Unless you've been completely absent for the past few weeks, you should know that Scotland is going to the polls tomorrow to decide if they are going to secede from the United Kingdom. It's been a significant race of late, especially given how dead in the water the movement seemed mere months ago. Polls have indicated that in the past week a majority of Scottish voters would vote in favour of independence. Given that Canadians have spent much of their lives being concerned about the so-called Québec-versus-the-rest-of-Canada issue, I want to briefly talk about the connections between theses two sovereignty cases.
Both cases involve the dominance of the English over another ethno-cultural group. Scotland became part of Great Britain in 1707 with the Articles of Union. It was a somewhat voluntary union and somewhat forced. The same can se said of the union of the united provinces and colonies that took place in 1867 - Canadian Confederation. Again it was a negotiated, mostly voluntary, agreement amongst four constituent parts.
While there is certainyl a similarity between cases (British imperialism) the modern realities are rather different for a few reasons. The first is that the United Kingdom is a unitary state. This means that all members of the United Kingdom are subservient to the united government which makes the vast majority of decisions on their behalf. Contrast that with Canadian federalism where each province has more influence on the day-to-day lives of its residence than does the federal government.
This didn't happen by accident: Canada was structured this way in the British North America Act (1867) and since has continued to grow based on the individual needs of the provinces, notably Québec. The effect has been that provinces have considerable autonomy - or sovereignty. They control spending in important fields like infrastructure, health, education, and social services. They collect taxes and regulate financial institutions like co-operatives. They mandate work legislation.
Is Québec the only benefactor in this situation? Absolutely not. Alberta has been a significant winner because of these agreements, as has Ontario and British Columbia at some time or another. Canadian federalism strengthens all of Canada, and we owe a large part of this to the sovereignty movement in Québec.
So what of this movement now? And of Scotland's case? Good questions. It appears that for all intents and purposes the Québec sovereignty movement has collapsed in on itself. Most Quebeckers are content with the autonomy that their government has (immigration and citizenship are current issues) but the movement lives on, perhaps best embodied by former premier Pauline Marois. Marois, for her part, failed to stimulate a discussion on sovereignty because most Québecois are over it and many of the goals sought after were achieved (see maitres chez nous). When she went, last year, to Scotland to support the independence movement, she was sequestered because she was seen as a dinosaur from a dying movement. Scotland's movement is vibrant, and with good reason.
The vote takes place tomorrow, so there's not much time left to talk about Scotland's future. But the reality is that either way Scotland will have difficulties ahead. The rhetoric of the YES campaign (for independence) claims that an independent Scotland will be better off as it will be in control of its own affairs. Why not be in control of the vast majority of your own affairs and remain in the UK? Some of the offers from London have been weak, admittedly, but this process of negotiation, not a simple yes or no choice, will ultimately best serve Scotland and the United Kingdom's future.