(Voici le texte d’opinion que m’a demandé le quotidien The Guardian, de Londres. En ligne ici.)
Boy, would I have loved to have had the Scottish referendum before the one we had in Quebec in 1995, for which I was strategist for the yes campaign. I am sure those who are for an independent Scotland have lots to say against the tactics and arguments of Better Together, but we in Quebec would have given an arm and a leg for the fair play and adult behaviour displayed so far by the British government. This is why:
1. The UK recognised that it was for the Scottish parliament to decide on the referendum question, but both parties chose an independent, agreed upon third party to pass judgment on its fairness. Not so in Canada, where Ottawa refused the Quebec parliament’s legitimacy in the matter.
2. Britain implicitly accepts that if yes wins with 50%+1, the Scots will have a mandate for independence and that negotiations, though as they may be, will commence. You will find it hard to believe, but if yes had won in Quebec in 1995, the head of the no camp admitted that even “with 52% or 53% we would not have accepted”. Current Canadian law stipulates that even if the Canadian parliament were to agree to the question, it would sit again after a majority yes vote to “evaluate” whether or not it is sufficient. No threshold is given. Kafka lives in Canadian law.
The only plan contemplated in Ottawa in case of a yes vote in 1995 was to try to organise another Ottawa-led referendum, two months hence, to try and reverse the vote. Markets would have had a field day with the Canadian dollar over this attempt.
3. No one of importance in Britain has tried to put at risk the territorial integrity of Scotland in case of independence. In Canada, the prime minister, Jean Chrétien, was eager to play this card – although the international reaction would have been brutal.
4. The British Treasury took pains in reassuring international borrowers that it would honour the entirety of the British debt, whatever the outcome of future negotiations on debt repartition with an independent Scotland. In Canada, the Central Bank was barred from making any such preparations or comments, for fear that it would legitimise the possibility of a yes victory. “We were very vulnerable,” the Canadian finance minister admitted later, talking about the debt refinancing schedule.
5. The UK agreed to play by the rules of Scotland as far as campaign spending is concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ultimately find some infractions to this rule, but never on the scale of the Canadian government’s efforts to at least triple the funding of the no side, without any inhibition. “When you go to war,” the prime minister’s chief of staff said, “you don’t ask if the bullets are legally paid-for, you simply shoot them”.
Voters have decided on giving Britain – and the world – a cliffhanger for the referendum finale, exactly like the one we had in Quebec in 1995. Then, a late yes surge brought elation to our camp; panic and last minute promises of change in the no camp. On voting day, we knew that if participation reached 80% that the youth vote was out, and that was good for us. If it went to 85%, better yet. But 90% was uncharted territory; we didn’t know what to think. It reached 94%. The results were 49.42% voting yes and 50.58% no: half a percentage would give no the last word. Promises for significant recognition of the Quebec nation and of further devolution were not kept.
It Scots choose a different path than that of Quebecers, even with the slimmest of margins, the world needs the UK to keep cool in case of a yes vote. Nations that have been through this wrenching debate recently or who, especially in Catalonia, will navigate these waters soon, need the British government to keep offering a template of fair play and respect for democracy.
If yes wins, it means recognising immediately the political fact that Scots have chosen independence. It means having quick meetings of officials to send reassuring signals to both markets and workers that an orderly, negotiated process will begin to examine every outstanding issue.
It would not be an pleasant time for Britain. Divorce is never easy. It is often messy, nasty, petty. That’s when we need Britain to rise to the occasion, keep cool, and be, again, an example to the world.