More on national sovereignty

Sellafield nuclear reactor (picture Chris Eaton)

My comments on national sovereignty in an earlier blog entry seem to have provoked some reactions. Let me try and explain.

Think of the Sellafield nuclear reactor on the Cumbrian coast of the Irish Sea. Who should decide how much radioactive waste it is allowed to dump into the sea? Is this is a matter for Britain alone? What about the interests of the people of Ireland? The radioactive waste washes up on their shows too and contaminates their fish. What say do the Irish have in the matter?

In a world in which national sovereignty is the defining political characteristic, then the people of Ireland have no say. They simply have to take whatever it is they are given. And if what they are given is toxic and carcinogenic, then that’s too bad. British national sovereignty entitles Britain to do whatever it likes within its own territory, including to pollute its neighbours,

This is hardly satisfactory. A better political system would be where sovereignty belongs to people and not to nations. Sovereignty is expressed through different types of political institution for different purposes. If a particular set of political institutions don’t work well enough, then they should be changed.

The case of Sellafield is an example where the organisation of decision-making on national lines dearly does not work, An issue of vital interest to the peoce of Ireland is, foreseeably, one from which Irish democracy is excluded. There is no vote that an Irish citizen can cast which will lead to a cleaner Irish Sea. National democracy has its limits.

However, to defenders of the idea of national sovereignty, national democracy is the only kind of democracy on offer. Advocates of popular sovereignty have an alternative to propose. If one accepts that the people are sovereign, then democracy can exist at more than one level. It is the democratic recognition of interdependence in the modern world.

This blog entry first appeared on The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.

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