Let’s get this out of the way. Scotland is not an official country and neither is Somaliland. Neither has a seat at the EU or a seat at the AU, respectively, nor do either have a seat at the UN. Their governments pass local laws and govern everything within their borders, but others speak on their behalf (and receive money in their name) on the world stage. Scotland may be referred to as a country, but aside from preferential terminology, it is not recognised as a country. This is where the Scottish struggle for independence comes in.
Scotland’s call for independence in the last few years is an ideological one, born out of political and economic gains that independence will bring. Somaliland’s call for independence since 1991 was born out of necessity, as a last option to the 100,000s of lives lost during the attack of the military regime of the government at the time on Somaliland. They have since had their referendum, agreed to be independent and have been lobbying for international recognition ever since.
The first concrete step towards Scotland’s Independence was the Edinburgh Agreement between the UK Government and the Scottish Government on having a Referendum in Scotland. Somaliland does not have such an agreement with the Federal Government of Somalia, as there was no-one to negotiate with for the last two decades. The permanent Government of Somalia that has recently been created and is funded, supported, and protected by the international community is not willing to support Somaliland’s independence claims and sees them only as a region, and not a country.
There have been white papers, Question Time debates on Scottish young voters and independence as well as the independence argument between Scottish MPs, Scottish Parliamentary debates, to make the case for and against Scotland’s independence. Somaliland has had very little of this in comparison, but it is long overdue.
But the strongest influence on public opinion comes from two age-old instruments, political institutions and the media. In my previous article on ethnic conflict, I highlighted how we use the same tactics on ourselves that the old colonial powers used to use on us. One of those colonial powers was Great Britain and they had perfected their techniques, because they used it on Scotland, Wales, and Ireland over the last few centuries. They were willing to ‘give’ their colonies independence, but are not as willing to give it to the neighbours they’ve colonised. And the politicians are using the media to spin their stories.
If a country wants to join the EU, they have to submit a membership application, and the European Commission assesses the applicant’s ability to meet the Copenhagen criteria, split into the 35 chapters of the ‘acquis’. But when you have the President of the European Commission telling the media that Scotland joining the EU is near impossible before they have even submitted an application, you can very quickly see how opposition is building up even outside of the UK. Members of the EU are worried that Scotland’s independence will trigger secession calls within other EU member states, which is why Spain has been against allowing Kosovo to join the EU, as it would face further pressure from within their own borders. As the only major country in Western Europe refusing to recognise Kosovo, Spain has made clear that recognising their independence would cause implications regarding its own issues with independence movements in the Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia.
Somaliland is facing a similar issue with the African Union and the UN. Kofi Annan reported to the General Assembly in 2000 that “‘Somaliland’, in particular, remain[ed] firmly outside the peace process.” The UN (driven by US policy) is concerned that recognising the independence of Somaliland will further destabilise South-Central Somalia, and does not want to destabilise the relations they have with their allies in the regions, such as Ethiopia. The African Union is also apprehensive, considering the possibility that allowing the secession of Somaliland will trigger more calls of secession with the other African countries. They are quite keen to keep the borders that were drawn up by their colonisers and the previous colonial powers support them in that decision. It’s a mind-set that desperately needs changing. Despite the AU fact-finding report in 2005, the African Union still has not had a complete debate on possibility of recognising Somaliland. And the rest of the world will not recognise Somaliland if the AU is unwilling to.
But the biggest obstacle to the independence of Scotland and Somaliland are the administrations they are trying to separate from. England believes in ‘Great Britain’ which includes Scotland; and Somalia believes in ‘Greater Somalia’ which includes Somaliland. The ideology behind this is dressed up as an economically, politically and socially driven policy where the Nation is stronger together. But the truth is, nobody wants to give up control of a region within their current borders, as this may strengthen the new independent region, but would weaken the country they have separated from. It’s about survival.
Perhaps both countries should be independent, perhaps they shouldn’t. The arguments on both sides are very convincing for Scotland and Somaliland. But what should definitely happen is that an open debate should be held that considers this from all perspectives and that everyone remains true to the strongest pillar of democracy, the pillar that protects the right of self-determination of any people. You want Scotland or Somaliland to vote for or against independence? Then organise the debate to happen openly and fairly, and convince the citizens why your case is in their best interest, and allow the citizens to choose for themselves.
by Awoowe Hamza