A case of pink eye couldn't stop Pierre Karl Péladeau from heading to Edinburgh to witness History in the flesh. The rookie Parti Québécois MNA was not alone. For Péquistes demoralized by the pitiful poll numbers of their party and their cause, the Scottish referendum was like Woodstock for separatists.
Twice-unlucky Quebec sovereigntists swarmed to Scotland to bask in the seemingly charmed campaign of First Minister Alex Salmond and the Yes side. While their dreams were dashed in the wee hours of Friday, the Scottish vote only whet their appetites for a third one of their own.
The first lesson they brought home to their dwindling comrades: Despair not. A year ago, the Scottish Yes side barely cracked 30 per cent in the polls, only to finish the campaign 15 percentage points higher. Thirty per cent is about where support for unhyphenated Quebec sovereignty now stands. So, a year can make a big difference, provided you've got the right leader and pitch.
Sure, the Scottish separatists still lost. But they firmly established that 50 per cent plus one is the threshold needed for victory. The British government of Prime Minister David Cameron not only did not challenge that contention, it endorsed it. For Quebec sovereigntists, that is a moral victory that reinforces the legitimacy of their claims and makes it harder for a future Canadian government to set the bar higher than 50 plus one.
Another result of the Scottish vote: Expect many Quebec separatists to start calling themselves indépendantistes again. They dropped it for the the softer-sounding souverainiste soon after the 1968 creation of the Parti Québécois. But for younger Quebeckers, sovereignty is a vague concept associated with their highly conflicted elders. Independence evokes a clearer sense of purpose, and confidence.
It's now a given that the wording of the Scottish question – Should Scotland be an independent country? – has become the template for a future ballot question in Quebec.
It was the prospect of an "independent" country that energized young Scots, including 16- and 17-year-olds who were deemed eligible to vote, to jump on the Yes bandwagon. Mr. Salmond peddled the idealistic notion that, freed from Westminster's yoke, an independent Scotland would be Scandinavia South with more income equality, social spending and clean energy.
Many Quebec separatists see this as just the potion they need to hook young Quebeckers on their cause. Clearly, the focus on ethnicity and secularism was a bust. They might have better success peddling free tuition, environmentalism and pacifism as the liberté, égalité and fraternité of an independent Quebec.
This would also be a return of sorts to the PQ's roots. The Swedish social-democratic model was at the core of the party's early election platforms. And during the 1995 referendum, the Yes side promised a kinder, gentler independent Quebec to contrast with the hard-right turn that Ontario and Ottawa had taken under Mike Harris and Jean Chrétien, respectively, who had both embarked on brutal spending cuts.
Alas, under then-premier Lucien Bouchard, the PQ resorted to postreferendum deficit-slashing of its own, leading to a schism from which it has yet to recover. The birth of offshoot parties on the left has split the sovereigntist movement ever since.
This, and the PQ's miserable showing in the April provincial election, is what led Jacques Parizeau to tell sovereigntists gathered in Montreal on the weekend that they are standing before "a field of ruins." The former PQ premier ridiculed the "hypocrites" in the party who, during the spring campaign, wouldn't commit to holding a referendum if the party was re-elected. It was a direct attack not only on ex-leader Pauline Marois, but her two ex-ministers – Jean-François Lisée and Bernard Drainville – jockeying to succeed her.
Add that to a scathing critique by Jean-Martin Aussant, an ex-PQ MNA who quit the party in 2011 to found a new party, and it's easy to imagine sovereigntists sucked up in score-settling for months or years. Mr. Aussant recently compared the PQ to the Costa Concordia and advised against handing leadership positions to "the same crew" that sank the party in April.
Mr. Aussant, now working as an economist in London, was seen to be either doing Mr. Péladeau's dirty work or positioning himself for the PQ leadership. No matter, the morale boost Péquistes enjoyed during the Scottish campaign risks being overtaken by an autumn of recrimination.
At least they've got Catalonia in November to look forward to.