Scotland vote holds lessons for Canada

By Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto
Nora Loreto

Like many Canadians, I’ll be watching the Scottish referendum very closely. And, like many progressive Canadians, I’m hoping to see a yes vote. I’m hoping to see an independent Scotland.

The Scottish vote is important for many reasons. A Yes vote is a vote against the storage of England’s nuclear missiles. It’s a vote against the imperialism and war mongering of the United Kingdom.

A Yes vote is a vote in favour of devolving democratic power, placing it fully into the hands of Scottish people.

A Yes vote is a vote against the austerity policies of the U.K. It’s a vote against Thatcherism and the hold it has had over politicians for 30 years.

A Yes vote is a vote against the rightward slide of the Labour Party; the ultimate statement that people are fed up with and reject a party that is progressive in name only.

A Yes vote is a vote against the Westminster system of parliament, a system where a minority of votes can make a prime minister.

And, regardless of the outcome of the vote, the campaign has demonstrated how important it is that something change; that the status quo isn’t working.

Many of the themes that have arisen during the campaign are reminiscent of our own referendum in 1995. Many of the arguments are the same. Many of the grievances are the similar. The source of frustration, the Westminster system of government, remains at the heart of the problem.

So to argue that progressive reform of the current system is possible ignores the fact that it’s the very system itself that’s rotten.

Defending unity under these conditions can only come from two places: money and nostalgia. As to be expected, the capitalist elites in the United Kingdom (and Canada) are opposed to an independent Scotland. But for progressives, there is no substantive argument in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom.So, how does the analysis hold up when we instead talk about Canada?

There are important differences between Canada and the United Kingdom. For one, Canada’s system of federalism has evolved with the demands of provinces. Over the years, provinces have sought more control over various public policies. Devolving power has been an important pressure valve used to ease tension between provincial and federal governments.

But hinging the unity of Canada on a pressure valve, at the political whims of Canada’s elites, is both unsustainable and undemocratic. Québecers know this. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know this. Most people who live in a region that is routinely ignored by Canadian politicians know this.

So, while some people would argue that the solution to this is to just vote out Stephen Harper, their wishful thinking that the alternatives would be much better hinges on two assumptions: either that people aren’t paying enough attention to see that the current state of Canada has been created by both the Liberals and the Conservatives, or we’re too nostalgic to imagine a new federal arrangement that could restore democracy to the people of this country.

If we take anything from the Scottish independence movement, it’s that a project that rejects neoliberalism can unite people. It has to be progressive. It has to be bold. It has to be romantic. It has to reject politics of division and involve all people.

Canadians have to realize that Scots are voting “Yes” for many of the same reasons that Canadians would vote against Harper. The main difference is that we have so narrowly defined our alternatives that, under our current system of government, voting against Harper won’t change all that much.

Nora Loreto’s articles are made available by, a progressive Canadian online magazine.