Scottish referendum could bring Quebec separation back to forefront, say experts

By Ally Harris
Sept. 26, 2014

The recent referendum in Scotland will likely reignite the fire in the Quebec separatist movement, says a political science professor at UPEI.
Don Desserud said the Parti Quebecois would love to see the issue come back to the forefront, but the Liberal government in Quebec will try to keep the status quo.
“The Liberals are solidly in power and they’ll hold on to that for a while, so there’ll be some fuss, but it’ll be interesting to see – it could work against (the separatist movement).”
The last Quebec referendum took place in 1995, but the issue has never fully gone away, he said.
“This is why we in Canada have coined the phrase ‘neverendum.’”
On Sept. 18, Scotland took to the polls to decide if it wanted to separate from the United Kingdom. The no side won, with 55 per cent of the votes.
Although they are still used to determine these all-important decisions, there are many problems with using referenda, said Desserud.
“For everybody that’s voting no because they have a strong sense of loyalty to the United Kingdom, somebody else will vote no because they’re saying ‘I don’t trust the leadership of Scotland to bring us into the next stage so I’m going to wait until someone else is there’, or because ‘I still don’t understand what this is all about.’”
The problem is the same no matter which way a person votes, he said.
“There’s so many reasons people are going to vote the way they’re going to vote and they will be interpreted by whoever wants to interpret them.”
This was demonstrated after the 1995 Quebec referendum, when voters were surveyed and asked what they imagined a separate Quebec would be like, Desserud said.
“Significant numbers of people did not understand a separate Quebec would no longer be sending MPs to Ottawa, did not understand they wouldn’t be holding Canadian passports.
“So what they meant when they said sovereignty was very different to what someone else might mean.”
Even though the Scottish referendum question was much simpler than Quebec’s, there was still confusion among the public, as Eleanor Boswell found out.
“One of my friends called me and said ‘I don’t understand this, does a yes vote mean they’re going to stay?’”
Boswell explained to her friend it meant the opposite, and said she personally had no problem with the question.
“I didn’t have a problem with that myself, my own opinion was it was straightforward.”
Boswell paid close attention to the referendum results and noticed on TV coverage there were many Quebeckers in Scotland to observe the vote, she said.
“They were quite public about saying they will learn from the Scottish referendum.”
It appeared Scotland had done the same thing, taking a good look at how Quebec’s referendum took place, she said.
“I think they were kind of learning from each other. (Quebec separatists) were very interested to see how it was all going to come about and I’m sure they’ll learn from that. And I’m sure Quebec will probably want to have another referendum.”