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The Scottish and Canadian referendums are once again being held up as examples of what they are not, so stop making a fuss about them and about unilateralism.

Xavier Sardà 06 February 2021.

A citizen prepares to vote in the referendum of 1 October. /FERRAN NADEU

The referendums in Scotland and Quebec are once again being presented as examples of what they are not. 

The Scottish referendum was the only referendum agreed in an established democracy. But from left (e.g.: Owen Jones) to right (e.g.: the chief economist of the Financial Times), many Britons have literally called Cameron the worst prime minister in history precisely for calling for referendums (Scotland, Brexit) and provoking division in society. Boris Johnson has already made it clear that he will not agree to a second referendum.

The two Quebec referendums (1980 and 1995) were unilateral. Pierre Trudeau said that even with a 100% yes vote he would not have initiated negotiations on independence. Later, the government enacted the clarity law, which the pro-independence movement rejects because, as a Parti Québécois leader explained on TV-3, it makes independence “impossible”.

The Northern League, elected with 60 per cent of the vote, passed a law to organise an independence referendum in the Veneto, which the Italian Constitutional Court banned at Renzi’s behest. In Merkel’s Germany, the Constitutional Court banned one in Bavaria. And the Obama Administration denied one in Texas saying that “the Constitution does not provide mechanisms for leaving the Union”.

Quebec and Bavaria have never approved their countries’ constitutions. Denmark explicitly forbids referendums on monarchy, taxation, and other matters in its constitution. Only in Switzerland are they part of the system, and not without counter-indications: women did not have the right to vote until 1971 because men, in referendums, voted that they should not. Some cantons resisted until 1991.



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