If you look at a map of Europe from 2014, it might look like it’s been the same way for centuries, especially in the western part , i.e. Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. However, that map hides decades and centuries of political imbroglios and conflicts.
For example, in Spain, there are areas known as autonomous communities, which are areas for specific nationalities and regions, including the Basque, Catalans, and Andalusians, to essentially govern themselves within the limits of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.
There have been many recorded cases of nationalities, regions, and ethnic minorities asking for more independence than they currently had at the time, i.e. autonomy, or outright independence. One of the most recent cases has been the case of Scotland and the United Kingdom. Scotland has had a long and proud history of being independent, but that effectively ended when the English and Scots agreed to the Treaty of Union in 1706 and their respective parliaments passed Acts of Union the next year, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain from May 1, 1707.
For the next three centuries, Scotland was unified with England, Wales, and what became Northern Ireland, with some devolution in power to Scotland. The passage of a Scottish devolution referendum in 1997 led to the formation of the Scottish Parliament and Government, which has responsibility over most laws in Scotland, in 1998. In 2007, Scotland’s government, which had the Scottish National Party (SNP) as a minority party, began what was called the “National Conversation”, essentially an effort by the government to see what the public felt would be best for Scotland’s future: no change in Scotland’s status in the UK, partial devolution, full devolution, or full independence.
Eventually, after political maneuvering by the SNP, other political parties in Scotland, the Scottish government, and the UK from 2009 to late 2013, the Scottish government put forth a referendum for September 18, 2014 that will ask Scots if Scotland should become an independent nation. If the referendum passes with a majority of people voting “Yes”, then the United Kingdom and Scotland will have to face many issues, such as whether or not for Scotland to establish a new currency or to retain the pound sterling, what to do with the UK-wide National Health Service, what to do with the Union Jack, and whether or not Scottish people would automatically become citizens of an independent Scotland. Some countries of the European Union are opposed to Scottish independence largely because those nations are concerned about the ramifications of allowing independence for ethnic minorities or nationalities. The referendum will not only determine the future of Scotland, the United Kingdom, or even the European Union, but also the possibility of self-determination for minority groups and nationalities. The aforementioned map of Europe might change once again, as it has several times in the past century including in 2006, 1989, and 1945, after the Scottish referendum’s results are known.
(Photo Credit: Flickr via Karen Roe)