September 19, 2015


Democratized secession in Scotland and Catalonia : Democracy does not end secessionism, it transforms it by providing a socio-political foundation, the ability to endure politically, and the modern tools to circumvent the state to engage in nation-building. (RYAN GRIFFITHS 16 September 2015, OpenDemocracy)

Secessionist movements are numerous and they come in all shapes and sizes. In my research I have identified 55 active secessionist movements around the world as recently as 2011. These aspiring nations exist in a variety of countries running the spectrum from repressive authoritarian regimes to advanced democracies. Many of these movements have been violent, responsible for roughly half the civil wars since 1945.

One might think that democracy should reduce secessionism by providing minority groups with greater political voice and presenting them with non-violent political options. This is partly true. The data show that violent secessionism is less likely in advanced democracies, but we do not know exactly why this is the case. Secessionists are simply less inclined to take up arms - and, indeed, to even take this option seriously - in wealthy democratic societies.

However, democracy is hardly a panacea for secessionism. There is some evidence that secessionism is most likely in transition regimes that are moving toward democracy. The introduction of democratic institutions opens up a socio-political environment where minority leaders can play the nationalist card, campaign on identity-based issues, and seek to exit the state via secession. It is thought that mature democracies can overcome this problem by co-opting elites, in effect showing them that political voice is a better option than political exit. This view comes close to conventional wisdom in academic circles, and some have concluded that secessionism should disappear as a society makes the transition to advanced democracy.

But democracy does not reduce secessionism, it transforms it. To be sure, violent conflict is less common, and that is a good thing. However, as the recent experiences in Scotland and Catalonia show, secessionism in modern democracies is remarkably durable. In fact, it is different from other forms of secessionism in important ways, and there are consequences to this form of "democratized secession."

One of the most important aspects of democratized secession is its grassroots, bottom-up character.

Self-determination means that there are many more secessions to come, not least here in America (which is simply too large to be an efficiently functioning state).

Posted by at September 19, 2015 7:49 AM

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