Today, Scotland will have a referendum on whether or not it will become an independent state separate from Britain, which Scottish separatists feel is crushing their national and cultural identity. Remind you of anyone?
That’s right, you guessed it: Québec. We all remember the Québec 1995 referendum and how Canada remained intact by a real squeaker, which today’s will be too considering some polls showing up to 54% Yes and 46% No. So now in typical Separatist Québécois fashion, the Scottish referendum has to be all about us. But is it really?
First let’s compare the two cases. Just like in Québec, the federal political leaders are getting pretty freaked out with the looming possibility of secession, so UK political leaders like Prime Minister David Cameron are “imploring Scotland to remain part of the UK,” according to Mark McSherry of Forbes. That reminds me a bit of the Unity Rally with Jean Chrétien that happened in Montréal three days before the referendum. Second are the economic ‘or else’ threats. Scotland has been warned that it wouldn’t be able to use the British pound if Scotland separates. Similarly, back when Stephen Harper was the Reform Party’s Intergovernmental Affairs Critic, he said that there would be no Québec-Canada economic partnership and “the sooner that Quebeckers know this, the better.” Third is the tension: Canada vs Québec and England vs Scotland. In the Canadian case, the tension has mostly come from language and religious differences between Francophone and Anglophone Canada, and that Québec still hasn’t signed on to the Constitution doesn’t help things. But it could be worse, Anglophone Canada could treat Québec like England treats Scotland, which, over their 307-year marriage, involves banning the kilt for basically no reason, England not focusing that much on resolving the Scottish economic disparities, and giving Scotland too little federal spending money.
Of course a deeper comparison would include the outcome of the referendum. If these two referendums really are so similar, then the No side will prevail. But if Yes wins instead, why would Yes win? What contrasts the two?
The main differences between the Scottish and Québec referendums seems to be the way that the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond has gone about this whole thing. When interviewed by the CBC on what Salmond has learned from the Québec referendum, Salmond basically replied with “don’t do it their way.” Furthermore, the Scottish referendum has a simple yes or no question, none of that confusion that even political science students (like me) had trouble reading, and the SNP has taken into account the economics of independence, which the Parti Québécois didn’t seem to highlight. The Scots actually have “contributed more tax per head of population than the UK as a whole,” so an independent Scotland could actually be a pretty wealthy country. Québec on the other hand, probably wouldn’t have a whole lot going for it apart from cheese and baked goods (Ontario’s auto industry would be in rough shape too, but that’s a whole other story).
So can Scotland and Québec learn from each other? Have they learned from each other? While Salmond denied Bloc help in his own referendum, independence movements all around the world (ie Bloc Québécois) could look at an independent Scotland as a step toward their own independence and could very well learn from what the SNP has done in order to achieve that. Honestly, I think that even if No wins today, the strength that the Yes vote has right now highlights the strength of the SNP’s campaign, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing some kilts in the next Quebec separation movement.
David Cameron agreed to the independence vote as a “calculated gamble.” Clearly he did the math wrong. But let’s see how he does on his political exam when the referendum votes are in!