When is Independence Desirable? All over the world, you find independence movements, activists who want their own group or region to be politically independent from some kind of larger body. The recent elections in Catalonia showed a big surge in support for Junts pel Si, the major movement for the independence of Catalonia from Spain. The SNP are calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence from the UK. The Kurds in Syria and Turkey fight tooth-and-nail for an independent Kurdish nation. Palestinians want independence from Israel, Kosovans from Serbia, and Northern Italians from Southern Italians. But how is one to judge the propriety of secession? Is it hypocritical to support one independence movement whilst denying assent to another? UKIP, itself part of an independence movement, must be able to answer such questions.
My argument in brief (which I will clarify with real world examples) is that independence movements should be supported when they seek some kind of liberation, in other words, when those in the movement seek to escape a less free political structure in order to establish a freer one. This freedom must be conceived in a universal sense; those who seek political independence in order to have more leeway to attack, persecute or enslave another group should not be supported. Neither should a movement be supported if its adherents conceive of freedom in some bizarre, illiberal fashion such as the untamed “freedom” of libertinism, or the “freedom” from “wage slavery” that communism is supposed to bring.
The Whigs or “Patriots” who sparked the American Revolutionary War are one of the best examples of a fundamentally good independence movement. They rallied against taxation without representation, economic protectionism and the unaccountable aristocracy. In place of British hegemony, they desired a free republic founded on the principles of man’s natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Give me liberty or give me death,” cried Founding Father Patrick Henry, in his famous speech to the Virginia Convention. There has never been a more consistent, universal, genuine (and successful) liberating movement than that of the American Patriots.
By contrast, the Confederate side during the American Civil War exemplify a bad independence movement. Various casual factors have been attributed to the Civil War, and historians continue to debate their relative importance. Nevertheless, the centrality of slavery cannot be denied. It cannot be denied that the desire to prevent the slaves from being freed was an important reason why the Southern states sought secession from the North. Slavery is unthinkably despicable, missing out only to genocide for the prize of “Worst Political Phenomenon”. Any movement that aims to preserve the subjugation of some cannot be justified by a parallel aim to increase the freedom of others. The South opposed the North because the North wanted everyone, black and white, to be free. The Southern secessionists were thus fundamentally anti-liberation.
Now we come to the eurosceptic movement. If you’ve followed my analysis so far, it should be clear why the movement for British independence from the EU is one that deserves support. The EU (as if it needed repeating) is an authoritarian technocracy. It is a political system in which power and wealth are centralised, elected governments and their electorate are ignored, cronies and lobbyists are unduly rewarded, and regulation is extended over every minor detail of human life. Eurosceptics (excepting some socialists, who oppose the EU for not being authoritarian enough) desire Brexit in order to return to the British tradition of small government and copious liberty. Eurosceptics seek democracy, transparency and accountability. The movement to leave the EU clearly aims at a genuine political liberation.
Following from this, it should also be easy to see why UKIP and eurosceptic Tories were not hypocritical to oppose the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon presents the movement for Scottish independence as some kind of liberation from Westminster, but in reality it is nothing of the sort. The SNP oppose Westminster because they oppose basic British values, especially limited government and private property. The Scottish Nationalists’ desire to escape Tory economic policy in order to “end austerity” is merely a cover for their plan to turn Scotland into a wholly socialist country. In summary, what the SNP propose is not liberation; an independent Scotland would see its citizens subjugated to a much more authoritarian system. The movement to bring about such a Scotland is most definitely not a laudable one.
The major virtue of independence movements is their desire to bring power closer to the people. Pluralising government and making it more local leads to greater accountability and greater competition for good policy. Independence is not inherently positive however. It ought to be thought of as a strategy, as more of a means than an end. A laudable independence movement is one that sees independence as a means to more freedom. It is before this horizon of political liberation that all independence movements should be evaluated.