Parallels between the two plebiscites appear to exist in name only. These two referenda defy comparison and the reaction of the world community will reflect this.
A "No" campaign supporter and a "Yes" campaign supporter chat holding posters after a "No" campaign event where a number of speeches were made by different people and politicians in Glasgow, Scotland. Breaking up is hard to do, especially after 300 years. Photo: AP
On Sept. 18, Scotland goes to the polls in a historic vote on whether to secede from the United Kingdom and become an independent nation. What once seemed like a far-fetched fantasy now seems a close reality with both the Yes and No campaigns sporting near-equal percentages of support according to public opinion polls.
Regardless of the outcome, the status quo for Scotland is no more. Furthermore, the referendum has been seen as giving legitimacy to the claims of other separatist regions in Europe.
The rise in regional identities is not a surprise to scholars of the European identity. Nor is this necessarily an end-all rise in ethno-nationalism that will ruin Europe, as some might hope or fear.
The strengthening of the supranational institutions have allowed for new forms of economic and political relations between European member states and the regional sub-units where the national government is no longer the locus of sovereign power.
While the issue of losing Scotland might raise a fair few questions for the UK and set a precedent for Spain’s Basques and Catalans, as well as the Flemish people of Belgium, these regions have made it clear that they will remain with Europe and retain the democratic principles of governance.
While the Kremlin has been relatively quiet about the Scottish referendum, Moscow’s puppet regime in Crimea is anticipating the results of the vote with explicit satisfaction.
The Kremlin’s silence is not surprising, given the escalating tensions between Russia and Europe. They are exercising due prudence, as a proclamation in support of Scotland’s independence would be seen as a direct involvement in the sovereign affairs of the United Kingdom.
Yet, in the mind of the chairman of the Crimean council of ministers, Sergei Aksyonov, the referendum in Scotland lends legitimacy to the referendum in Crimea six months ago. In Aksyonov’s view, if Europe supports the results of the referendum in Scotland it has no basis to deny the legitimacy and results of the referendum in Crimea, which most of the world has refused to do.
Yet is it possible to compare these two referenda? As far as one can see, the referendum in Scotland does not violate the constitution of the United Kingdom, which was not the case in Crimea, where the referendum violated Ukrainian constitution because it was regional. All matters of territorial change must be decided by country wide referendum.
The long campaign in Scotland has allowed for both sides to present the case for both Yes and No votes, which was not the case in Crimea. The population of Scotland goes to the polls without the presence of armed men on the streets, which was not the case in Crimea.
Neither is the campaign for Scotland’s independence being propped up by an external state with the goal of destroying the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the UK, as was the case in Crimea.
So the comparison between the two seems to be in name only. These two referenda defy comparison and the reaction of the world community will reflect this, much to Aksyonov’s dismay.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.