After Brexit: Growth of global secessionist voices calls for more dialogue and less 'anti-national' slander

Even as the Indian government stigmatises the word azaadi, the idea of sub-national independence continues to gain more and more traction across the world. Interestingly, unlike the Indian government, most of its global counterparts — opposed as many of them are to secessionist forces — do not view the demand for independence as a marker of anti-national sentiment. In fact, the debate around secession surfacing in many countries abroad is often structured within economic, and not ideological national/anti-national frameworks.

 After Brexit: Growth of global secessionist voices calls for more dialogue and less anti-national slander

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attends a debate on the second referendum on independence at Scotland's Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Reuters

Consider recent developments in Britain.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister and a fierce advocate of Scottish independence, has renewed pressure for a fresh independence referendum. With Prime Minister Theresa May triggering Article 50 and initiating the process of Britain’s separation from the European Commission, Sturgeon insists that a second referendum has become an absolute imperative for ensuring the welfare of Scottish people. "The result is that we must now ensure that people in Scotland are given a choice between the hard Brexit deal now being negotiated, and independence," the first minister said.

Only three years ago, the Scottish people voted in a referendum on Scotland’s secession from the United Kingdom. In a record turnout of over 84 percent, 55.3 percent rejected independence while 44.7 percent voted in support. Clearly, a large constituency of Scottish people wanted independence. Yet, that number in 2014 fell short of the required majority. Much has happened since then. In the wake of Brexit, votaries of secession have gained in strength. Sturgeon wants to strike while the iron is hot.

Besides, it’s not just Scotland which has, in recent years, actively debated secession. As forces of sub-nationalism gain ground, the aspiration for regional and local autonomy has also proliferated. Look for example, at the California exit movement in the United States. Following Donald Trump’s electoral victory in November 2016, the Yes California Independence Campaign said it is planning a referendum in 2019 to gauge the mood of Californians on seceding from the Union. On its website, the Yes California Independence Campaign, says: “In our view, the United States of America represents so many things that conflict with Californian values, and our continued statehood means California will continue subsidising the other states to our own detriment, and to the detriment of our children.”

Strikingly, the respective Union governments dealing with such political assertions have not accused their advocates (those behind Scottish independence and Yes California Independence Campaign) of indulging in anti-national politics. At home, however, the language of discourse around calls for independence has been somewhat different, to put it mildly.

Rather than engaging with the idea of political fragmentation, different Central governments, through the decades, adopted an ostrich-like attitude. The tactic of downplaying assertions for autonomy, or of slandering them as anti-national, however, do not seem to be working on the ground. There’s little doubt that the conventional imagination of what constitutes nationhood is being challenged the world over. The golden myth of economic globalisation, once considered infallible, has gone bust. The gulf between the elite and the poor is wider than ever before. In the vacuum, the idea of secession has come to acquire a new appeal.

Summing up the contemporary mood in his new book Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra correctly writes: “The appeal of formal and informal secessionism — the possibility (broadly) — of greater control over one’s life, has grown from Catalonia, Scotland, England to Hong Kong, beyond the cunningly separatist elites with multiple citizenships and offshore accounts.” Mishra observes that a far larger number of people today feel the gap between the “profligate promises of individual freedom and sovereignty and the incapacity of their political and economic organisations to realise them.”

Regardless of whether we reject or accept their politics, understanding this broader global context is imperative to understanding the multiple factors contributing to such secessionist movements.

Updated Date: Mar 31, 2017 11:36:14 IST