“Vive le Scotland Libre!” If I could twist a phrase from the former French President, Charles de Gaulle about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence this according to the polls is apparently what nearly half of the Scottish people will be chanting on the 18th September.
It is hard to believe that just two months ago the No side enjoyed a 22% lead in the majority of the opinion polls. With a media largely hostile to their cause, the resources of the British government and mounting criticism from world leaders, the Yes side has closed this gap and in some surveys now holds a lead of 2%.
If any country has seen this film play out before, it’s Canada. Two failed referenda and numerous separatist governments in the province of Quebec gives the people of the true north more experience in dealing with challenges to the unity of the country than any other nation in the world.
This experience is why the recent comments of Prime Minister, Stephen Harper opposing the idea of an independent Scotland carried such weight in the British press, much more so than similar comments from Harpers Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott. After all, Harper has a strong record in battling separatism; he has presided over a situation where the Bloc Qubecois has been all but vanquished from the House of Commons and at a provincial level the Parti Quebecois is directionless and in disarray.
Yet, when Harper made his comments that an independent Scotland would not serve “greater global interests” he unknowingly played into the hands of the Yes camp. Think about it for a moment and it begins to make sense. Has Canada not done well through independence from the mother parliament? Have you not reaped the rewards of being oil rich and having an abundance of natural gas? Are you not proud in your nationality whilst have Queen Elizabeth as your head of state?
In many ways the successes of former colonies like New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and Canada are exactly what Alex Salmond and the Yes camp are pointing to as the standard that Scotland to get to if it becomes independent. That opportunity to do what Canadians do and that is choosing your own destiny without let or hindrance from another country.
When a foreign leader intervenes in an issue which has nothing to do with their own country they walk a dangerous line. The variety of interventions from leaders like Harper gives the Yes side a huge open goal that they can score. In a race where complex arguments need to be boiled down to a tweet or a two line statement, interventions from foreign leaders allow the Yes side to simply retort “well, independence has worked out well for you has it not?”
Whatever the result next week, this act of self-determination needs to be welcomed by world leaders. Scotland, like Quebec before them have shown that you can settle these types of questions without conflict or long term damage. Intervening in a domestic debate like Harper did last week, smacked of a similar intervention in 1967 by Charles de Gaulle in Canadian politics. Think about how Canadians felt when that happened and remember that nobody likes unwarranted interventions.
On these issues the Prime Minister should hold one view only and that is to recognise and respect the verdict of the Scottish people. Canadian governments have asked the same thing of other countries in its own domestic affairs, it should show the same courtesy to others.