Friday, September 19, 2014

Ranting On...the Scottish Independence Vote and the Need for More States

Well there we have it folks-after months of discussion and several weeks of complete uncertainty, Scotland has decided to remain a part of the United Kingdom, and while I hadn't voiced it too much on this site previously, I have to say that I could not be happier.  This was uniformly the right decision.  There is something to be said for regional pride, but at the end of the day, this was a decision where the "Yes" movement didn't have as much to offer as the "No" side.  There is a time and a place for declaring independence, but when it is from an economically stable country, you need something more than "let's try this out."  Still, though, there are a few things that we can all learn from what happened yesterday, and some of them deeply positive.

The first is that 84.2% of the electorate of Scotland came out to vote, according to early estimates, and that is both insane and something that the Scottish people should be incredibly proud of achieving.  There is nothing more patriotic than coming out and voting for a government that will affect your entire citizenry, and I think that the rest of the free world should not look out on this in awe, but as a challenge.  Americans-imagine what an improvement we would have in Washington if 84.2% of Americans came out and showed that they want a change in the way we are governed-57% voted in 2012's presidential election, can you imagine if we showed we cared enough that that increased 27%?  This is something that all free democracies should shoot to not only achieve, but exceed-the world is a better place when people come together to share their opinions.

Secondly, it says something to both governments and to places like Catalonia and Quebec, other areas similar to Scotland who are in strong democracies but have groups striving for independence.  The reality is that in these situations, you need to make sure to not let a minority group go under-represented in a government, and that it is important to give everyone a voice, but that barring certain specific criteria (religious, economic, or racial persecution or discrimination come chiefly to mind) there's little economic incentive for either party to split, but instead come together and try to work through the differences.  Hopefully Spain and Quebec are smart enough to realize that the Scottish vote, while not as close as some expected, was much closer than it should have been, and will work to try and address the pro-independence factions of those regions to avoid such a close call in their countries.

America, it should be noted, is not immune here, and that brings me to my third (and most tangential) point: it is time for the United States to add a couple more states and to incorporate more of its territories  into statehood, chief amongst them Puerto Rico and Washington DC.  The United States, for those who pride themselves on knowing all of their states and capitols, actually has a few inhabited territories as well who send delegates to Congress, but this isn't universally known by their citizenry, and even I had to research a bit to figure out the exact relationship each territory has to the United States.  The five specific territories are Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

My proposal what to do with these five territories and the District of Columbia is quite simple and prudent both in the face of the Scottish vote and in general (it is never a strong aspect of a democracy or a government to lose territory from an economic standpoint, or to have groups of people that are less represented in their national government than others, which is what currently happens in these five territories and DC).  First off is the rather easy matter of the District of Columbia.  The District has pushed extremely hard to gain their independence, and in particular, a vote in Congress (they are the only ones listed here who do in fact have a voice in the Electoral College, helping to decide the president).  Because there is no way to get a state that votes some 90% for the Democrats admitted to the Union without some concessions from the Democrats (why would the Republicans want a guaranteed add of two more Democratic senators?), my proposal would be that all of the residential and business sections of Washington DC be separated off and returned to Maryland, an already blue state so it would just be making it bluer, with the National Mall, the Capitol, and the White House being part of an uninhabited District of Columbia that would no longer have any votes in the Electoral College and would continue to be funded by the federal government.  Maryland would get one additional electoral college vote and one seat in the House until the next census in light of its great increase in population (and would vote in all statewide Maryland elections), and after that the people of the former DC would be subject to the redistricting and census process in the Old Line State.  This way there are no excessively blue new states for the Republicans to have to worry about and the Democrats don't have some 600,000 people (most of which are in their party) being disenfranchised in not having voting members in both houses of Congress.

U.S. Virgin Islands
The actual first state I would propose would be Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Puerto Rico recently voted in 2012, and 61% of the voters supported statehood.  Many in the Virgin Islands support statehood, and a referendum could be put on the ballot there if that was something that needed to be proven in order to incorporate it as a state.  There is a movement to admit both as one state (Puerto Virgo), and geographically this would make sense (it's worth noting, of course, that there's a risk that redistricting would dwarf the Virgin Islands, but their population isn't enough to warrant being admitted as a state on its own).  With a combined population of 3.8 million according to the most recent census data, the state would be slightly less populated than the state of Oklahoma.  Like most territories, it would get two senators and one representative in the House (and three electoral votes) until the next census, at which point its population would decide its congressional makeup.

A final state that I would propose would be a combination of the Pacific Island territories in the vein of the Greater Hawaii movement of the 1960's.  The Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and American Samoa have a combined population of 268,000, certainly enough for a state but definitely making them the least populated state in the country.  I think it would be worth exploring, however, if the countries associated with the Compact of Free Association (the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Federated States of Micronesia) would also become part of the Greater Hawaii state, resulting in a population of 468,000 people, not much smaller than Wyoming.  Votes would of course have to be held in the countries of Compact of Free Association (they are considered sovereign states), but a condition for this (to appease both sides of the aisle) would be that voting against statehood would result in the Compact's dissolution at the end of the agreed upon terms (for Marshall Islands and Micronesia, this is in 2023, in Palau, this is a continuing resolution passed each Congress though military protection is in place until 2015).  This would mean either these regions become a part of the United States, contributing to the tax base and serving as part of the U.S. government, or they would have to function as independent nations and not receive federal aid (a genuine compromise that should appease both sides of the aisle in Washington).

Though I doubt this movement catches too much fire, I think it's one that we should all be passionate about-no group of people should not be given full rights by their country to participate in and achieve success in their democratic process.  I think that by melding DC with Maryland, and admitting a "Puerto Virgo" and "Greater Hawaii" into the union, we would better be able to achieve the goals of better representation in government, something both sides of the Scottish vote would be proud of accomplishing.

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