Andrew Coyne points out some of the parallels between the 1995 referendum in Quebec and this month’s referendum in Scotland:
It has been an entertaining, if unnerving, couple of weeks, recalling the referendum of 1995 and speculating about what would have happened had the separatists won. Now, thanks to the Scots, we may be about to find out.
Next week’s referendum on Scottish independence is indeed looking eerily reminiscent of the 1995 near-disaster: the same early complacency in the No camp, the same unbridled panic as the Yes side surges in the polls; the same unappealing mix of threats (“one million jobs”) and accounting on the No side, the same fraudulent claims (“we’re subsidizing the English”) and utopian fantasies on the Yes; the same blurring of the lines on both sides, independence made to look like the status quo (“we’ll keep the pound”) even as the status quo is made to look like independence (“devo-max” is the British term for special status). Add a charismatic Yes leader and an unpopular, seemingly disengaged prime minister, and the picture is complete.
Learning nothing from our experience, the Brits made all the same strategic errors we did, first conferring an unwarranted legitimacy on the separatist project, then attempting to pacify it with powers and money, only to watch it grow more ravenous in response. They have ended up in the same game of heads-I-win, tails-you-lose: a No vote simply marks the launch of the next campaign, while a Yes, supposedly, is forever.
We should not underestimate how much of separatism’s decline in this country can be explained by sheer exhaustion, especially post-Clarity Act. A great many soft nationalists, for whom it retains a romantic appeal, were persuaded it was simply too arduous an undertaking, full of too much uncertainty and upheaval. But if that premise appeared to have been debunked — if the British pull off the same quick divorce that the Czechs and Slovaks did in the 1990s — we might yet see the issue resurface. You see, the Parti Quebecois would crow? It is just as we told you. And Britain, of all places, has proved it.