Friday, November 28, 2014

Wales Compromising Scotland: Should Britain Keep Its Promise?

A few months after residents in the Scottish region of the E.U. state of Britain voted not to secede from the state by a margin of 55 to 45 percent, a state commission announced proposals for the regional assembly to have more authority. David Cameron had promised on behalf of the state government that the Scottish region would be given more power provided the residents reject secession. To be sure, replying on such a promise in political matters is hazardous at best, as changing political winds can easily erode such sand castles. At the very least, political players with their own agendas can succeed in obfuscating the understood validity of such a promise.

Under the proposal, the Scottish region would have the power to set income tax rates, control some of the money raised by the state’s sales tax and the duties imposed on passengers in airports in the region, and have more say in the amount of spending on social welfare in the region.[1] The political ideology in the region had tended to run more in the social-welfare direction than in the state as a whole. Accordingly, the proposal would more closely fit the public policy to the preference of the residents.

Seeing an opening for such a benefit for residents in the Welsh region, Carwyn Jones, the first-minister there, claimed that her region should receive similar powers from the state. Ignoring the pre-referendum promise pertaining to the Scottish region, she told the BBC that giving only that region additional powers would be to discriminate against the other regions.[2] Because the Welsh region did not have a referendum on whether to secede from the state, however, neither the government’s promise nor its subsequent proposal are discriminatory. In fact, viewing either one as unfair is itself unfair because it is unfair to treat unlike things as like.

Additionally, to the extent that Carwyn’s claim puts the fulfilment of the promise at risk, the claim is unfair to the residents in the Scottish region. As Kant argues in his text on practical reason, breaking a promise is unethical. Accordingly, manipulating government officials so they will break their promise is unethical, for, Kant argues, were government leaders to regularly go back on their word, no one would take them at their word and promise-making would collapse on itself in utter self-contradiction.

So it can be reasonably concluded that the state government should fulfil its promise made to the residents in the Scottish region. Whether the state goes further, say in borrowing from the states of Germany and Belgium in adopting a federal system for itself, should be handled as a separate matter, after the promise has been fulfilled so as not to compromise it.

[1] Stephen Castle, “Panel Details Plan to Give Scotland More Powers,” The New York Times, November 28, 2014.
[2] Ibid.