The Charter of Statehood

States tend to operate on the assumption that they are eternal – so they don’t normally have exit clauses – and can be neurotic about their territorial integrity. The debate over Scottish independence, and its future relations with the EU, has demonstrated once again that an agreed mechanism is required to gently manage the death of states. The attitude of Spanish politicians in particular towards a potentially independent Scotland is motivated not by concern for Scots welfare, but by fear of setting a Caledonian-Catalonian precedent. No matter what one’s views on Scottish independence, the idea that Scotland should be held hostage to a dispute between third parties should be abhorrent.

There follows a modest proposal for a Charter of Statehood, which should be adopted by the member states of the EU. It provides an orderly process for regional secession, combined with a promise by existing powers to act generously in their relations with newly-independent states. In particular, it commits regional bodies to keeping a secessionist state within the fold – for example an independent Scotland (or Catalonia) would be entitled to near-automatic membership of the EU.

It is intentionally limited, and provides for unilateral secession as only one of several options – the intent being that the existence of such a safety valve will normally be sufficient to dissuade brinksmanship. It deliberately does not cover redrawing boundaries to arbitrary levels of precision – unilateral secession can only take place on the basis of existing local government units and only after the formation of a functioning autonomous state on the seceding territory. The final clause commits states to refrain from abolishing local government units for the sole purpose of thwarting secession. The language is also drafted to be portable – it applies equally to the breakup of an autonomous region within a federal state as it does to secession within the EU.

The Charter

  1. For the purposes of this charter, a “state” is a jurisdiction with a body of constitutional law, and both legislative and executive competence over its internal affairs. It need not be sovereign under international law, and may be part of a larger containing state, e.g. a federation.
  2. A state may dissolve itself into multiple states through its own processes. Each new state shall have the right to retain membership of overarching bodies, and these bodies shall provide an equitable mechanism for integrating each new state into their structures as a member of equal standing without undue hindrance or delay.
  3. Two or more states may merge into a combined state by mutual consent, as expressed through their internal processes. The combined state shall have the right to retain membership of any mutually overarching bodies, and these bodies shall update their structures to take account of the union in an equitable manner without undue delay.
  4. A state of more than two years’ standing may unilaterally declare independence from a containing state through its own processes. The containing state shall facilitate such a declaration, however it may impose a reasonable and proportionate transition procedure. The leaving state shall have the right to retain membership of overarching bodies, and these bodies shall provide an equitable mechanism for integrating the state into their structures as a member of equal standing without undue hindrance or delay.
  5. One or more local government areas may individually or collectively declare themselves a state by adopting a constitution through simple ballot of their electorates. Such a constitution must be consistent with both the ECHR and this charter. The containing state shall provide a mechanism to hold such a ballot if a significant fraction of public opinion is shown to be in favour, but may impose reasonable and proportional restrictions on the frequency, timing and conditions of the ballot. Those local government units whose electorates pass a common constitution shall have the right to form a new state on their collective territory subject to that constitution. The containing state shall provide a mechanism for integrating the new state into its structures as an autonomous jurisdiction without undue hindrance or delay.
  6. States shall provide a system of local government with boundaries and functions based on objective economic, social and geographic criteria, while taking due account of the views of the electorate. Local government boundaries must not be altered for the purposes of thwarting the declaration of a state.
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