Independence throes but independent woes

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks about the benefits of independence earlier this year. Photo from the Scottish Government (Flickr).

The key difference between Quebec and Scotland’s bids for statehood

Quebecers are intimately acquainted with referendums. The word was on everybody’s lips during the last provincial election, and now, it’s back – but not for us.

For better or for worse, it seems like independence has a date with someone else this time around. On Sept. 18, Scots will head to the polls to possibly undo over 300 years of shared history with England, and the threat of a Not-So-United Kingdom looms over the Western world.

As one of the few Western independence movements, Quebec separatists have obviously taken great interest in the situation across the pond. While she was in office, Pauline Marois even visited Scotland to discuss the similarities between their two movements. However, she was noticeably shafted by her Scottish contemporaries.

Some were surprised, but we shouldn’t have been. Because Marois was making the same mistake that thousands of Quebecers and analysts are making: they’re assuming that the cases of Scotland and Quebec are the same, when they could be anything but.

Let’s look beyond the mutual disdain they each have for the English. Why does Quebec want independence? It comes down to culture, and the fact that Quebec’s is distinct from the rest of Canada. The obvious example here is language, which has shaped the Quebec identity since its genesis. Because of this, Quebec has grown and shaped itself independently from the rest of Canada. We can see this in the legislation that attempts to protect the French language, such as Bill 101, and the culture that comes with it, such as the attempted Charter of Quebec Values.

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks about the benefits of independence earlier this year. Photo from the Scottish Government (Flickr).

The point here is that Quebec’s quest for independence is a very emotional one. It is entrenched in ideas of culture and identity. Critics often point to the pragmatic parts of Quebec independence – such as currency, economy and Quebec-Canada relations – as its weakest arguments for being an independent state.

Scotland, however, is the opposite. Yes, there are portions of the independence movement that touch on cultural differences, but it is argued in the scope of politics. Why? Because the crux of the Scottish independence argument is representation.  Or rather, the lack of it.

Scotland works similarly to Quebec: they elect MPs who go to the national parliament, but there is also a parliament in Edinburgh, which controls regional matters such as health, education, and social work. The pro-independence Government of Scotland believes that those powers and decisions “have been good for Scotland”. The problem lies higher, in the Westminster Parliament.

The Westminster Parliament has 650 MPs. However, only 59 of those MPs are from Scotland. According to the Scottish government, this means that “policies are imposed on Scotland even when they have been opposed by our elected Westminster MPs”. Thus, affairs like welfare, taxes and foreign policy have often been in conflict with what Scotland’s MPs actually voted for.

What this has created is a feeling of disdain for Westminster. Even if Scotland elects MPs of all the same camp, it is likely that Westminster will go the other way simply due to how outnumbered they are. The Scottish government sums it up as a choice “between two futures: taking control in Scotland of our own affairs, or remaining under the control of Westminster”.

Compare this to Quebec, who is second only to Ontario in the amount of seats it holds in the House of Commons. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP won 59 of Quebec’s 75 seats. Quebec basically single-handedly created the official opposition. In contrast to the Scotland situation, one cannot argue that Quebec is under-represented in federal politics.

The Scottish referendum – regardless of its outcome – should be used as an opportunity for Quebec to examine its own ideals. But similar goals don’t make similar circumstances. Scotland is not Quebec, and Quebec is not Scotland. And the faster we understand that, the better our future will be.

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