Scottish referendum different than those in...
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Sep 18, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Scottish referendum different than those in Quebec: Siddiqui

Scottish nationalism is not the xenophobic ethnic nationalism that Pauline Marois offered under the charter of Quebec values

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When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Toronto Star was the first newspaper in North America to call for the recognition of Ukraine and other former Soviet territories as independent states. During the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, a similar call went out for the recognition, among others, of Macedonia. Similarly, Kosovo deserved its independence. Those judgments, which proved prescient, were easy — totalitarian states were breaking up and using violence against long-subjugated peoples.

Somewhat similar arguments applied to the secession of East Timor and South Sudan. The velvet divorce between Slovakia and the Czech Republic was mutually agreed to.

What about Scotland peacefully seceding from the United Kingdom?

Scots have the right to decide it in their referendum, just as Quebecers did. Scots had voluntarily joined England and Wales in 1707 and now they may just as voluntarily leave. But should they?

The question causes anxiety among Canadians — how can we be against the breakup of Canada but for the breakup of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? We can, with some caveats, despite many similarities between Quebec and Scotland.

Many Scots feel put upon. As with Quebec separatists, their reasons for wanting to leave are more social and cultural than economic. The poetry of nationalistic self-determination trumps the prose of economic uncertainty. No wonder the intellectual and artistic classes in both places favour independence.

Just as Quebec separatists wanted to keep the Canadian dollar, many Scots assume they can keep the pound. If not allowed to, they’d just walk off their portion of the national debt. Like their Quebec counterparts, they couldn’t be bothered about the messy details of borders, customs, immigration, free flow of people and goods — or the possibility of future territorial divisions. Oil-rich Shetland Islands may want out of an independent Scotland just as Montreal and other parts of Quebec mused about quitting an independent Quebec.

Whitehall was just as complacent as Ottawa was about the 1995 referendum. Like Jean Chrétien, David Cameron did not enter the fray until hit by panic. Just as tens of thousands of English Canadians trekked up to Montreal on the eve of the 1995 vote, the English have been going north to proclaim love for Scotland and its inhabitants.

The scaremongering sounds familiar as well. Scots would face economic ruin, lose their welfare and pensions. They will be defenceless with the Brit submarines gone. (Who’d want to attack Scotland?) The EU won’t admit Scotland — Spain is already objecting, worried about its own secessionist Catalan region. (Scotland would have more right to enter the EU, and NATO, than Ukraine.)

The other debate is how less great Great Britain would be minus Scotland. It may lose its permanent seat on the UN Security Council (which it should have long ago, anyway). With a tenth of its population and GDP gone, especially with the loss of the North Sea oil, it’d no longer be the third largest economy in Europe and may not qualify for G8.

But there are clear differences between Quebec and Scotland.

The Scots have constituted a nation longer than the Québécois.

Scottish nationalism, even if “roughly coterminous with race,” as noted by poet and novelist David Craig, is not the xenophobic ethnic nationalism of Pauline Marois and her charter of Quebec values.

Despite the 1999 devolution of powers, Scotland does not have the powers that Quebec enjoys. “Quebec is the most powerful sub-national state in the West,” with its own pension plan, separate immigration system, etc., notes Jim Laxer, York University political scientist.

Unlike Quebec referendums, the Scottish vote offers a clear question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” (But the rules do not call for a clear majority, as under Canada’s Clarity Act for any future Quebec referendum. In the Scottish vote, a majority of 50 plus one would suffice.)

The vote is not entirely a referendum on nationalism. It is also a rebellion against the “social and economic dysfunctional state” that Britain has become, says Laxer. There’s scandalous inequality, and the decks are stacked in favour of a handful of the very rich, living mostly in the city state of London, which is being sold off to Arab oil sheiks, Russian oligarchs and, lately, Chinese billionaires.

The Scots want to reorder their political and social order.

Cameron is thus calling on the Scots to vote No “in spite of the effing Tories . . . If you don’t like me, I won’t be here forever. If you don’t like this government, it won’t be here forever.”

That’s smart. But it highlights his earlier foolishness in rejecting a third option on the ballot, “devo max,” maximum devolution (which is what he has ended up promising in recent days). By not having that option, he has left Britain little or no room to entice the Scots back, should they vote Yes.

Toronto Star

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