As I write this post, it is the evening before the Scots vote on a referendum to secede from the United Kingdom. While there has been a flurry of media commentary in the past week, the overall reaction has been fairly quiet, save for one issue: Scottish economics in the wake of theoretical independence. I say this because most of the objections I have read to the Scottish independence rely on their lack of financial certainty once divorced from the pound (see the New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Economist, etc.). When reflecting on the various definitions of a state, however, one does not encounter financial solvency as a primary criteria. Consider the barest of definitions, Weber’s monopolization on the use of violence. Given that there are special Scottish units in the United Kingdom military, Scotland is patrolled by Scottish policemen, and it has generally been a peaceful country, it would be difficult to say that the Scots are incapable of a monopolization on the use of violence. Consider a thicker definition, such as a nation state, where this is a shared culture, history, and identity that is distinct from surrounding geopolitical entities. While I am no expert in Scottish history, and admittedly base much of my knowledge on the significant differences between Scottish and English country music, there seems to be a clear distinction between what is Scottish and what is English in terms of accents, dress, or culture. Consider another sociologist, Michael Mann, and his emphasis on a state’s autonomy deriving from a territorially centralized form of organization, and the state as having despotic (power over the territory and society) and infrastructural (power to use civil society to enforce policy) powers. Again, Mann does not mention economic criteria for statehood.
The lack of economic criteria for statehood should not be surprising. Any state that relies on foreign aid to balance the budget would lose their statehood, creating the dilemma of placing them in a new, politically correct and viable category. But then why does the international community place the burden on Scotland to be financially solvent? Does this indicate that there should be an economic criteria for statehood, and if so, what would that criteria be? How would it incorporate countries that are currently categorized as states but are not financially independent? Or, perhaps, is there an implied economic component in our thicker definitions of statehood? While I pose these questions as further food for thought, I will end this essay with my tentative answers: while logistically it would be sensible to require financial independence for statehood, it has not been the current practice from the beginning of the state as an institution, and it would be impossible to enforce. Adding these extra criteria would, given the status quo, create more problems than it solves. For that reason, I don’t believe that the more mainstream definitions of a state imply solvency. These definitions, more often than not, try to generalize characteristics of the phenomenon as it already exists, and sound finances are not a general characteristic of the modern state.
This is not to say that Scotland should vote one way or another – I am not Scottish, and such a decision should be uniquely left to them. But they should not vote no to independence simply because they have been told they cannot be a state. Based on the theoretical definitions, they are already almost there.