Tomorrow, Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country for the first time in centuries. The campaign has focused on whether certain governmental powers, once given, will yield the results the proponents are claiming. A couple debates sent the polls into their current state of a coin flip. Ultimately, I see this as having parallels with the Quebec referendum in 1995, and I am hoping and expecting a similar result – a close but unsuccessful outcome. But either way, even a close result will increase the pressure on the Spanish government to grant Catalonia its own vote for independence.
That Canada, the UK, and Spain, all have separatist movements in significant regions of their countries is an artifact of their historic origins. Canada was mostly a French province until it was sold to the British and Loyalists fled into the country during our own Revolutionary War. Scotland was never conquered by the Romans and has more of a linguistic and cultural link to Wales and Ireland than with the more Anglo-Saxon-Norman groups that come over from Continental Europe during the Middle Ages. And the Iberian peninsula has distinctive dialects and cultural differences all their own, with Portugal remaining a separate country with its own language, leaving the other regions jealous of it. (Portuguese, for those interested, is very much like Spanish, with influences that French and Italian have in common – which makes sense given they all evolved from Latin.)
In high school and college, I was fascinated by these three countries and their similar political dynamics. I wrote my Extended Essay for the I.B. program on Quebec nationalism’s influence on the 1993 general election, and I spent a semester of independent study trying to compare and contrast the historical developments in Scottish and Catalan separatism.
Despite all that work, I don’t think separatism in any of the three countries is ultimately the answer. In some cases, they are net benefactors of their larger nation’s government programs. In other cases, creating a separate political identity has already been achieved even without going so far as being separate nations. And recently in Canada, their decision to swing from one party to another in the federal Parliament has the chance of deciding who the next Prime Minister will be, so why give up the balance of power in the larger Canada in favor of being independent?
Meanwhile, all of this is happening during an age of global interdependence amid the growth of cross-national governance (such as the EU). That hardly seems like an ideal moment to move in the opposite direction.
So I will be watching the results on Thursday-Friday, betting against independence but in awe of the potential history in the making nonetheless.
Update: A reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog had this to say, which I agree with:
Who rules who? The last three prime ministers are Scottish or of Scottish descent. The Scots have historically been a force at the Bank of England. Scotland is subsidized by the rest of the U.K. and, unlike the English, they have their own separate parliament. In fact, it makes (barely) more sense that England would tell Scotland to leave at this point, rather than the other way around.
This isn’t the thirteenth century or even the seventeenth century. There’s 300 years of cooperation and prosperity with the English. Where was Scotland before the Union in 1707? It was broke! That’s why they agreed to join. The U.K. assumed their debt and gave Scotland access to their markets to trade. I hope they like independence, because they’re coming out the same way they went in.
Last word: On a record high turnout of 84.6%, Scotland voted emphatically to stay within the UK, 55.3% to 44.7%, a much stronger result than polls predicted, but still closer than expected from the onset of the campaign. The most interesting part of the result was higher turnout tended to occur in areas where the No vote was stronger, suggesting people who normally ignored politics came out to vote in order to preserve the existing political framework. Now Westminster will proceed to figure out how to deliver on its promises for more devolved powers for the Scottish Parliament and how to provide fairer devolution to the other regions of the UK.