There is one striking difference between the rambunctious separatist movements of Scotland and Spain's Catalonia region and their currently comatose counterpart in Quebec. In Catalonia and Scotland, young people and immigrants have lined up behind independence, while neither of those groups want much, if anything, to do with Quebec's grey-haired sovereigntist holdouts.
Yet, despite having demography on their side, the separatist leaders of Catalonia and Scotland seem to be running up against the same obstacle that took the wind out of Quebec sovereigntists' sails: referendum fatigue. Even those predisposed to supporting independence have begun to weary of the endless machinations and ultimatums that separatist leaders conjure up as they seek to create the "winning conditions" for a Yes victory.
This is the problem now facing Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Carles Puigdemont, President of Catalonia's Generalitat, or regional parliament. On June 28, Ms. Sturgeon abandoned her timeline for a second Scottish independence referendum, only three months after she had set it, amid criticism that she was spending too much time plotting her so-called IndyRef2 instead of working to boost Scotland's stagnant economy. Voters turned their backs on her Scottish National Party in Britain's June 8 national elections to show their displeasure.
Ms. Sturgeon's referendum reset was as much a strategic move as face-saving effort. Separatists would likely lose an independence plebiscite held within the two-year time frame set in March. By postponing a vote, Ms. Sturgeon is hoping that a "hard" exit by Britain from the European Union before then will propel separatist support above 50 per cent in time for a late 2019 referendum.
For his part, Mr. Puigdemont continues to press ahead with plans to hold a binding referendum on Catalonian independence on Oct. 1. But with less than three months to go, plenty of his separatist colleagues are getting cold feet in the face of declining poll numbers and threats of criminal prosecution by Spain's central government. Not only do Catalonian civil servants and municipal leaders risk prosecution if they carry out regional government orders to organize the referendum, the two companies that bid to provide ballot boxes for the vote withdrew after reportedly fearing retaliation by the government in Madrid.
A previous Catalonian referendum attempt in 2014 was deemed illegal by Spain's constitutional court, forcing separatist leaders to turn the vote into a merely symbolic consultation that anti-independence forces boycotted. The same court would almost certainly strike down the draft referendum bill Mr. Puigdemont tabled last week in the Generalitat. It calls for a unilateral declaration of independence (or UDI) within 48 hours if the Yes side wins on Oct. 1. Mr. Puigdemont's government has reportedly undertaken a back-channel effort to line up international support for a Catalonian UDI, echoing prereferendum attempts by the then Parti Québécois government to line up commitments from France and other mostly French-speaking countries to recognize Quebec's independence after a Yes victory in the 1995 sovereignty vote.
Mr. Puigdemont is betting the intransigence of the Spanish government led by Mariano Rajoy's right-of-centre People's Party will outrage enough Catalonians to push the Yes side over the top by Oct. 1. But it could also have the opposite effect, as voters reject the prospect of years of political instability and legal limbo. Polls show Catalonians would prefer constitutional reform over separation, though reform is not on the table with Mr. Rajoy in power. His party is short of a majority in Spain's Congress, but is propped up by Ciudadanos (or Citizens), an upstart centre-right party that takes an equally hard line against Catalonia's autonomist demands.
The constant sniping between separatist leaders in Barcelona and central government leaders in Madrid, on the one hand, and between Scottish separatist leaders and Westminster, on the other, is taking a toll on the psyche of the electorate in both countries. There is only so much of this that anyone can take, especially when everyone agrees there are more pressing priorities on the public agenda. After all, neither Scots nor Catalonians live under oppressive political regimes. As late PQ premier René Lévesque once said of Canada, neither Britain nor Spain is a gulag.
Just as the embers of Quebec's sovereigntist dream could reignite again under the right conditions, enough Scots and Catalonians will always harbour separatist aspirations to keep their independence movements breathing. But if separatist leaders in Scotland and Catalonia should learn anything from Quebec, it is that even sympathetic voters will eventually grow weary of your neverendums.