The eyes of the world will be on Britain this week, as Scots vote to decide the future of the United Kingdom. For many overseas observers, however, the question of Scottish independence isn’t driven by sentiment or curiosity.
Instead, these observers are wondering if the Scottish example can provide a morale boost for numerous regions around the world that are vying for autonomy. We profile some of the regions where there is strong support for autonomy below:
With its own language and a distinct ethnic identity, the Catalonian regional government in Barcelona plans to stage a referendum in November, despite Madrid’s continued refusal to recognise any claim to autonomy. The rising pressure is thought to be a result of Spain’s ruling party, the PP, adopting a sterner stance towards Catalonia, even talking about a need to ‘hispanicise’ Catalonian children.
The Spanish Constitutional Court has ruled that an independence referendum would be illegal, but the Catalonian president, Artur Mas, says that the vote is possible under Catalan law and will reflect the will of the people. He also maintains that he is open to negotiations and would accept a deal that gave more powers to Catalonia and a new relationship with Madrid, if that was the verdict of a referendum.
That the region is entering uncharted legal territory, and the situation may well be more volatile than it seems.
The Dutch-speaking half of Belgium has always had a strong national identity. Its Gothic roots make for a stark contrast with the francophone southern part, Wallonia. The wealthier, more populous Flanders has seen a surge in right-wing nationalist movements such as the VVB, representatives of which openly cheer on Scottish independence with slogans like “Scotland and Flanders, One Struggle: Freedom!”
Given the popularity of the movement, many analysts believe it’s only a matter of time before a referendum is on the cards. Public opinion may not yet be ready, however. The importance of Brussels makes stability in the region especially important – dividing up Belgium may prove very difficult.
Few have heard of this remote region in northern Italy, even fewer of its separatist movement, Südtirol Freiheit. But anyone who has been there knows that you are better off speaking German than Italian, and if not for the bilingual signs, you’d have sworn you were in Austria.
The movement spans those who want independence as well as those who want the region to be transferred to Austria. Many dismiss it as an irrelevant squabble over a few skiing resorts. But Südtirol Freiheit’s leader and founder, Dr Klotz, is already promoting an informal online referendum to test the waters. If Venice is anything to go by (see below), results may well exceed expectations.
The Kingdom of Spain is blessed with not one but two regions vying for autonomy. Though overshadowed by the Catalonian claim, and tainted with separatist violence from ETA, the Basque Country is stepping up pressure on Madrid for further negotiations. In an effort led by the Basque National Party, the regional legislature passed a declaration of self-determination by 48 votes to 27, opposed mainly by the ruling centre-right People’s Party. As with Catalonia, the government in Madrid is reluctant to engage.
This region of northern Italy is home to the iconic lagoon city of Venice. If it wasn’t for the annexation of Crimea dominating the news, more folk would have heard of the unofficial online independence referendum conducted in March by Plebiscito.eu, a cross-party group campaigning for Venetian independence from Italy. The results, announced on 21 March 2014 in Treviso square, indicated that of the 63.2% of eligible voters who took part (approx. 2.36m people), an overwhelming majority wants independence.
It is no secret that many in the wealthy region have had enough of sending €20bn annually to Rome, subsidising the lavish lifestyles of corrupt politicians and the impoverished, crime-ridden south. For now, there are legitimate questions around the accuracy of the online poll, and there is also evidence of significant infighting in the independence movement. But the drive to Venetian autonomy is founded predominantly on economic rather than nationalistic arguments – for that reason alone, it is worth watching.
The French-speaking province of Canada has already voted twice on independence, first in 1980 and then in 1995. Both resulted in a victory for the federalists, but the second time by just 50.58%. Indeed, the run up to the second referendum had much in common with today, as the panicked No campaigners pulled out all the stops, including somehow arranging discount weekend travel and hotel accommodation in Montreal for the weekend, and free phone calls to Quebec, in an attempt to bring the country together.
Today, despite being defeated twice, the separatists have not abandoned hope, and look to Scotland for dos and don’ts. Campaigners from the Parti Québécois admit, for example, that in hindsight the emphasis on cultural differences and a strong secular agenda, not unlike that of today’s France, did not do them any favours with younger voters, especially after the party blamed the “ethnic vote” for its 1995 defeat. Positioning themselves for the next general election with a strong “pro-independence” stance, Quebecois separatists are going for third time lucky.
“We wish our Scottish friends victory in the referendum with all our hearts” said Florian Weber last week. Weber is leader of the Bavaria Party, which campaigns for independence for the southern German state. The party has held no seats since 1966 and in the last election achieved 2.1% of the vote, but Weber believes Scottish independence may be the boost it needs.
The arguments for independence look pretty strong on paper. Bavaria is wealthier and more populous than many European countries, and many resent subsidising poorer states under the inter-state equalisation system. Coupled with a distinctive culture (think Oktoberfest and lederhosen) and an above average Catholic population (most of Germany is Lutheran Protestant) it is easy to see why many Germans smirk when a foreigner goes to Bavaria to ‘see Germany’.