Learning from history


In the Keystone Cops comedy that is the contending parties in the Scottish Independence referendum campaign, it seems that the Scottish No team have been making all the same mistakes that Canada's No team made on Quebec independence back in 1995. True, the Quebec referendum campaign ended in a narrow No decision – but so narrow that it kept the independence issue alive and grumbling. Next week's Scottish referendum has become too close to call, but most polls are predicting a No majority - though again, one so narrow that it keeps the independence issue alive and grumbling here too.

It seems the No team have learnt nothing from Canada's experience of nearly twenty years ago. Andrew Coyne of the National Post lists the similarities:

  • The same early complacency in the No camp.
  • The same unbridled panic as the Yes side surged in the polls.
  • The same unappealing mix of threats and dubious accounting claims.
  • The same blurring of the issues (devo-max, keeping the currency).
  • A charismatic Yes leader and a seemingly distant No Prime Minister.

As in Canada, says Coyne, an unwarranted legitimacy was conferred on the separatist project; then came attempts to pacify it with more powers and more money, only to see it grow more ravenous in response. And once again,  a Yes vote is probably forever, while a No vote just marks the start of fresh campaigning.

It all looks like one of the slow-motion car crash in those early comedies. Except this particular farce is deciding the UK's future political and economic reality.