As recently as earlier this year, Crimea was annexed by Russia from Ukraine.
And currently in Syria and Iraq the border established more than 90 years ago at the end of World War One has been brushed aside by the aggressive and brutal actions of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with the announced intent of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the region.
At least, in Scotland's case the decision process is more democratic and calm.
But this failed to stem the tide of independence being pursued by the Scottish National Party (SNP) led by canny Scot politician and First Minister Alex Salmond and so in 2013 it was agreed in London and Edinburgh that a decisive referendum should be held on Sept. 18, 2014. Salmond noted that 2014 would be "a good year to hold a referendum" as not only would Scotland host the 2014 Ryder Cup but it is also the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 when the Scots had delivered a crushing blow against the English army of King Edward II.
As the date of the referendum has come closer, views have hardened. Scottish nationalists have argued that, with sovereignty regained, income from North Sea oil and gas will bolster the economy once the ownership is prised from the grip of companies headquartered in London. The SNP has taken the position that Scotland will apply to join the European Union and, while most likely seek to adopt the pound sterling, perhaps in due course might adopt the euro as currency. Scotland would also become a non-nuclear country which would mean that it would no longer provide base facilities for British ballistic missile submarines.
The warnings from London have become increasingly ominous. The Ministry of Defence has made it clear that removal of British submarines will cost Scottish jobs in the defence industry, and those will not necessarily be limited to submarine bases. The Governor of the Bank of England (the British equivalent more or less of the U. S. Federal Reserve) has stated that the body has "a wide range of tools and plans" to maintain the financial stability of the pound, but cross-party political leaders in London have robustly warned that they will not enter into a currency union with an independent Scotland. In the business community, opinion seems divided: in Scotland more than 200 business leaders have issued a statement lending support to the "Yes" campaign, while a day earlier over 130 business leaders had issued an open letter saying that the case for independence had not been made. Several important members of the business community have carefully avoided taking any public position in order to avoid any potential harmful consequences should they find themselves on the wrong side of the decision.
On Sept. 18 and in the days following, the outcome will hopefully become somewhat clearer. But if the referendum fails to achieve independence for Scotland, there have already been cautions that for financial and commercial stability it will be important to avoid a "neverendum." In other words, an SNP that wins, say, just over 40 percent of the vote should not then be allowed to claim another referendum in a couple of years' time.
Quite apart from what happens in Scotland, it is interesting to consider a wider view. If the "Yes" vote wins, what message will that send to the Basques in Spain? Or the French Canadians in Quebec? Or the Walloons in Belgium? or the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Iran? And even further ahead, what message might it send to the Spanish-speaking majority that will exist in California by 2040 or thereabouts. Borders are not necessarily set in stone.
Derek Boothby is a resident of Manchester and a former arms control expert for the U.N.