Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unethical constitutions deserve no respect

A guest post by Al Skinner

Spain’s vicious authoritarian response to the referendum in Catalonia got me thinking about constitutions. The constant refrain from Madrid is that the plebiscite was in violation of the Spanish constitution, with former vice-president of the Spanish government Alfonso Guerra going so far as to declare that there can be no negotiating with the Catalan golpistas (“coupists”).

It is, in fact, essentially undeniable that the referendum was “illegal” and in violation of the Spanish constitution.

But here’s the rub: the constitution of Spain is itself illegitimate. But allow me to back up for a moment.

In light of Germany’s central role in the EU, I kept wondering how German politicians and media would respond to the situation in Catalonia. Surely, I thought, they would condemn Spain’s brutal actions even if there was no chance of the German government doing anything substantial. At least, I naively assumed, both state and press would rhetorically uphold certain core values. How wrong I was. Instead they’ve largely been supportive of Madrid, construing recent events as an internal Spanish matter.

The title of a recent article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper absurdly declares that "Self-Determination is an Invitation to Dictatorship", another in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explains "Why Spain is Doing the Right Thing", while yet another in the former publication baldly states that “There is No Unlimited Right to Secession".

The last article is an interview with one Christoph Vedder, who is described as an expert in international law. He explains that while the right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, this does not mean Catalonia has the right to an independence referendum. As I read the article my curiosity grew. How on earth was he going to square that particular circle?

Then came the sleight of hand. Vedder invents a qualification to the right to self-determination. It applies, he explains, only in cases of severe repression. So Kosovo’s independence from Serbia was OK. But Catalonia, being part of a democratic state under the rule of law, does not enjoy that right. For this expert, the Catalans’ right to self-determination is “exhausted” within the Spanish state. If this ideological contortion seems warped and ridiculous to you, then good – it is.

But why are these highly educated and no doubt in many ways liberal-minded Germans twisting common sense into such grotesque shapes?

I don’t think we have to look too far for an answer. This is essentially about power and authority. Existing states are averse to, if not terrified of, the implications of the right to self-determination. They don’t want to lose territory, population and resources. They don’t want a "diminished status in the world". And this brings us to the nub of the matter – the sheer infantilism of most contemporary governments. They care only about perpetuating their own states. The idea that this is about solemn commitment to constitutions is laughable. This is about the state and its ego. This infantilism, of course, leads to terrible ethics. Which is just what we're seeing in Madrid at the moment.

Vedder mentions in the interview that Germany too recognizes no right of its constituent parts to become independent states. But this is like saying, look, women are oppressed everywhere, so what are you complaining about? The fact that the German constitution, like its Spanish counterpart, flagrantly violates the right to self-determination is nothing to be proud of. It should be a source of deep shame. The German commentators alluded to here are being good little servants of the constitution, in a twisted, deeply conservative sort of way.

How different it could and should all be. Imagine a world that truly honoured the right to self-determination. Now, I’m the first to agree that not every bit of the planet should enjoy that right. I recognize no right of Renfrewshire or Hampshire to self-determination. This is the self-determination of peoples we’re talking about. But to deny that right to Catalonia is to strip it of all meaning. Of course the Catalans (by which I mean the citizens of Catalonia) are a people. Of course they must enjoy that fundamental right. There’s no ultimate reason why existing states could not approach the possibility of some of their territory morphing into separate states with calmness and great ethics. There’s no ultimate reason why they couldn’t facilitate the emergence of new independent states. So does the UK government’s approach to the Scottish independence referendum serve as a template here?

Only very partially. Ultimately, the right to self-determination cannot be constrained by the decision of central governments. So the need for a Section 30 order is itself an infringement of this right. Furthermore, the shocking tsunami of propaganda unleashed by the UK government and its unionist coreligionists in the press destroyed any prospect of a sound decision in 2014. I belong to the school of thought that believes there would have been a Yes vote in the absence of this ideological warfare. A handsome victory, I suspect.

As we watch Madrid’s sickening descent into authoritarianism, we should remember that constitutions are not sacred texts. It is vital to challenge the dreadful ethics they often embody. The Spanish constitution is in violation of international law. This is one of the key prisms through which I think we should view current events in Catalonia.

78 comments:

  1. Thanks for this Al. The EU had better start listening a little harder or they could be overwhelmed by events.

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    1. Yeah I don't think the eu elite grasps how disillusioned many people are with its response.

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    2. cheers mate. I got so angry with the Spanish state, its brutality and its posturing as the great defender of the Spanish constitution, and the EU's pathetic response, that this piece sort of came pouring out of me...states are many things, but one of the things they are is an apparatus for maintaining the status quo....and that's incompatible with the freedom of peoples.

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  2. Exactly. This is not a new concept. When Frederick Douglass fled slavery it was against the constitution. When Susan B Anthony cast a vote in a presidential election it was against a constitution. When Nelson Mandela fought apartheid it was against a constitution. A constitution that treads on the people's right to self-determination is no more ethical than those examples, and as Martin Luther King pointed out in Letter from Birmingham Jail, we have a duty to disobey it .

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    1. Only a truly stupid government would do anything illegal.

      After all, it is a simple matter to pass a law making what you want to do legal when you are the government.

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  3. Could not agree more with this article

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  4. Frankly I'm astounded that no-one is talking about the Ukraine coup a few years ago. It perfectly illustrates the hypocrisy of the EU and other states.

    A trade deal with the EU was rejected by the democratically elected President and a competing one was to be signed with Russia. The EU deal also included unacceptable military targets that in practical terms would have made Ukraine a member of NATO, having to shadow it's military choices and actions. It was an impossible deal to sign, and was rejected.
    Far right fascist groups in Ukraine. like Svoboda, provided the necessary arm power and the next thing we know, the government was overthrown.

    In Westminster, William Hague announced at the time that the coup was constitutionally acceptable and morally justifiable. The EU went even further. They threatened Ukraine with sanctions and provided 'citizen led groups' - (thats mostly far right fascists to you and me) with millions of euro's in funding.

    Of course, there is nothing in any Ukrainian constitutional document that allows for a violent uprising to overthrow the democratically elected government of the day.

    Regardless of your personal view on Ukraine/ Russia etc, the actions of the EU are a glaring violation of Nation state rights. The response of the EU is the complete opposite of what the EU is saying over the Catalan situation.

    One thing is clear, the EU does not believe in universal rights of nation states and will pick and choose to help any movement it deems 'helpful', whether or not it is legal, to further it's own goals.

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  5. Today's terrorist is tomorrow's freedom fighter.
    Statehood is not something generated within a country(s) but comes about as acceptance by others of that existence and agreement to deal with that entity on that basis.
    Perhaps if Madrid were prepared to allow Catalunya complete autonomy within a notional Spanish state but represent it at EU Council level,then an accommodation can be found.
    Depends,I suppose on how much value Madrid puts on controlling Catalan resources.

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    1. I think it might be too late for that. Spain has turned down all attempts at dialogue so far. Their own fault..

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  6. Totally agree ,and if there is more disharmony within member states , never mind nation states , with nothing acted upon to guarantee the continuation of democracy , you can bet the EU's days are numbered !

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  7. Any thoughts on the telegraph article about independence slipping from sturgeon?

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    1. Yes. Typical telegraph fantasy. They're secretly horrified that the narrative of snp decline is failing to come true....

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    2. BritNat propaganda. There was something similar in the new right wing Grauniad yesterday. I'm afraid I ignore "Comment/Opinion" in the English press because they all have an anti-Scottish, anti-SNP agenda and have very little intelligent to say.

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  8. "Ultimately the right of self-determination cannot be constrained by Central Government." So were the Confederate States in the right when they declared that they had the right to secede from the USA in 1861?

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    1. They were not in the right on slavery. (I hope you weren't attempting game-playing of that sort.) But of course any constituent part of any federation should have the right to leave that federation.

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    2. James

      As you will know, Abraham Lincoln didn't fight the Civil War (at least at the outset) on the basis that slavery was wrong. Instead he fought it on the principle that, sometimes in a democracy, the minority have to accept the will of the majority. If a minority is automatically allowed to withdraw from a state simply because it doesn't share the views of the majority, then you end up with anarchy, not democracy. I happen to believe that Lincoln had a pretty good understanding of democracy.

      Thus, while I believe that David Cameron was right to allow Scotland the right to vote in a referendum in 2014 and that Scotland should be given another vote as a consequence, I also think that it is utterly simplistic to suggest that any part of every federation should have the right to vote on seceding whenever they feel like it.

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    3. I've just made the point to you that it's slavery that put the Confederate states in the wrong. If you think Abraham Lincoln is worthy of his reputation simply for standing against self-determination...well, good luck with that one. The definition of 'democracy' you have in mind (minorities have no rights if the majority so decide) is the antithesis of liberal democracy. It can legitimise any tyranny up to and including genocide.

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    4. So you are suggesting that Abraham Lincoln saw himself as effectively invading a foreign country - i.e. the South - because he didn't like their social system? In other words, he was like a nineteenth century version of George W. Bush? Good luck with that particular reinterpretation of history.

      You are normally so courteous James - and I am slightly amazed that, after I simply raised a point that I don't think that anyone can seriously contest - i. e. that the right of a minority to withdraw from a state cannot be an absolute and constant one - I am effectively being accused of advocating genocide.

      As I said, I think that, given the calamity of Brexit, I think that Westminster should give Scotland the right to a second referendum. However the idea that Scotland - or indeed any other constituent part of any nation - should have an absolute and unilateral right to leave the UK whenever it wants to strikes me as utterly unrealistic.

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    5. Self-determination is no the right of a 'minority'. It is the right of a PEOPLES. The Southern states would be hard pressed to find any way they could fit in the definition of a people.

      As for an absolute and unilateral right to self-determination, the UN Charter doesn't say it applies if you like the peoples invoking or if it is convenient to the larger state, or if no one else objects. Yes, it is indeed absolutely and must of course be unilateral.

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    6. Moreover as a Yank, I have to say that the example of Lincoln holding the Union together purely through military might was not one that has done the world any favors.

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    7. As a Yank Mr Tomlin you should appreciate that Scotland has had many immigrants since the Industrial Revolution. Real Scots and Yanks are a minority therefore nationalism is a myth... The Scottish nat sis are dangerous as is the Catelonian nat sis.

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    8. So immigrants cannot become part of a nation and want to run the nation they have adopted without interference? I believe you will find THAT is what is a myth.

      However, you are right about there being Nazis (I'll even have the balls to spell it correctly). They are the heirs of the same Nazis who ran Spain under Franco and are the ones who beat peaceful citizens and threatening to execute the president of Catalan. They happen to be Spanish rather than Catalan though.

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  9. The Brit Constitution says its illegal to have a Referendum.....oh....wait.....wot Constitution ?

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  10. Al Skinner rightly says Germany has a central role, however in an organisation which is supposed to have equality between members then Germany should not...
    That is one of the reasons we are saying ta ta to the German doninated EU.. And it is not too soon before Germany gets sick with its economic power.

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  11. Fascinating discussion here!
    But can I just point out that the situation between Scotland and England is no about what a Constitution (what ever form it takes) says.
    Scotland and England are in a TREATY agreement about how the business Government is conducted.
    The debate is whither to keep this arrangement or default back to two completely separate Parliament's.
    The issues of whither Scotland is a People,or is bound to the Treaty forever is no in dispute.

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  12. Think it's more a misinterpretation of when territorial integrity overrides self determination. One can theorise a form of gradual invasion where migrants from a neighbouring country reach sufficient numbers to vote for local autonomy. UKIPish perhaps but playing up unlikely scenarios is how extremists roll.

    Thing is that Spain recognises an existing border with Catalonia and the Catalan people. Nor does a vote on redrawing the borders of Spain necessarily break its constitution. Unless there's a clause in it specifically banning referenda then it wasn't illegal.

    Even then, the conflict between right to self determination and territorial integrity is lessened if the former includes the right to express a desire for or against independence. Spain has not only preempted an attempt to change/break its constitution but outright denied any form of self determination.

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  13. 'Furthermore, the shocking tsunami of propaganda unleashed by the UK government and its unionist coreligionists in the press destroyed any prospect of a sound decision in 2014. I belong to the school of thought that believes there would have been a Yes vote in the absence of this ideological warfare. A handsome victory, I suspect.'

    Why would the UK and unionists not fight to keep the UK united? In your world, the idea of a 'fair' referendum is that everything nationalists say is taken as truth, without question and without investigation. That YOUR propaganda goes without reply from the opposition.

    For an apparently educated person, you seem oblivious to how fanciful that world actually is in a pluralistic, divided and partisan country.

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    1. By all means, Britnat unionists, 'fight' for what you want, but when you have to lie and lie and lie, to keep holding onto power, well, it only ends one way.

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    2. Yeah that's it exactly. No problem at all with people being against Scottish independence, I just dislike the lies, the efforts to destroy people's confidence in their own abilities. The constant bs about how Scotland would become the new Belarus etc

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    3. Why is it you nat si plonkers want to give power away to the EU? You are a totally useless bunch of hypocrites. All these years in power and you cannot come up with a currency.
      Be honest with the people and admit you want Brussels to have control and you want the euro.

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    4. The euro is undoubtedly the direction of travel for an independent Scotland. The map of the world will stay the same though. Scotland can't be cut and pasted next to Germany. If you want to travel from Dumfries to Carlisle, you'll need to exchange your euros for pounds.

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  14. To this day the Australian Constitution, still discriminates against the indigenous peoples of that land.

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  15. I've noticed BBC news has subtly altered its references to Catalonia. Previously it referred to Catalonia. Now the BBC has taken to referring to the same place as 'the Catalan region'. It also no longer refers to the Catalonia President but to the regional President. It also no longer refers to Catalonia's Parliament but to the regional parliament.

    The nice, cosy, English nationalist Auntie Beeb is definitely on the side of the Spanish polis who like to club unarmed grannies and girls and all peaceful citizens simply wishing to vote.

    Many of the elderly grannies who were attacked were going to vote 'No' to independence. I wonder what they'll vote next time around?

    Always remember the Tories only 'gave' Scotland the first Indy vote because they thought it was a joke. All the union parties openly mocked Salmond back in 2012.

    The same English nationalists and their Scottish unionists apologists no longer wish to give us a second vote. They know next time the Yes argument for independence from Tory little England blind and fervent nationalism will win.

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    1. Interesting too to note that the Greater England Broadcasting Corporation, having initially sought to ignore the story altogther, then having used the sort of slanted language you refer to, then gave a demonstration by Spanish assimilationists (or, in Beeb-speak, 'Catalans who are against independence'; scarcely surprising when thousands of them were bussed, trained, planed and boated in from Spain - including a few thousand Falangists giving Fascist salutes and beating up journalists); the Broadcorping Castration, as I say, gave huge prominence to that demo on its news website, even giving it the main-story position for most of Sunday.

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  16. I've not tried reading the Spanish constitution. But surely it contains a statement as to how it gets amended? So all that's needed is a motion - somewhere - Spanish Parliament? - on changing the constitution so to remove the "indissolveability" bit. That was, things remain both democratic and legal.

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    1. Written constitutions aren't usually that easy to change. It will probably require a supermajority of representatives / regions across all of Spain. That's not going to happen.

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  17. If Unionists and Unionism in Scotland are so strong and sure of itself, I am sure they would be only too happy to contest IndyRef2 without Anglo/British backing or Interference, Or would that be just a little too much like a level playing field for their liking. It is after all the only thing those of an Independence mind ask of our fellow Unionist Citizens.

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  18. It would seem the Catalans have bottled it big time. "We declare independence, but not just yet". They must have been able to hear the laughter all the way from Madrid.

    The reality is that you can want independence as much as you like, but if others aren't prepared to recognise or facilitate it then you will not be independent. An independent Catalonia would have found itself at war and poverty stricken almost immediately. For a rough and ready people used to suffering and with a religious devotion to cause, this might have been acceptable. But that isn't Catalonia and it certainly isn't Scotland.

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    1. "An independent Catalonia would have found itself at war"

      "An independent Catalonia is impossible"

      Jeez, make up your minds, guys. I think you're deluding yourselves as much as anything - however you interpret the meaning of yesterday's declaration, it makes a full declaration of independence inevitable (barring massive concessions from Spain).

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  19. A good piece, but there's one more thing which hasn't (as far as I can see) been touched upon in any of the comments and analysis of either Catalunya or Scotland.

    There seems to be a basic, underlying assumption that the boundaries of states are all - or should be - immutable and permanent, and that no challenge to that structure should be encouraged, or even permitted.

    It is a mindset to be found particularly in and around the 'multi-national' states of Europe (Spain, France, Greater England), but it totally ignores reality. If you look at how the boundaries of states in Europe alone have changed in the last hundred or so years only, it is impossible seriously to claim that immutability. Think of the 'unchangeable' states of Europe which no longer exist, largely because all of or some of the peoples of those states decided that they wanted a different arrangement: the DDR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Saarland, the USSR. All gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre, mostly by means which were completely against the sacred constitutions of those states at the time.

    No state can be (or should be) set in stone for all time, and changes should be allowed for by a democratic process without obstructionism by the embedded élites. Otherwise, with peaceful change ruled out, violent change becomes inevitable.

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    1. The Scottish nat sis did not accept the 2014 referendum. So will they attempt violence? Scottish Unionists who do not accept rule from Brussels may attempt violence!
      However the best option is prosperity in the UK and getting rid of the EU dictatorship. Half Scottish politicians and end the House of Lords.. Tax the wealthy and end foodbanks. Boot out the Scottish nat si Tartan Tories and return Labour to power.

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    2. Hi Nigel, you hit the nail on the head.

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    3. Pooling and sharing has to be agreed by all parties involved and not dictated by the party with the biggest army.
      That is pretty well where we are with the Catalunya and Scottish situations,except in the Scottish case we have an army of propagandists rather than violence,for now.
      The EU is about peaceful co-existence through the promotion of trade and discourse.
      That is not what we are seeing in Spain at the moment.
      I hope this situation can be settled in a reasonable and peaceful manner but much depends on Madrid.


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  20. Nigel knows he is talking nonsense to promote his nat si agenda. We Unionists Mr Skinner are ahead of your game... loser.

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    1. Great britain is going to win the world cup. Rule britannia

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    2. What a funny little chap you are.

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  21. Btw Owen Jones has an article in the guardian. He writes "I have little truck with pro-independence movements unless a nation is oppressed, like those subjugated by Europe’s former great powers – and Catalonia is not. Supporting Catalonia’s right to divorce does not mean endorsing it."
    This annoys me.
    Why on earth this weird, counterintuitive idea that governing yourself only comes into play if people are - what? Being shot?
    In any case Catalonia is being oppressed.
    So is Scotland.
    In the latter case that takes the Form of media and government manipulation and propaganda, primarily.
    Just because people aren't being shot or jailed doesn't mean it's not oppression.
    From a slightly different angle: I hope catalonia becomes independent because I dislike the Spanish state, its attitudes and actions. But in principle I have no opinion about whether other parts of the world become independent. It's simply *up to the people who live there*.
    There's an arrogance about people like Jones being *against* the independence of a other country.
    We don't always have to be for or against things.....

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    1. I feel oppressed every day I wake up. Its them English working class tae blame with their extra welfare benefits, flat beer and a better fitba team. We should fight them on the beaches and rebuild Hadrian's Wa and keep them oot. Only pure Scottish blood for Scotland.

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    2. England England uber alles

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  22. Top Jocko fitba manager says Jocks are genetically inferior poisoned dwarfs an cannae get up tae heeder ra ba. They hiv aw goat rickets an press their troosers over a barrel.

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    1. We need to end the 4 uk teams and just have one GB team we would win everything

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    2. Eleven big English blokes could do it. The jockos, paddies and welsh leeks could polish their boots and dae their dobbie.

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    3. State of the cringe on this.

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  23. Aye, 1492. Cortez The Killer, and the rest of the dreary Spanish tribe.

    The indigenous peoples, of the 'Americas', had independence. Columbus Day - a right insult.

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    1. They did it for the true faith and stole some gold along the way.

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    2. Anglicans are the true faith every other are heathens just ask the DUP

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    3. I thought the DUP were Christians as opposed to Anglicans and Papist heretics.

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  24. In his speech to Congress on the peace process at the end of WWI, US President Woodrow Wilson had this to say: '"Self-determination" is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of actions which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.'

    It is a great pity that we have many politicians but very few statesmen.

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    1. And the USA ignored what Wilson had to say in the interest of the USA!

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  25. I am surprised but pleased to see you admit that nations who ignore self-determination are doing so purely from greedy self-interest. The USA has the same lack of statesmen as other nations such as Spain and the UK.

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    1. And the Scottish people determined in a legal ballot that they wished to remain in the Union... Wilson did take the USA belatedly into WW1.

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    2. You're getting confused, hun. The topic is Catalonian self-determination, not Scottish, and as you so clearly pointed out, trying to deny the right of self-determination is a matter of selfish greed.

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    3. Are you losing the plot Herr Tomlin it was you who mentioned the Yanks and Wilson. Are you on the illicit brew?

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  26. I can't remember voting for any UN charters.

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    1. The recognition of universal human rights, including the right to self determination, enshrined in the UN charter, happened as a result of recognising the catastrophic consequences, genocide and world war, that can result from trampling on fundamental rights.

      People had seen that, after WW1 (‘the war to end all wars’), there were nice words but to the victors all the spoils, and people saw what such a vicious attitude led to: the great depresssion, the rise of fascism, another world war.

      They had the sense, after WW2, to seek to base society and the world on rights not Might, and treated Germany very differently, voted in a very different UK government, and enshrined this recognition of human rights in the UN charter.

      People voted for governments who voted for it. People like my dad had endured war for it. It so obviously made and makes sense, because it is based on a clear understanding of reality.

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  27. There is a growing list of regions/countries/entities expressing a desire to leave the nation states to which they belong, within the EU : Catalonia, Lombardy, Venecia, Scotland, Occitania............

    Is the EU being seen as an umbrella under which small states can flourish, and if so are we on the way to a United States of Europe? We might be in a successful federation if no one member state is strong enough to push the others about. I think we should be looking at candidate states in this light.

    And for a future Scotland the test is not Renfrewshire but Shetland.

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    1. Just as a point of information, the Shetland Independence candidate in the 2017 General Election got 245 votes, or 0.1% of the electorate.

      The 'Shetland Independence' movement is a creature entirely of the British press and a few hardcore unionists. It ONLY appears when Scottish self-government is in the ascendant.

      Shetlander here btw

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    2. Yeah good point.
      However, if there was ever a serious independence movement in Shetland, I'd support its right to a referendum.

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