Referendum in Scotland: Quebec ahead legally, but not politically

The battle waged by the Scots to hold a referendum on the country’s independence is reminiscent of the battle fought nearly 30 years ago by Quebec, which therefore has a legal advantage for sovereignty, but not politically.

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Despite the failure of the 2014 referendum – where the “no” vote won 55.3% of the vote – Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, also head of the country’s independence party, has not said her last word.

Faced with the British government’s refusal to make an exception to allow Scotland to pass legislation for a referendum, as was the case in 2014, it decided to take the lead.

“To force the hand, the Prime Minister has tabled a bill which is not yet studied by the Edinburgh government on the holding of a referendum on October 19, 2023 on independence” , explained Marc Chevrier, professor of political science at UQAM and specialist in the political system of Great Britain and Canada.

In order to assert this right, the Scots asked the British Supreme Court for the possibility of organizing a consultative referendum without the approval of London and which would therefore not have immediate effects on the United Kingdom.

Ms. Sturgeon can above all count on a strong independence wave in her country which was fueled by Brexit in 2016, since the majority of Scots were against the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

« The independence movement has not collapsed, on the contrary, it has consolidated, » said Mr. Chevrier.

Separatists more present than in Quebec

According to the specialist, the case may have the air of the reference that the Supreme Court had given in 1998 on the secession of Quebec, then recognizing the legitimacy of the referendum as a means of initiating the secession of a provincial state.

“Quebec is ahead legally, but politically it still lost two referendums, so that’s why the sovereignty movement is weak at the moment. There was a fairly radical demobilization”, however nuanced the professor.

“Scotland only had one referendum and in that sense the separatists hope to succeed on the second attempt,” he argued.

UK Supreme Court justices are expected to rule on the issue within six to eight weeks. In case of defeat, the Prime Minister has already indicated that she will use the 2024 legislative elections as a « de facto » referendum.

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