Wed, Sep 24, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Scottish referendum a model for Taiwan

By Hsu Yung-ming 徐永明

After the Scottish independence referendum ends, a new UK will surely emerge. Rather than having London as the core, there is now a call for a fairer balance of power throughout the union.

The flag of Scotland will now stand for more than just the blue backdrop to the Union Jack, as the Scottish people’s decision to remain in the union, through self-determination, has instigated the need for renewed negotiations on the UK’s constitutional arrangements. This referendum has precipitated a new understanding of what plebiscitary democracy means. Britain, an island state, set the standard for both plebiscitary democracy and nationalism in the 21st century.

What can Taiwan learn from the referendum process?

While the pro-unification and pro-independence camps might be more concerned about the outcomes from the perspective of their respective positions, this is perhaps a good time to examine Taiwan’s “birdcage” Referendum Act (鳥籠公投). The nation’s referendum process is pseudo-democratic, falling short of the more civilized standards seen in the Scottish referendum.

When Holyrood pushed for a referendum, the British Parliament at the Palace of Westminster — an instigator of modern representative democracy — did not pass a law to restrict the content of the referendum due to its fear of direct democracy. Nor did the British prime minister establish a referendum review committee to check whether a proposal was appropriate. The Scottish people did not have to collect 1 million signatures first in order to have the right to hold a referendum. Nor was a threshold imposed, so the ruling Conservative Party did not have to call on its supporters to boycott the referendum in order to nullify the results by ensuring that the threshold was not reached. As a result, there has been little controversy over the outcome, which was immediately accepted by the unification and independence camps, allowing the UK to concentrate on the future.

Of particular interest to Taiwanese was the nature of the question asked in the Scottish referendum: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

There were only two simple choices — yes or no — while the referendum was implemented by a simple majority method. This is a civilized referendum system, a model that could point the way for furthering Taiwan’s democratization.

As a former member of the Cabinet’s referendum review committee, I used to support all the proposals during my term, irrespective of whether they were proposed by the blue or the green camp. Eventually, I chose to withdraw from the committee to show my protest against the unfair mechanism.

Today, many of my former colleagues serve as Examination Yuan and Control Yuan members or chair conglomerates. This highlights the barriers of interest to the civilization of Taiwan’s referendum system.

Thanks to the efforts of their ancestors, the Scottish people have been able to avoid the bloody wars that tore Ireland in two, and now they have had the chance to decide their own future through a referendum. The option was always there and has become an example for Taiwan’s democracy to follow.

Hsu Yung-ming is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Soochow University.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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