Stéphane Dion is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Saint-Laurent–Cartierville
Almost all democratic nations declare themselves to be indivisible. They consider that citizens cannot be denied nationhood against their will. However, Canada and the United Kingdom have a different take on this issue, believing that national unity can only be based on the will of the people to remain together.
Nevertheless, referendums on self-determination are anything but pleasant. It has been said that in Scotland, the referendum campaign went better than those we lived through in 1980 and 1995. In fact, a poll showed that almost half of those who voted No felt "personnally threatened". Some politicians on the No side were subjected to so much heckling that they had to stop speaking in public. Polls reported tensions arising between family members, friends and colleagues. Institutions were harassed and businesses threatened with boycotts.
The debate was as strenuous there as it was here, due to identity-based divisions: according to polls, support for the Yes was stronger among voters whose parents were both Scots.
Just like it happened here, the leaders of the Yes side argued that the warnings about the economic turmoil that would inevitably result from the secession process were only fearmongering. But, in fact, wouldn't it be rational for economic agents to want to divert investments from a secessionist region, just as it would be rational for the original country not to give the newborn country a seat on its central bank, or for Europe to dictate to the new country its conditions for membership?
In Scotland as in Quebec, the leaders of the Yes side defined the real stake of the referendum as a choice between fear and pride. Like here in 1995, the Scottish leaders of the No side were slow to respond that a No vote is also a vote of pride, since there is every reason to be proud of the vital contributions of Quebeckers and Scots, respectively, to the development of Canada and the United Kingdom, two countries that are the envy of the world.
Negotiating a secession has never been tried in an well-established democracy. Splitting a modern democratic state would be a colossal task. Care would have to be taken to protect the rights of all, within the legal framework of the original country, as confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. In Scotland, negotiations would have been undertaken with no risk of unilateral secession (which would be an unworkable undertaking in a democracy).
On the practical level, Scotland's secession would be less problematic than Quebec's, if only because of the former's smaller size and peripheral geographic location. But it would nevertheless run into many difficulties: renegotiating treaties and agreements, transferring funds, laws and regulations, public servants, etc. The government of Scotland had given itself 18 months to complete negotiations, which the U.K. government said was too optimistic. That negotiation would have started on the wrong foot, with the Premier of Scotland unrealistically and irresponsibly threatening not to pay Scotland's share of the U.K. debt.
And should the majority of voters have reversed their support for secession halfway through the negotiation, the negotiators would have been in an unworkable position. Such an existential and irreversible breakup should only be negotiated on the basis of a clear majority, one that would be less at a risk of melting away when difficulties arose. A clear majority: that is the rule that would prevail in Canada should such negotiations be needed. Thankfully for everybody.
And even more thankfully, we Quebeckers have said, and repeated, that we want to remain proud Canadians.