On the 18th of September the people of Scotland turned out in force to vote on whether they wanted to leave the United Kingdom. The voices calling for independence were plentiful, very loud and almost seemed to be seizing the momentum in the final weeks of campaigning. While the ‘no’ campaign was eventually triumphant, it was a close run thing with 45 per cent voting for independence. The United Kingdom’s fourth largest city, Glasgow, no longer wants to be a part of the country. Despite Alex Salmond’s claims during the campaign that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, many Scottish nationalists are already suggesting this will not be the case. Nicola Sturgeon, the newly elected leader of the SNP, has already claimed that independence will happen ‘well within’ her lifetime. We could be seeing the beginnings of a Quebec-style ‘neverendum’, in which the question of independence unceasingly dominates all political discourse. Evidently, the successful supporters of the Better Together campaign should be sober in their celebrations. It is still an uneasy time for unionists.

And the same can be said for the entirety of Europe. Everywhere one looks, separatism seems to be the order of the day. In Spain, old divides have returned to prominence in recent years. Catalonian nationalists (in control of the region’s devolved assembly) are determined to go ahead with an independence vote on the 9th of November, despite uncompromising opposition from the central government in Madrid. In Italy, new divides have emerged. A recent unofficial poll held in Veneto saw an 89 per cent vote in favour of independence. In its wake, a new party, ‘Veneto Si’, was established to try and develop this into a binding referendum. Belgian politics has been gridlocked for years now, with Flemish separatists at loggerheads with their Walloon counterparts. The current government, an uneasy coalition, took five months to form. The one before that took 18 months. The current crisis in Ukraine is another prominent example. Indeed, even beyond these famous cases there are simmering nationalist movements in Corsica, Brittany, Sardinia, the Basque Country, South Tyrol and the Faroe Islands, to name a few.

These movements have drawn much focus in the media but beyond a mere ticking off of their existence, there has been little concerted effort to understand the root cause of this separatist epidemic. To my mind, there are three core sources (two structural and one ideological) of the discontent. Firstly, in a globalised and economically liberal world, independently-minded regions are no longer bound by the old incentives that used to encourage remaining within larger states. The European Union and other supranational institutions (such as NATO) have done much to dispel the old benefits of clumping together: primarily economic protectionism and military might. After all, in a Europe that now guarantees free and fair trade and is extremely unlikely to ever have a war within its boundaries, the threat of isolation for these dissenting smaller countries is fruitless.

Secondly, the recent Eurozone crisis has strengthened the calls for independence in many of the aforementioned areas. A lot of them (notably Catalonia, Flanders and Venice) are affluent regions that feel they put more into the national budgets than they get out. This gripe has been significantly exasperated by the austerity measures that have become ubiquitous across the continent since 2008. While Scotland is not the economic heart of the UK, a longstanding frustration of its nationalists has been the feeling that England has taken more than its fair share of the North Sea oil profits.

Yet, there is also a third, slightly more abstract idea at play. It is about the death of ideology and the rise of identity politics. The end of the Cold War saw the pre-eminence of ideology in socio-political thought recede. It has largely been replaced by cultural association. This was something that Samuel P. Huntington predicted in his seminal 1992 lecture, ‘The Clash of Civilisations’. While his argument, filled with much generalisation, was made quite crudely, the crux of his idea has certainly come to fruition. Ethnic, religious and traditional allegiances have reasserted themselves and replaced the old world order. We are seeing this all over the globe, from the disintegration of Iraq to the racially defined politics of Bolivia. Europe is no different. Left and right mean little anymore and as such, people have begun to invest their political loyalties elsewhere. The SNP’s attempt to forge an independent Scotland may have failed but expect the secessionist agenda to continue to grow in European politics in the coming decades. After all, the UK has always been one of the continent’s most conservative members. If the separatists are getting 45 per cent of the vote here, imagine what they could muster, with the right circumstances, across the Channel.

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