The Texit: Britain's EU departure is inspiring more independence movements

From Quebec to Catalonia, independence movements in North America and Europe have taken note of the Brexit and are using it to rally their troops.
June 24, 2016, 8:08pm
Il leader del UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Though it came as a surprise to some Thursday night, Britain's decision to leave the EU has delivered good news to secession movements outside of Britain.

The heads of separatist movements in Scotland, Catalonia and Texas are cheering the decision as a boost for their movements, too.

The United Kingdom

After 52 percent of UK voters cast ballots in favour of leaving the EU, Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "highly likely" Scotland would hold another secession vote, and preparation for another secession vote was already underway.

On Thursday, Scotland voted heavily in favor of remaining within the European Union — 62 to 38 percent — and Britain's exit from the union is likely to be the catalyst for a second referendum.

A pro-independence Scot at a rally in 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

In 2014, Scotland voted against becoming an independent state — in a close vote of 55 percent to 45 percent. The referendum came after the Scottish National Party, founded in 1934 and currently the third-largest political party in the UK, promised the vote in its 2007 manifesto. After winning a majority in 2011, the party fulfilled that promise.

The will to remain part of a united Europe could also push Northern Ireland to unify with the Irish republic. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told The Independent called a vote in Northern Ireland "the next logical step" and added that, after the territory voted by a majority of 56 percent to remain in Europe: "our case for a border poll is also strengthened by the outcome of this vote."

Spain

The results "demonstrated that it is perfectly possible to take a decision about sovereignty as all other countries do," according to Carles Puigdemont, the regional president of Catalonia, the disputed territory within Spain that contains Barcelona.

Puigdemont says Catalonia is 70 percent of the way toward forming its own state, and he hopes to have its constitution approved in 18 months.

Anna Gabriel, deputy of anti-capitalist Candidatura d'Unitat Popular (CUP), wears a t-shirt with a pro-independence slogan in the Catalan Parliament in April. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

The movement has been gaining steam in Spain, especially since the world financial crisis in 2008, which pushed Spain into a debt crisis. Mass protests for Catalonian independence have cropped up in recent years, with between 600,000 and 1.5 million people taking to the streets in Barcelona.

"In 2012 there were just 14 [of 135] deputies elected on a separatist ticket in the Catalan parliament. Now we are a majority," Puigdemont told The Guardian.

The fight over Catalan sovereignty is slated to ramp up in the short term, as a general election is slated for December 20 of this year. Catalan independence parties have also garnered a boost after it was revealed this week that the interim home secretary of the governing centre-right government had plotted to frame leaders of the two main Catalan independence parties in a falsified corruption inquiry.

The United States

Meanwhile, in light of the buzz surrounding Brexit, the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM) has embraced the new slogan "Texit."

While the Texas independence movement hasn't garnered wide public support since the 19th century, organizations have nevertheless advocated for the lone star state to break off from the American government.

Watching self-determination in action is inspiring. — Daniel Miller (@TheTexianDM)June 24, 2016

"From the looks of it, the British people have chosen to take control of their political and economic destiny," TNM president Daniel Miller said in a statement following the vote. "The forces of fear have lost. It is now important for Texas to look to Brexit as an inspiration and an example that Texans can also take control of our destiny."

The TNM has enjoyed political gains in recent months. This spring, the group was able to pass secession resolutions in 22 district conventions, clearing the way for the issue to be debated at the state's Republican convention. The fact the issue made it to debate was "pretty huge," a state GOP official told the Houston Chronicle.

Canada

While Quebecers admitted they watched Brexit closely, the independence movement in the Canadian province has suffered blow after blow in recent years.

The last time the predominantly francophone state held a referendum on breaking away from the rest of Canada, in 1995 — the second vote on whether Quebec should separate from Canada — the 'no' side won by an extremely slim majority of 50.58 percent.

Support for sovereignty in Quebec has waned in recent years. A recent Leger Marketing poll pegs support for an independent Quebec at just 39 percent. The movement, however, is not entirely dead.

The Parti Quebecois (PQ), the main pro-sovereignty party within the province, won government in 2012, only to be defeated two years later. Since then, they've gone through two different leaders, and are now in the midst of another leadership election to lead them into a 2018 provincial election — some candidates in the race have already pledged that they would work to hold a third referendum as soon as possible, should they get elected.

"We're ready to become independents … so I propose to do things different, and to realize independence in our first mandate," said Martine Ouellet, a candidate for the PQ leadership, at an event earlier in 2016.

A photo from a 'Yes' rally in 1995. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)

Alexandre Cloutier, considered the frontrunner in the race, used the results of the Brexit to needle Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who supports legislation that, on paper, would forbid Quebec from seceding from the rest of Canada with just a simple majority of the vote.

"A people are always masters of their destiny. I salute your respect for democracy. The only viable rule: 50% + 1," Cloutier tweeted in response to Trudeau's recognition of Britain's referendum.

Belgium

Following the terror attacks in Brussels in March that saw 32 people killed and more than 300 people injured, The New York Times reported increased talk of Flemish secession, with some asking whether Belgium's French-dominated government could deal with the polarizing issues of immigration and terrorism — or whether the Flemish would be better to go it alone.

In 2014, the Flemish nationalist party became part of a federal coalition government for the first time — hailed as a major win for the secession movement in Belgium.

Ahead of the Brexit vote, Belgium's Prime Minister called for an urgent meeting on the future of the EU.

"There are signals everywhere — not only in the UK. We feel there is a growing doubt about the European project," Prime Minister Charles Michel said Wednesday, according to Politico. "We need a European project with more political will and dedication."

The leader of the NVA (New Flemish Alliance) Bart De Wever after the last Belgian election. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

While the Flemish nationalists who entered the coalition government had initially pledged to shelve plans for an independent state, they backtracked on that commitment in January, when news broke that the New Flemish Alliance had begun work to turn Belgium into a confederation — with many Belgium-watchers suspecting it was a ploy to dissolve the state altogether.

"At the federal level, we will ask the question: What are we still willing to do together? In principle, all competences would move to the regional level, but there will be competences of which we'd argue it is better, or more efficient, to do them together," Veerle Wouters, who handles economic matters for the New Flemish Alliance, told Politico.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @HilaryBeaumont