We’ve been seeing articles talking about the lessons Puerto Rico can learn from Scotland, but the U.S. should not need lessons on government by consent from Britain!
Since when do Americans let Britain show us how to end imperialism?
September 18, 2014, will go down in history as the day when the people of Scotland agreed to live in political union with Great Britain. The referendum on Scottish independence was an example of self-determination confirming the will of a free people to have a political status defined under British law.
The Scottish National Parliament sponsored the political status referendum, but changing Scotland’s political status required more than the decision of the Scottish Parliament. Just as Puerto Rico can’t unilaterally choose a political status but must have the agreement of the United States government, Scotland had to have the agreement of Great Britain to make their vote meaningful.
It was clear that a locally-sponsored referendum would “have no legal effect on the Union.” Even so, instead of ignoring the call for a vote, the British government agreed to support a Scottish political status referendum. Just government is based on consent of the governed, so the British and Scottish governments took the legal steps required for the Scottish government to conduct a referendum under both local Scottish law and British law.
Both Houses in the British Parliament approved the arrangements for the vote, and on December 17, 2013, the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, approved the Scottish Independence Referendum Act of 2013. This referendum law allowed over 4 million residents of Scotland to vote on the question: “Should Scotland become an independent country?”
If the majority had voted for independence, the two governments would have worked together to figure out a transition to independence for Scotland. As it turned out, the “No” vote was a 55.3% majority, with 84.6% of voters casting ballots.
Britain worked together with Scotland for an orderly self-determination process for the Scottish people, but the U.S. government is making long delayed but increasingly hopeful progress toward resolution of Puerto Rico’s status problem. Puerto Rico’s status as a territory is the legacy of undemocratic and historically imperialistic rule in Puerto Rico by the United States. It seems Britain learned its own lessons from history. In the past, Britain resisted popular independence movements — and lost its colonies.
The story of England’s shrinking empire in many ways starts with the American War for Independence. That first chapter is the dramatic story of how Americans ended British imperialism and colonial rule by insisting on government with the consent of the governed. So it is ironic that the U.S. has ignored and resisted the desire of Puerto Rico for self-determination.
After Congress had failed for several decades to pass legislation sponsoring a status referendum in Puerto Rico, the local Puerto Rican government conducted a series of local votes on the island. Since the U.S. government would not work with Puerto Rico on the self-determination process, the 1993 and 1998 ballots offered status options which were incompatible with the Constitution and laws of the United States. The results of those votes had no effect; Congress wouldn’t accept the “enhanced commonwealth” result in 1993 and 1998 ended up with “None of the above” as the winning choice.
Faced with the same choice Britain faced in Scotland, between ignoring a local referendum that could have “no effect on the union” and enabling a meaningful vote on legally valid status options, the U.S. balked for decades. Bills were presented, but failed, and 3.7 million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico continued to be denied self-determination.
In 2012 the local government sponsored another vote. This time, the ballot options were those recognized in White House reports by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Political Status, U.S. Congress committee reports, and federal court rulings. 54% of the voters rejected the current undemocratic territorial status, and 61% approved admission to the Union as a State.
Based on those results, in early 2014 Congress approved a law authorizing and funding a status vote in Puerto Rico based on options compatible with U.S. law. The U.S. finally is close to catching up with England.
The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico now have the same right to federally recognized government by consent that Scotland had in 2013, when Britain and Scotland co-sponsored the Scottish independence vote. Ironically, special interests benefiting from the current status are doing all they can to interfere with the vote Congress finally has authorized.
The U.S. Congress finally has enabled a vote on statehood and separate nationhood as alternatives to the current undemocratic territorial status. Until that vote has taken place, the U.S. will be presiding over a status to which the people have not consented, an imperialist policy akin to that which Britain carried out in America before 1776.
King George’s denial of government by consent led to the American Revolution, but now America has delayed government by consent to 3.7 million U.S. citizens. Meanwhile the British monarchy has done in Scotland what the American colonies asked of King George.
If the government of Puerto Rico keeps delaying the referendum, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico may need to study the tactics the American colonists used to get the attention of King George!
Meanwhile, please sign the petition for self-determination for Puerto Rico.
This post was originally written in English and may be being auto-translated by Google.
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