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Oh, Canada!

A hard lesson from Quebec Separatists

Look familiar?

Nationalists, the world over, love to think of themselves and their causes as unique, special and a product of their own “glorious” history. Still, as always, reality is far from their fevered imaginations.

For example, Separatist claims that “independence is normal” are easily dismissed by pointing out that many of the countries they claim to admire are, in fact, political unions, often far more recent than the UK.

As time goes on, and their desperate cries for secession are revealed as a gargantuan political squirrel, I am reminded more and more of other Separatist movements that have done exactly what the SNP have done and got just about as far as the SNP will. 

I am a firm believer in the academic principle of demonstrating my arguments with sound and applicable examples, unlike the SNP, who seem to be distraught by the fact that Scotland, no matter how hard they try, will never become Norway or New Zealand, and so here is one that I am confident you will find both informative and incredibly similar.

So let’s talk about Canada, or more specifically Quebec, which is still part of Canada. Yes, the famously polite and non-confrontational nation of Canada had just the same issue that we see here today in Scotland and the UK, and its timeline and final outcome are a lesson to us all. 

In the 1960s, a group of small political parties formed into the Parti Québécois (PQ), which, softly at first, campaigned for the predominantly French-speaking region’s secession from Canada

In 1976, PQ won a majority in the local assembly and campaigned for a referendum, which was granted in 1980. However, they lost by a considerable margin. 

In 1981, they returned with an even greater majority. Still, after losing their leader, they suffered electoral setbacks, and their plans were suspended while they promised to focus on “good governance” instead. 

In 1994, the PQ returned to power with 45% of the vote and again started to call for a new referendum. Sound familiar? 

In 1995, another referendum was held, but after a race in which they were consistently ahead in the opinion polls, the separatists lost with the remain vote taking 50.58% of the vote. 

In 1999, Canada passed a “clarity act” outlining what it would take to hold another such vote in the future. The movement, while still active, has now collapsed and polls around 36%

Scottish Nationalists like to portray their cause as unique to history, claiming they are uniquely persecuted as a colonised nation (tell that to the millions who died under the Empire Scotland helped to create and administer). But in reality, they are simply another band of opportunistic malcontents out to trick people with cheap populism and electoral quackery. 

As virtually every country on the earth is a union of once-independent polities, secessionist movements tend to crop up, make noise and then die away, as people get fed up with divisive politics, endless campaigning, and the inevitable stagnation which such parties bring to the political landscape. 

Canada had to deal with them, the United States has had to deal with them, most EU nations have to deal with them, and we in the United Kingdom have to as well. That is, until they run out of steam and the rest of us are free to carry on with our own lives. 

It is telling that, just as their party falls apart in a civil war of identity politics and conspiratorial intrigue, the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon are now suddenly changing tack and going for broke with an 11-point referendum plan that they know will go nowhere. It reeks of desperation, lack of control and an ignorance of history. 

The SNP have only one shot left at a referendum, and the spectre of Quebec lies over their every action, and they know it. But, as those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, they too will beat their drums and demand a referendum in much the same way their Canadian compatriots did a few decades ago. And, like them, they will face the same humiliating outcome. 

Angus Robinson is a lecturer at a UK university. Follow him on Twitter @AnguspfRobinso1

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Written by Angus

My work includes the study of nationalism and as I see the same poison take hold here I want to do all I can to counter it.

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Michael Stensh-Brown

I wonder if the proponents of another referendum on “democratic” grounds will allow places like the Northern Isles, the Borders, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and other council areas which vote NO by over 60% (as all of these did in 2014) to stay within the UK? If they insist on a 50% rule for the referendum then, by Council area, only Dundee, North Lanarkshire, Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire would remain in rScotland (Ind.) on the basis of the 2014 result. How would that work, in practice? If the SNP has the right to break up the United Kingdom, then these places should… Read more »

Ian Howarth

If Sturgeon does go ahead with her unlawful referendum then Union backing local authorities would not be obliged to allow the SNP to use any of their facilities such as schools and Community Halls as polling stations. They would have to resort to postal voting and/or hire private premises to be used as polling stations. They would be obliged to cover the entire cost themselves which could be enormous.

The Pied Bagpipers

The SNP has no respect for democracy