Today, the people of Scotland are voting in a referendum to decide whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. Canadians have experienced this twice before – once in 1980 and another time in 1995. The parallels between the 1995 Quebec vote and today’s referendum are uncanny: in both cases, the “No” campaign was expected to win. In both cases, the “No” campaign was left to a less than inspiring leadership. In both cases, near the end of the referendum, there was a surge of popular support for the “Yes” campaign. In both cases, the leadership at the national level severely underestimated the potential for the “Yes” vote. And in both cases, there were last minute desperate rallies on the part of the “No” campaigners, with national prime ministers and national opposition leaders alike coming together to plead for the future of the greater country. Whether the 11th hour pleas will succeed in moving enough Scots over to the “No” side we do not know. We will find out tomorrow.
Here in Canada we remember those days of October 1995 as a bad moment in our nation’s history. Most of us were relieved that the vote, incredibly close as it was, swung in favour of the federal option. Many of us believe that this was a final decision, that the issue of Quebec separation has been finally dealt with and that nothing more need be done. I think that Canadians would be deeply mistaken if they thought that the issue of separatism had been put to rest.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has already stated that he hopes that Quebec can become a signatory to the Constitution (to which I assume he refers to the 1982 constitutional accord) before 2017, the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Canadian federation. To achieve this, there will have to be some form of constitutional discussions and this may lead either to a successful result or a further disappointment. If the latter, we can rest assured that the separatist movement will experience a rebirth and Canada may find herself in the same situation as it did in 1995 and as the United Kingdom finds itself today.
Let us be proactive in dealing with this issue. The fact that Quebec was the only province that has not formally adopted the 1982 constitutional accord remains a sore that has never fully healed. To simply put our heads in the sand and ignore the matter will not make it go away. We need to approach it with intelligence, creativity and patience. But doing nothing is not an effective option.
If nothing else, win or lose, the referendum in Scotland will serve as a reminder for the citizenry of Canada, whether we be Quebec separatists or Canadian federalists, that there is unfinished business to attend to.