In the post-election climate of the U.S., several states have met the election outcome with an interesting response – secession from our Union. They have begun to publicize petitions for secession, which upon reaching a certain number of signatures from the residents of the given state will, they hope, warrant a formal response from the White House. Likewise, a movement to counter potential secession has gained momentum and appears to be the position largely supported by the governors of the States compiling these petitions. Whatever your opinion on the matter, the question must be asked: Can a state legally secede from the Union?
During the negotiations to form what is now the United States in 1787, two of the biggest future states at that time, Virginia and New York, made it a mandatory stipulation that they be allowed to secede from the proposed Union before they would accept the Constitution. The language of the Constitution mandates that any right granted to one State within the Union must be granted to each and every other State as well. Thus, although it may not be specifically in the language of each State’s acceptance of the Constitution, each State does indeed have the right to secede from the Union, which is the first legal hurdle to overcome in such a process.
The issue of secession is not a new one in the U.S., with the largest-scale example occurring in the 1800’s and sitting at the heart of the Civil War, but at the core of each discussion is the issue of fairness; fairness in fiscal matters, fairness in adequate representation within government, and fairness in the amount of decision-making power that lies in the hands of the citizens to govern themselves. These issues similarly underlie the discussions within the U.K. as to whether Scotland should be an independent country and separate from the governance of the U.K.
A referendum is set for 2014 in which a vote will be taken to make Scotland an independent country. Scotland currently is independent in an important way – it has its own Parliament which held its first meeting in May 1999. However, the fiscal and foreign policies for all of the U.K. are still set by the government in Westminster. If the result of the referendum is an independent Scotland, many legal questions will need to be addressed, not the least of which being how will an independent Scotland be integrated into the framework of the European Union, if at all.
The development of such separation discussions on both sides of the Atlantic will no doubt highlight many of the similarities and differences in the documents within the U.S. and within the U.K. that govern the overall structure, evolution, and devolution of both Unions.