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Is There A Right To Secede?

BARCELONA – The European Union has brought 28 countries into a closer political and economic union. Paradoxically, it has also made it more feasible to contemplate the breakup of some of those countries.

Independence for a small state outside of a political and economic group like the EU would be risky nowadays. Within the EU, however, the barriers between states – and thus the economic and political risks of independence – are lower.

Consider Scotland, where a popular referendum on independence will be held on September 18. The referendum is the result of the landslide victory by the Scottish National Party in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. British Prime Minister David Cameron has argued against Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, but he has not opposed holding the referendum. Opinion polls taken since the wording of the referendum (“Should Scotland be an independent country?”) was announced indicate that the “yes” side is unlikely to gain a clear majority.

In Spain, there is a national debate about independence for Catalonia, where national identity is strengthened by the fact that the majority of the region’s residents speak Catalan as well as Spanish. By contrast, only about 1% of Scots can speak Scottish Gaelic. Perhaps as a result, support for independence in Catalonia appears to be far broader, with about half of the region’s residents saying that they support secession.