Friday, January 27, 2012

Most Similar Secessionists

Watching the news about the Scottish referendum on independence, and it is almost stunning how much the stuff parallels Quebec.  Let me count the ways:
  1. Neither Quebeckers nor Scots have a majority that want complete independence.
  2. The Scottish National Party today and the Parti Quebecois in 1995 don't want a single clear question, and certainly don't want the national parliament having a say over the question.
  3. The SNP and PQ are both musing about changing the election laws to allow 16 and 17-year olds to vote.  A wonderfully clear admission that they are desperate for votes.  One only adds new voters to the pool if one cannot get over a threshold without them.
  4. Speaking of which, what would be enough votes?  Fifty percent plus one is the Quebec "standard."  But Scotland is in a country that is in the EU (while the EU is still around), and the EU applied 55% as the standard for Montenegro.  Hmmm.
However, I need to be clear that these cases may be less than fruitful for social science--there needs to be some variation between two cases to have a useful comparison.  Either two very similar cases have a dissimilar outcome, or two different cases have a similar outcome.  And I would like to place a bet on an independence referendum failing, just as Quebec fell short in 1995 and is nowhere close today.*
*  Indeed, this morning's paper was chock full of stories about the PQ trying to figure out how to get folks enthused about the party and about independence.  That they must find ways to get the separatist mojo going provides significant evidence that the PQ and Quebec have won the big battles, making independence or even a confusing referendum that mixes and matches autonomy, confederation, and iendependence unnecessary.  Well, unnecessary for being the PQ's raison d'etre.  Well, other than running against Montreal.  This weekend's meetings has heaps of proposals for shifting yet more resources and power away from Montreal.  


Daniel J said...

The 55% clause for the Montenegro referendum is certainly interesting. I have seen or heard little that there is a demand for this from Westminster or the EU.

The House of Lords is particularly adept at odd amendments often unsanctioned by their political parties but they have largely focused on trying to force the Scottish Government to hold a referendum sooner or for the UK govt. to do so itself.

Personally, I can't see a 55% rule being implemented. Perhaps if this had been the official line from Westminster from the beginning it might have happened?

On another note the SNP victory was certainly more emphatic than that of the PQ in 1994. If the Scottish Parliament was elected using FPTP then 2007 and the Nationalists first (narrow) victory could have led to events almost mirroring those of the Quebec referendum.

My knowledge of Canadian politics is sadly lacking.. I know the 1994 Federal election led to deep spending cuts but how popular was the government within Quebec?

While it's easy to exaggerate the animosity Scots feel towards the Conservatives, it's certainly a factor the SNP may try to draw upon.

Doug Daniel said...

Hmmm, you would think a professor might be inclined to do a bit of research first.

1. You know there's no majority for independence in Scotland how, exactly? We've not had the referendum yet, and if you're basing that on opinion polls, then you clearly haven't studied the opinion polls in the run up to the last Scottish election. Only one "opinion poll" counts, and that's the one in Autumn 2014.

2. The SNP do want a single clear question, they are just allowing the debate over increased powers to flourish (again, if you have done your research, you'll know none of the unionist parties want this second question, which means it'll never get on the referendum). I'm sure a man of your intelligence can figure out why it might be beneficial for them to have people thinking about what powers they want devolved...

3. The SNP's preference for 16 year olds being allowed to vote is actually a wonderfully clear admission that this is, err, long-standing SNP policy. One which they have implemented in the few places they can (health board elections, crofter commission elections). It would be implemented for all elections in Scotland if it wasn't a reserved issue.

Your last point isn't even a similarity, although it is actually the one interesting point you bring up. However, I would be surprised if the SNP hasn't already checked with the EU that they don't need to go for 55%, and the consultation document states it will be a simple majority, with no thresholds (a sore point in Scotland after the 1979 devolution referendum was nobbled thanks to a completely unfair "40% of electorate" rule). But still, I'm intrigued to find this one out for myself.

I'm guessing you're not in favour of Quebec being independent...?

Doug Daniel said...

Oh yeah, and in regards to the "national" parliament (I'm guessing you're referring to Westminster here) having a say over the question - why should the parliament that is completely hostile towards independence get a say? We've already heard how they think the question should be phrased, something along the lines of "Do you think Scotland should be ripped out of the heart of the United Kingdom after 300 years?"

More importantly, no party in Westminster went into the 2010 election on a platform of offering an independence referendum. Therefore none of them have a mandate to hold one. Conversely, the Scottish electorate gave the SNP a mandate to hold a referendum, as stated in their 2011 manifesto. So of course Holyrood should be the parliament overseeing it.

Steve Saideman said...

Just to address the last question: any division of the country (that is a successful secession) would require the consent of the original country or war. Them's the choices. Of course, I don't think it would lead to fighting, but the departure of Scotland would involve the division of assets and debts and lots of decisions that would necessarily involve the British government. Such negotiations would be far easier if the referendum language was clear enough to the Brits and not just to the Scots. Otherwise, there would be much disagreement about what the votes really meant. One of the points of my post was that the Scots and Brits could use the QC 1995 experience and the lessons learned from it to avoid similar mistakes.

Rebecca said...
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Rebecca said...

It's been interesting living first in Montreal and then in Edinburgh. I can see similarities (on an anecdotal level) in a general resentment of the anglo impact. Both QC and Scotland seem, to me, to have stronger social welfare tendancies than the more centrist (and these days, right-wing) anglo majorities. And I think Scotland's still hurting pretty badly from a lot of policies and history, much imposed by the English - everything from teh Highland clearances and introduction of sheep farming, up through Thatcher and beyond. So says my boyfriend's Scottish step-dad, anyways (an Edinburgh man though, and I understand many think of that as being nearly English anyway). One major dissimilarity I can see is the language thing - whislt Quebec had the Quiet Revolution and French has regained quite a hold, Scots Gaelic is... well, pretty darn weak. People do still speak it, or learned it, but from what I could tell, the population that speaks it habitually is miniscule, and even those who speak it comfortably few and far between. Not to say it couldn't be re-instituted, but it's on a wek footing, where French in Quebec is deeply embedded in people's lives (though both are official/second national languages - French in QC and Scots Gaelic in Scotland). There may be further similarities in terms of economy as well, dairy farming in QC and fishing in Scotland both seemed of 'national' (new/potential-nation) importance, but threatened. This isn't from any formal research, just impressions from having lived and worked and studied in both places, in rapid succession. Another thing SNP have going for them, in addition to the crap showing of the other parties in Scotland (particularly Labour), may be timing. 2014 is a big year for Scotland - there's some kind of anniversary celebration (I feel badly that I can't recall of what, just now, but it's an important Scottish event), the CommonWealth Games will be in Glasgow, and... there was something else I read for 2014 as well, it was in an article a month ago.... Anyway, if SNP can choose their timing, and if Cameron et al continue to be repellent and lead the UK farther away from the more collectivist policies favoured by Holyrood (like Quebec: more affordable higher education, and the Scottish NHS remains, for now, collaborative rather than competitive, or so says a Scottish lobbyist friend from the Heart and Stroke Foundation)... well, that might be enough to push many on-the-fence Scots away from the remainder of the Uk. I just feel bad for poor old Wales - never even got the level of devloution Scotland has now, though they've similar policy leanings. Well, we shall see what happens. And, as social science goes, they coudl be a very interesting case study pair, particularly if the outcome is different (or even very close to succeeding). If nothing else, studying the role of language in national identity and how it helps shape these processes and campaigns could bear fruit.

Rebecca said...

Oh, and Saideman: be prepared for as much potential for vitiol as you'd expect from the PQ or Bloc in an election year on St Jean Baptiste day, if you decide to pursue even speculation (or musings!) - one of the SNP ministers has already denounced someone as anti-scottish, and no one's taking anything back. No mailboxes have yet been injured, but it may go that way, who knows.

Angus McLellan said...

The UK isn't Canada, alas! Scotland isn't Quebec. Your experiences are fascinating, but they aren't necessarily any more relevant than Montenegro leaving "Yugoslavia" or the Velvet Divorce between Czechs and Slovaks.

The 55% (or whatever number you like) dog not barking is easily enough explained. What's past is prologue. Scots voted 52:48 for devolution in 1979 but as a wheeze Westminster had added in the requirement that 40% of the electorate - dead, mad, imprisoned and emigrated, plus all the duplicates - had to vote yes. If the world and its dog aren't aware of this most Scots certainly are.