Palestinians as peoples – if such a comparison between groups of peoples can even be made – is a distraction.

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Few in power find it convenient to notice inconsistencies in their own conduct. Alas, but President Madison was no exception. Federalism and decentralization exist precisely because free constitutions should not depend on the good graces of those in office, but on the checks necessary to harry them back under the law.

Seeking the financial means to carry on his war, Madison did not appreciate New England’s opposition to his measures or her refusal to lend. As the enemy bore down from the north at various points along the Canadian border, Madison attempted to impose conditions on the New England militias, not trusting them, as he did the other states, to staff and command their own forces.

In these efforts, the fourth president was roundly rebuffed by the governors and legislatures of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. They correctly pointed out that the Constitution reserved to each state the right of officering her state militias: The president could certainly call those units into service according to the constitutional powers that authorized Congress to declare war, but he could not reorganize those units without a state’s permission. Unable to get his way, Madison refused to mobilize New England’s forces and subsequently refused to pay any expenses for her defense.

Governor Caleb Strong of Massachusetts organized and raised his own force of some 10,000 men at a cost of 1 million dollars, which was a considerable sum in that day. Facing such staggering costs and outraged by what they considered to be the unconstitutional and dangerous manner in which their region had been treated, the New England states elected to protest in the same spirit as they had done against the embargo, but this time they went a step further: Coordinated state action.

Under the inspiration of Harrison Gray Otis and Theodore Dwight (the brother of Timothy Dwight of Yale), Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and several counties of New Hampshire and Vermont sent representatives to meet in Hartford Connecticut between December 15, 1814 and January 4, 1815. There they formed a list of grievances and a call for constitutional amendments, concluding with a threat to organize another convention should these proposals not be taken up by the other states in the Union.

The men who attended this gathering tried to moderate the more extreme elements calling for secession and outright resistance to the national government (see Justin Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, vol. VII, Houghton Mifflin, 1888, p. 321 and notes) but the prospect of a convention sent shivers through the administration. It is not difficult to see why.

In “A Short Account of the Hartford Convention to which is Added an Attested Copy of the Secret Journal of that Body” (1823), Theodore Lyman, noted that Massachusetts was quite open about her aims, and “the sense of her citizens was at that time well known, and in relation to the Hartford Convention, she adopted without delay that course of conduct, of which an eminent example had been given less than half a century before, and which, in this juncture of affairs, was especially judicious, from the vast magnitude of the subject and occasion.” (p.8) That example was Madison’s own call at the end of the Annapolis Convention for the convention that followed in Philadelphia, which of course ultimately put an end to the Articles of Confederation.

When the Hartford Convention got down to business on its second day, it considered, according to the Attested Copy of the Secret Journal, the two constitutional grounds of New England’s grievances just mentioned: “The [unconstitutional] powers claimed by the executive of the United States, to determine, conclusively, in respect to calling out the militia of the States into the service of the United States; and the dividing the United States into military districts with an officer of the army in each thereof, with discretionary authority from the executive of the United States, to call for the militia to be under the command of such officer.”

The second grievance followed immediately after: “The refusal of the executive of the United States to supply, or pay the militia of certain States…on the grounds of their not having been called out under the authority of the United States, or not having been…put under the command of the commander over the military district.” These two grievances then formed the basis of the final and more damning constitutional conclusion that the national government had failed to meet its obligation as stated in the preamble “to provide for the common defense.”

In their protest the members stood on solid textual grounds. It was true that Section Eight of the First Article gave Congress the power “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States,” but it specifically reserved “to the states respectively the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Did this “prescribed” discipline give Madison the right to reorganize the New England militias? It might have, but only if Congress had specifically formed such a policy, and had done so equally for all parts of the Union. The fact that President Madison asserted this as a matter of executive authority, and the fact that he applied that policy unequally to some of the states and not to all of them, violated both the spirit and the letter of the fundamental law. With these arguments before them, the delegates proposed their Constitutional remedies.

They called for consideration on the part of the states for amendments that would permit the state legislatures “some arrangement whereby the States may be enable[d] to retain a portion of the taxes levied by Congress, for purposes of self defence (sic), and for reimbursement of expenses already incurred, on account of the United States.” They then proceeded to request further consideration be given to certain other constitutional issues: To restrict Congress’ power to declare war; to restrain its power “to make new States, and admit them into this Union; to limit Congress’ power to impose embargoes and restrict commerce; to prohibit a president from the same state serving two consecutive terms; and finally, and perhaps most ominously of all, to eliminate the 3/5ths provisions of the Constitution “respecting slave representation, and slave taxation.”

This last provision underscored a growing cultural and political divide already evident between the northern and southern states. New Englanders had always felt aggrieved to some degree by the so-called 3/5ths compromises in the Philadelphia Convention. Already by this time, they saw it as a principal driver of western expansion, and the Southern states made little bones about their desire to move the peculiar institution westward, and to form an alliance with that region in opposition to New England.

Thus the Hartford delegates sought restrictions on admitting new states as well as the elimination of the South’s use of slaves in calculating her population numbers. It is interesting to note that at this point in time, the South’s rising star, J. C. Calhoun of South Carolina, was a strong nationalist defender of the War of 1812 and a proponent of a new national bank so that the general government could more easily finance such military ventures in the future. The irony of ironies is that this situation was about to change yet again.

As reported by Theodore Dwight, the Secretary of the Hartford Convention, in his later history of that meeting, the timing of the delegates’ report to Washington could not have been worse. It arrived just as news from England of the War’s end came along with the report of Andrew Jackson’s victory in New Orleans. While the war had not gone so well for America in general, the popular sense created by this juncture produced a patriotic fervor that was ill disposed to consider of the resolves of the Hartford delegates.

The commission attempted to quietly retire back to New England, but the popular reaction, especially among Madison’s Republican Party was to revile its proceedings as radical secessionism, and the reputation of that convention has labored under such a misapprehension ever since.

Far from secessionism, however, the Hartford Convention presented yet another means of interposition through coordinated state action, and to the degree that such coordination gathered more sustained attention (even if in the negative) from the other states, to that degree it succeeded. With the war’s end, Hartford’s issues became moot, but one could easily imagine what might have developed had the exigencies of war persisted.

The next stage of development in the ideas of interposition, however, would raise the stake higher, actually attempting what Jefferson had contemplated in the Kentucky Resolves: Nullification. Interestingly, the author of this approach was our leading nationalist of the 1810s. Calhoun had been a student of Theodore Dwight’s brother about a decade earlier at Yale. Timothy Dwight shared his brothers’ attachment to the reserved rights and powers of the states. Calhoun had resisted such thinking as his student, but when the issue of tariffs touched his own state’s interests in the next decade, he began to avail himself of Dwight’s understanding, coming to a deeper appreciation of the need to constitutionally restrain centralized power, but he did so with an interesting and novel twist that would have a profound impact on the popular perception of state’s rights.

And Calhoun’s solution would prove perhaps the most difficult and cumbersome of all…

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The biggest story of yesterday’s British elections has to be the stunning success of the Scottish National Party in elections to the Scottish Parliament. As tipped on this blog, the SNP were rising in the polls, but in the end their success outstripped expectations, as they won 69 seats in the 129-seat parliament, a solid majority, despite a moderately proportional electoral system. The SNP won 45.4% of the constituency vote and 44.0% of the party-list vote. With Greens and an independent nationalist, pro-independence MSP’s will take up 72 seats in the new parliament.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (pictured) has promised that the new government will hold a referendum on independence, likely toward the end of their term. For the first time ever, Scottish voters are going to have a direct say on whether they want to be part of Great Britain or not.

In other news, the IRV referendum appears to have gone down in flames, as was widely expected.

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New York was Hamilton’s great project. So closely divided was the state, that at various moments, he despaired of its coming into the union.

At one point the Antifederalists offered a compromise. They would support a conditional ratification dependent on the passage of certain key amendments, including the all important construction of delegated and reserved powers, or what eventually would become the Tenth Amendment. Hamilton wrote Madison for his opinion of the proposed compromise, and the response was unyielding: New York could “not be received on that plan.” It must be, Madison elaborated, “an adoption in toto, and forever.” Hamilton read the letter aloud to the Convention and it is reputed to have steeled the nerves of the Federalists for resistance. Rather than read, “on condition,” New York’s statement of ratification was amended to say, “in confidence.” The statement ran thus:

“Under these impressions, and declaring that the rights aforesaid cannot be abridged or violated, and that the explanations aforesaid are consistent with the said Constitution, and in confidence that the amendments which shall have been proposed to the said Constitution will receive an early and mature consideration, — We, the said delegates, in the name and in the behalf of the people of the state of New York, do, by these presents, assent to and ratify the said Constitution.” (Emphasis added)

In his America’s Constitution, A Biography (2005) p. 38, Ahkil Reed Amar concludes that this wording cinched the case against conditional ratification based upon powers reserved to the people of the states. Amar’s particular aim was to put any idea of legal secession to rest, but he also went on to implicate other forms of interposition as well.

Not so fast.

Amar stopped his reading at a point altogether too convenient for his thesis. Here is what the rest of the paragraph said:

“In full confidence, nevertheless, that, until a convention shall be called and convened for proposing amendments to the said Constitution, the militia of this state will not be continued in service out of this state for a longer term than six weeks, without the consent of the legislature thereof; that the Congress will not make or alter any regulation in this state, respecting the times, places, and manner, of holding elections for senators or representatives, unless the legislature of this state shall neglect or refuse to make laws or regulations for the purpose, or from any circumstance be incapable of making the same; and that, in those cases, such power will only be exercised until the legislature of this state shall make provision in the premises; that no excise will be imposed on any article of the growth, production, or manufacture of the United States, or any of them, within this state, ardent spirits excepted; and the Congress will not lay direct taxes within this state, but when the moneys arising from the impost and excise shall be insufficient for the public exigencies, nor then, until Congress shall first have made a requisition upon this state to assess, levy, and pay, the amount of such requisition, made agreeably to the census fixed in the said Constitution, in such way and manner as the legislature of this state shall judge best; but that in such case, if the state shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion, pursuant to such requisition, then the Congress may assess and levy this state’s proportion, together with interest, at the rate of six per centum per annum, from the time at which the same was required to be paid.”

Here the representatives of the people of the state of New York fairly put the new government on notice in no uncertain terms that they reserved certain powers to their own legislature. (more…)

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On May 5, Britain votes in a referendum on a new electoral system called “alternative vote,” also used in Australia (polls show it going down to defeat), but in Scotland and Wales, there are also elections to the devolved parliaments. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates independence for Scotland within the E.U., is heading up a minority administration with about 36% of the seats in the Scottish Parliament.

Now, a new poll shows the SNP opening up a big lead in the upcoming election, with 45% in the constituency vote and 42% on the party-list regional ballot. Since Scotland has a compensatory mixed-member system like Germany’s, the latter percentage is the better guide to the ultimate seat breakdown. If the SNP indeed wins north of 40% of the seats, they may have enough votes to authorize a secession referendum with the support of minor secessionist parties like the Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialists. Whether such a referendum could obtain the requisite 55% of the vote is doubtful, but such a step would be historic nonetheless.

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In my first post on last week’s “Future of Free Cities” conference, I discussed the legislation Honduras has put forward to authorize the creation of new “free-market cities.” In this second look at the conference, I summarize the discussions and some of the points I came away with.

The first talk on the main day was by Kevin Lyons, co-founder of Consent Unlimited, on “A Legal Strategy for Immediately Creating Private Free Cities” (video here). The strategy is essentially to include clauses in private contracts that stipulate that disputes arising under this contract will be judged under the law of X, where X can be Hong Kong, the United States, or a private arbitrator. This strategy should help people in countries with corrupt or irrational legal systems reduce transaction costs. Of course, the two limitations are that it doesn’t exempt you from criminal or regulatory penalties (you couldn’t use it to get out of health insurance mandates), and that ultimately the validity of those very contractual clauses can be contested in the courts of the country where you are attempting to have the contract enforced. On the former issue, however, Kevin maintains that most judges will uphold contracts that are entered into clearly voluntarily. I worry about one branch of the government’s not respecting what the other is doing, however.

Next, ex-Mexican businessman Ricardo Valenzuela spoke on “Free Cities: A Solution to Mercantilism in Mexico” (no video yet). Ricardo’s talk focused on the problems he has faced as a businessman in a market-hostile country. When he was young, the state expropriated most of the ranch his father had acquired through a lifetime of work. Then he went into banking, and the day after he became president of the bank, he went to work to find it surrounded by soldiers: it too had been nationalized. After that, he fled to Arizona. I wish my students had seen this talk, just so that they could put a face to “expropriation risk.”

Next, I gave my talk on “Secession as a Continuum” (video here). It was a distillation of some of the arguments and findings in my forthcoming book Secessionism: Identity, Interest, and Strategy (McGill-Queen’s University Press). I argued that full secession is not necessary for the types of autonomy most libertarians want. On the other hand, secessionism can be useful leverage to provoke concessions, provided the threat of secession is credible.

After a break, we had a series of four talks: economics professor Fred (more…)

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Name That Country!

With South Sudan apparently on the verge of declaring independence, the Economist has asked readers to contribute their suggestions for a new name for the country. While I personally am partial to suggestions appealing to the shared cultural heritage of most of the ethnic groups in the region (“Nilotia”/”Nilotic Republic”), I think it’s most probable that the country simply continues with the name South Sudan. Your thoughts?

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