Mapping Scotland’s Waters

Stuart Elden has pointed to the somewhat unusual map that graces the cover of the Scottish government’s new report on land tenure issues in an independent Scotland. In this post I take up Stuart’s challenge to analyse the map in some detail.

004510831The first thing interesting about the map is that it appears at all. The report itself, at least based on my quick scan of it, is almost entirely devoted to onshore tenure issues; the exception is a 1.5 page section of the 263 page report that covers common access to offshore spaces. Thus, I can assume that the maritime boundary lines and limits are drawn in not to illustrate specific issues regarding rights to offshore resources but rather to connote the space of the nation.

In its effort to manufacture what my colleague Anghard Closs Stephens has called an affective atmosphere of nationalism (albeit with a somewhat different meaning), Scotland is exploiting two gaps between legal technicalities and public perception. The first gap is that between sovereignty (over the land and waters that legally constitute the space of the state) and sovereign rights (in the area within the exclusive economic zone in which a state has exclusive rights to resources). These are often conflated within the vague term of ‘ownership’ but in fact the former is constitutive of the state’s extent whereas the other is subsequent to it. The second gap is between the apparent scientific certainty of a map (or, in a sense, any visual image that appears to demonstrate ‘ownership’) and its lack of legal status. In my forthcoming book, Contesting the Arctic, I discuss the exploitation of both of these gaps extensively with reference to images ranging from Canadian national maps to the image of the Russian flag planted at the North Pole to IBRU’s very own Arctic map (see also my earlier piece in the Annals of the AAG).

The result, especially in the case of an anticipatory state like Scotland, is that rights to the sea (or at least to its resources) are submitted as preceding the legal construction of territory and sovereignty on land. As the map contributes to the narrative that Scottish independence is viable because the nation-state would have access to abundant maritime resources, it reverses the normative principle in international law that holds that rights to the sea can only follow from those held on land. While having no legal standing, this reversal is occurring throughout the world in maritime regions where the extent or beneficiaries of sovereign control are contested (e.g. the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the Arctic and Scotland).

The performative power of the maritime line is exemplified by the one unusual line that appears on the Scottish map: the Civil Jurisdiction Offshore Activities Boundary that shoots out to the east from the English-Scottish border. As near as I can tell (and if anyone reading this knows more about the history of these lines, please contact me), this line was established in 1987 to demarcate whose laws would apply for purposes of civil jurisdiction. Although the line is not drawn according to the normal delimitation principles of international law, I can only guess that a simplified line was selected because the line was going to be internal to the UK (and therefore didn’t have any international ramifications) and it would be easy for a policing authority to determine one’s location north or south of the straight latitudinal line. In 1999, perhaps in anticipation of Scottish independence (?), a new line was drawn, further north, to define ‘Scottish Adjacent Waters’. Presumably the 1999 line would be the default starting point for any division of waters in the event of Scottish independence.

So why depict both lines? It seems to me that just as a map, in general, exploits an ambiguity in meaning — appealing to both visual certainty and a lack of legal authority — the two lines do this too. On the one hand, the depiction of the Civil Jurisdiction line suggests that Scotland might try to argue that this boundary has been recognised as the historic extent of Scottish waters and that, in the event of independence, it should be used for adjusting the equidistant border line southwards. Conversely, should the independence referendum fail, Scotland could point to the inclusion of the 1987 line on this map to make it clear that it has no intention of  relinquishing its rights to extend civil authority into the southern zone.

In other words, the map quite cleverly serves two purposes. On the one hand, through a process of what Denis Wood identifies as intrasignfication, Scotland uses various line symbols to depict where specific rights should be granted to the Scottish Government, under both independence and union scenarios. However, the map also performs an extrasignification function. By subordinating the 1987 line to the 1999 line and producing a map that proclaims Scotland’s waters as they would (likely) be recognised under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea should Scotland become an independent state, the Scottish Government places Scottish territory firmly within the grammar of the community of states that interact according to the norms of  international law. In the process, it uses this map (which in fact has few functional linkages with the document that it illustrates) to validate Scotland as a legitimate, sovereign state.


4 comments on “Mapping Scotland’s Waters

  1. […] Steinberg provides some analysis of the map on the cover of the report The Land of Scotland and the Common […]

  2. Reblogged this on rhulgeopolitics and commented:
    really interesting analysis from Phil Steinberg

  3. […] comments was about the cover image and the maritime boundaries. As Phil Steinberg comments in his far-more-expert analysis, it is striking this is the cover image given the imbalance in the report itself, which largely […]

  4. […] Others would be in a better position to judge the last of these paragraphs, but that obscures a lot of potential complexities. If international law were as simple as that, there would be no need for expert witnesses, lawyers and others making their way to the International Court of Justice to resolve boundary disputes at land and sea. If the Aberdeen academics are correct, then I can’t believe the rest of the UK would accept this without some kind of reaction. As the map on the cover of the recent The Land of Scotland and the Common Good shows – reproduced above – this is not straight-forward: see my initial comments here and Phil Steinberg’s more expert comments here. […]

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