Scotland's No vote is having ripple effects on two continents.
In Spain, it came as a hard blow to the independence-minded Catalan regional government, which intends to call a referendum for Nov. 9 against Madrid's will, since the Spanish constitution doesn't allow secession. In this power struggle, a Scottish Yes vote would have provided the Catalan secessionists with a precious political advantage.
In Quebec, the Scottish No deprived sovereigntists of a last, desperate hope. Some have tried to put a positive spin on the result, arguing that independence advocates won "a moral victory" by increasing their support by about 10 points over earlier polls. But this is yet another case of denial: However one looks at it, a 45-55 loss is a resounding defeat.
The Scottish referendum might also prevent other small nations from vying for independence, or at least seriously deter them. With all the assets they had in hand, they couldn't make it – so what other nation could? Scotland had the unique advantage of sitting on rich oil reserves. Contrary to Catalonia, Scotland dealt with an accommodating central government that would have accepted a razor-thin Yes majority. Contrary to Quebec, Scotland is a relatively homogeneous society, with no true linguistic minority and very little ethnic diversity. And contrary to the Flemish, the Catalans and the Basques, the Scots speak an international language – they had no reason to fear cultural isolation.
So if Scotland's nationalists couldn't win, who could? Certainly not the Flemish nationalists in Belgium, who are indeed more prosperous than the Walloons but couldn't bring themselves to renounce Brussels, the francophone metropolis that would go to the French part if the country is partitioned. Certainly not northern Italy, where the Northern League, a semi-separatist group of taxpayers fed up of paying for the poorer, southern half of the country, is strong enough to help shore up coalition governments but not enough to become an influential force. The secession movement in the Basque region of Spain has lost credibility because of its long association with terrorism, and because the French Basques, in southern France, would not follow suit. Forget Corsica, which is somewhat of a joke. The Corsican secessionists, who are tainted with a history of violence and gangsterism, would expect France to fully finance their "independent" state.
Actually, contrary to popular view, there are very few small nations that are tempted by separatism, at least in the democratic world, where national groups tend not to be victims of colonization, violent oppression or extreme poverty. Even the existence of the European Union, which could theoretically provide an umbrella for newly independent small nations after separation from a nation state, has not produced a trend toward secession.
Of course, there are occasional regional tensions – for instance, in Italy's Veneto region, which just held an unofficial referendum on independence, and in France's Brittany, where people have a distinct history and easily take to the streets. But these rebellions are fuelled by dissatisfaction about central policies and not by a serious, long-lasting desire for autonomy – they're not unlike Alberta during the Pierre Trudeau years.
The search for full-fledged independence, symbolized by a flag at the United Nations, might be a thing of the past, at least in the democratic world. Even in Scotland, the dream for independence will probably fade as soon as the oil reserves start dwindling.