Friday, September 19, 2014

The Other Side of Ethnic Domino Theory

I have been railing for days weeks months years about how a successful secessionist effort in one place does not increase the chances of another elsewhere [unless they are in the same country to begin with].  Perhaps I am irrelevant as folks continued to argue and worry about the effect of a Yes vote in Scotland would be on potential or actual secessionist movements in Europe and even beyond.

Maybe it is my confirmation bias at work, but I am pretty sure it is the conformation bias of others that matters here.  After all, how could Scotland move towards secession when the example of Quebec demonstrated that secession was out of fashion.  The last provincial election showed that Quebecker were tired of referenda talk, as once that issue came up, the Parti Quebecois dropped and flopped in the polls. Did that negative lesson spread to Scotland?  Maybe so, as Scotland failed to reach 50% Yes.  Failed by a good bit.

Yet this morning we still have the Catalans saying they are going ahead with their vote.  I certainly expect a different outcome, as the Catalans face a much less friendly bargaining partner in the Spanish government.  I would bet on Yes there.  The key here as always is not the processes elsewhere that demonstrate something but the domestic politics, the domestic dynamics that shape the real and likely and perceived benefits and costs of independence. 

People thought that Arab Spring was contagious.  Well, protest of authoritarian, corrupt rule was.  But the outcomes?  Not so much.  Only Tunisia became a democracy.  Libya had a civil war.  Syria has a civil war.  Egypt has had two coups with a pretty unattractive but yet democratically elected government briefly in between.  Bahrain?  Successful repression.  And on and on. 

People seek massive political change for many reasons.  The dynamics elsewhere can suggest strategies and tactics, but they do not shape interests.  Social mobilization is hard, so one really has to make the case that the situation in place x matters for people in place x and that independence might solve more problems than it will cause.  This is hard to do in democracies since most advanced democracies give minorities multiple ways to access the political system.  Which is why that Washington Post list of eight places as Next is pretty foolish.  Sure, Catalans but they are the exception that proves the rule.  They face a government that has limited their autonomy.  The Flemish?  Might be a Czechoslovakian case of agreeing to disagree. 

The rest of the list is pretty weak--yes, there are separatist groups in the places but mere existence is different from success.  The Scottish Nationalist Party compares well to the rest of these in terms of size, experience, organization and the rest yet it fell short, quite short.

I would like to see the folks who yammer about the ethnic domino theory to now come out and argue that this means that there will be less separatism in Europe.  They will not.  I will not.  But in my case, it is because I take seriously how self-centered nationalist movements are. 

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