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Scotland and Separatism in Europe

Jonathan Foreman rattles off a number of implausible and far-fetched scenarios for what will happen after a ‘yes’ vote. Along with some other utterly ridiculous things, he imagines that separatist dominoes would start falling all over Europe:

A “Yes” vote for secession would also set in motion a whole series of political crises across the continent and further afield.

As I’ve said before, it’s not obvious that this is necessarily such a terrible thing if it happened, but how likely is it? There are a few reasons to doubt this scenario. If Scotland votes to break away, it will have done so in no small part because the political leadership in London was oblivious to the possibility that the referendum might turn out that way. Future bids for independence will not be underestimated in the same way by other central governments, and independence movements probably won’t be permitted to hold binding votes in the first place. Viewed this way, a ‘yes’ vote might inspire separatist parties, but it would also alarm central governments and encourage them not to agree to a vote on independence. The ‘Yes’ campaign has done as well as it has in part because it was able to take a complacent, clueless government in London by surprise, and that isn’t going to happen again no matter how the vote turns out. Another reason to doubt that there will be a “whole series of political crises” breaking out in the wake of a ‘yes’ vote is that each country’s conditions and political traditions are different.

Not all separatist parties are going to be able to make a persuasive argument that their regions would succeed as new states, and not all governments are going to be quite so ineffective in making appeals for continued national unity. More to the point, some states specifically outlaw the possibility of regional independence, so there are major barriers in other countries that didn’t exist in this case. Political elites in other countries may also learn from London’s mistakes, and they could offer greater autonomy to their discontented regions as Cameron now realizes he should have done all along. On top of all this, Scotland might find itself running into stiff opposition from some current EU members when it applies to join, which will presumably also have the effect of discouraging voters in other countries from following their example. Of course, that is the point of threatening to block or delay Scotland’s membership, as Spain has so bluntly done over the last few months.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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