Scots Splitting From the State?

According to MSNBC, “an astonishing victory for nationalists in the Scottish parliamentary elections” presages a referendum on whether the country should secede from the United Kingdom.

For more than three centuries, the Treaty of Union between England (subsuming Wales) and Scotland has yoked together the two British countries, with political power residing predominantly in London.

Needless to say, even if most Scots found the union politically expedient in its day, the civic considerations of the present are far removed from those of the dawn of the eighteenth century. While there’s no perfect analogy to this political interconnection, it slightly resembles the relationship between the federal government of the United States and the governments of the states.

The Scottish legislature has competence to attend to many areas of public policy, but under the Scotland Act of 1998 the United Kingdom “retains ultimate power to legislate for Scotland on all matters.” Though Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom’s political edifice has endured for generations, it has never completely ossified for many Scots, who see full political autonomy as impossible so long as the link survives.

Since market anarchism is a social philosophy based on self-ownership — insisting on independence and self-rule for every human being — peaceful secession is an idea at its very heart. The Scottish nationalists’ arguments for independence are based on the claim that weighty ideological differences make rule from the outside unacceptable.

The people of Scotland, they argue, part ways with those of England on enough important issues that there cannot be complete justice for the former under the political domination of the latter. The two groups have different preferences, so — it is argued — they ought to have separate and distinct governing bodies.

For market anarchists, the nationalists’ invocations of sovereignty and independence are somewhat spurious insofar as they would not carry these principles to their logical ends and extinguish the state altogether. Nevertheless, their rationale for proposing a divide from the United Kingdom is compelling, highlighting the fundamental moral and economic problems with statism.

Consider the problems that would undoubtedly arise if you were charged with making decisions about your neighbor’s life, from the sort of car she ought to drive to the kinds of groceries she ought to buy. Beyond just the ethical unconscionability of taking these decisions away from her, you would soon realize that, lacking her particularized understanding of her own living situation, you were unable to manage efficiently her daily life.

This is the intrinsic problem in all foreign domination and therefore all of statism; it delegates to a small, ruling class responsibility for governing our lives and livelihoods, foolishly assuming not only that the elite can govern us, but that they will do so without rigging the game to exploit us.

If London, for example, is allowed to make significant policy judgments for Scotland, every incentive pulls in the direction of London robbing Scotland of its resources and taking advantage of its people. The relationship between any state and its subjects is no different, breeding all of the same incentive problems and exploitative relationships.

Market anarchists do not claim that individuals should be able to do whatever they please, just that they should be able to do, in the words of Leonard E. Read, “anything that’s peaceful.”

Unqualified political independence, if taken seriously, would not stop at an independent Scotland or even an independent Edinburgh. It would mean no less than independence and self-determination for each individual, a society without the state where true community could develop freely to solve the problems of human life.

Citations to this article:

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist