Implications of an independent Scotland

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A little over 19 years ago, Canada was nearly divided by a vote. Five million Quebecers voted on the question of independence for their province and only slightly more than half of them decided that a united Canada was stronger than a divided one.

On Sept. 18, five million Scots will be deciding the same thing for Scotland and the United Kingdom.

This vote has the kind of global significance that the Quebec vote simply didn’t muster.

Should the Scots choose to secede, it would be the first time a world power was divided by democratic vote since the end of the colonial age.

Moreover, there are several independence movements around the world paying attention to this vote; if the Scots can secede peacefully, why can’t they?

It’s easy to understate the importance of this vote because we are now so far from the world characterized by the last major realignments due to separatism and nationalism: Yugoslavia and Ireland.

After the cold war ended, what was once a multi-ethnic country held together by a communist government was divided due to two nationalist referendums in Croatia and Slovenia. After declaring independence, the Yugoslavian government declared war on both of its former constituencies.

The rest is history: a very bloody war, characterized by civilian deaths and tribalism, ensued until the end of that decade with NATO’s bombing campaign.

The Republic of Ireland on the other hand achieved independence in a relatively less violent way in the 1930s, only leaving the mostly protestant Northern Ireland with the United Kingdom.

However, in the mid-1960s a sectarian divide on mostly political lines led to 30 years of what are known as “The Troubles.” Bloody guerilla warfare from both sides with atrocities too many to count, mostly caused by the desire to see a united Ireland from many across the two countries.

While there is more history involved, what is important here is that peace was achieved through a vote in 1998. 71% of Northern Ireland and 94% of the Republic voted in favour of what is now the status quo of British/Irish relations.

Wars led to world powers doing all they could to shut down independence movements.

There wasn’t a peaceful way to handle the situations then, so countries pushed a united front as the means to long-term prosperity.

Three years later, the world was brought into upheaval by the War on Terror after 9/11 and it seemed that most independence movements had begun to subside.

The Parti Quebecois lost an election in 2003 and hasn’t held majority power since. Movements in Catalonia, Basque, Flanders, Wales and Scotland have either been given a degree of regional autonomy to appease the nationalists or lost support entirely.

Hong Kong and Macau have also been given back to China and the desire for unification seems to outweigh the desire for division across the world.

As Scotland prepares to vote, the public intelligentsia are having a conversation about what it means to be a country.

Are fears of cultural homogeneity legitimate and should groups like Catalonia, Basque, Corsica and Quebec have autonomy?

Were lines drawn incorrectly when nations were formed? Should ethnic groups cohabitate in divided countries before they even decide what they want for themselves? Should occupying or dominant forces be allowed to make decisions for the people they occupy?

Furthermore, it’s not just about independence. Since the U.S. government effectively shut down last year, American cities have seen a streak of huge initiatives within their bounds, including minimum wage increases, laws concerning business and environmental regulation.

Municipal governments in the U.S. seem to be feeling the same as Scotland is right now. If the national government won’t do anything, the municipal governments will.

These are massive questions that we have only just scratched the surface of and that the vote for Scottish independence puts into stark clarity. Should the Scots vote for independence, it will spark more movements across the world for more division for the sake of self-determination. Should they vote the measure down, it will only signify to the rest of the world that nations should have the right to choose for themselves.

Either way, we have entered a brave new world. Not just for the sake of nations, but also for the type of governance we will be part of in the future.

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