Realities facing Scotland and Quebec are worlds apart

By Jim Wilson on March 13, 2013

Scotland has many historical links with Quebec .Montreal, with its street names and institutions, provides signposts to that past. Despite the connections, in their quest for independence the two are literally and metaphorically oceans apart. Quebec’s additional difficulties compared to those facing Scotland are numerous; in politics, history, culture or geography, there are substantial differences. However, in the crucial matter of the economy, both face similar challenges.    

Although Quebec claims it wants to be a country, Scots know that they have already a country whose history can be traced to pre-Roman times.  Not so in Quebec , Europeans arrived here with the intention of exploiting the continent, and centuries later,  as the recent ‘Idle No More‘ movement publicized,  land disputes with the native peoples  still resonate . Moreover, Scotland’s borders are well defined, and its departure from the United Kingdom leaves the English border untouched. Contrast that with the impact of Quebec’s departure, which would split Canada into two; somewhat akin to the State of Pakistan in its initial formation.  One suspects that if Scotland were to depart, it would be accepted by the rest of Britain without undue rancor, or lingering resentment.  It is difficult to envisage a similar reaction from the rest of Canada, when confronted by the increased difficulties of trade and travel with their fellow Canadians. 

Significantly different too, is the manner in which the referendum question has been developed. The U.K. government and the Scottish leaders have already met with the aim of producing a simple and unambiguous question. For those familiar with the two prior referendum questions, there is the recollection of longwinded statements, conjured up, without regard to clarity, and developed without any consultation with any representatives from the rest of Canada. Subsequent to both defeats, there remains unwillingness on the part of the PQ to accept the results. One may be hope, that in the Scotland, whatever the final outcome, both sides will recognize it without any hankering for a rerun at a future date.  

Quebec’s essential thrust for independence is seemingly rooted in an undying belief that the French language can only be saved by the creation of a new French speaking state. The delusionary myth peddled in Bill 101 that ’French has always been the language of the people’ flies in direct contradiction to Quebec’s actual history. Both French and English are the languages of the colonizers.  Contrast Quebec’s concern with that of Scottish goal, whose aim is focused on the economy. Although accents vary enormously in UK, English is the common tongue, and Scotland has neither the need nor the wish to legislate cultural or linguistic barriers.  

However, independence brings great responsibilities, particularly on the economic front. One of the indicators of a state’s independence is the degree of control over its currency. When it comes to a currency, small is not beautiful. A currency used by a newly independent state, whether Quebec or Scotland, would be far more susceptible to fluctuations than either the pound sterling or the Canadian dollar. However, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote for independence, each must make a choice.  Quebec will find it an enormous challenge to establish a new currency and it seems that Scotland would probably want to consider the Euro. Until 2008, when their neighbouring  Celtic tigers’ economy  was roaring, this seemed the path to take, but the European meltdown defanged the tiger, and replacing sterling with the euro has lost some of its allure. Quebec confronts a similar dilemma, but keeping the Canadian dollar or switching to the American green back would contradict the notion of independence.

 Printing a new currency creates a major problem.  All countries need a source of borrowing, and that is done through the sale of bonds, which must be repaid, often in a denominated currency such as $US. One must remember that Quebec is already heavily indebted, and its creditworthiness would be questionable. Scotland is relying on its oil fields for its wealth, although Quebec could point to its hydro and mineral deposits as a form of collateral.   However, ownership of these assets could be challenged by native people who may threaten to leave Quebec, adopting the same arguments; if Canada is divisible, so too is Quebec.  

The recent diplomatic snub to Pauline Marois by the Scottish leader may be based on their hard headed analysis of Quebec‘s situation. Given their own struggles to convince a growing number of skeptics that Scottish independence is advisable, they see no value in alienating others by supporting secession in a country with which they have enjoyed a long and warm relationship. May be it takes those from outside the country to see what is obvious, that Quebec’s secession is more likely to create a French speaking dystopia than a North American paradise .  

Jim Wilson is past president of the Pearson Teachers Union



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