This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.
The Blog

How Quebecois and Scottish Separatists Differ

Largely lost in the recent news cycle was a curious meeting held between Quebec's separatist premier, Pauline Marois and Scotland's nationalist first minister, Alex Salmond. Billed as a "separatist summit" by Marois and the PQ, the 45-minute "courtesy" meeting was decidedly played down by the Scots. Poor Marois could not even squeeze a measly joint photo-op out of the Scottish leader.

This must have been disappointing for Marois, who had hoped to stand side-by-side with someone she clearly viewed as a separatist colleague, and one who is soon to face his own referendum on secession from the British.

Marois could have benefitted from a briefing paper in history in advance of this meeting, as the two political regions experienced distinctly different paths on the way to their union with England.

Quebec became part of Britain against their will, as a result of war. France's loss at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, followed by the capitulation on Montréal in 1760, virtually ensured that Britain would control the North American colonies, including the colony of Canada, from that point forward. This was formalized by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which ended the Seven Years' War between France, Spain and Britain that had raged on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ardent PQistes might want to take note that France had the opportunity to retain the colony of Canada as part of this treaty, but instead traded it for the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe, which was then a major producer of sugar, as well as access to Newfoundland's fisheries.

Scotland's journey to become part of Great Britain was quite different. While Quebec had become part of Britain as a result of war, Scotland actually negotiated the Acts of Union with the English in 1707.

Although there was no love lost between the Scots and the English, by the early 18th century, they had been sharing a monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, and had been talking of political union for almost as long. Serious discussions began in 1705, and progressed quickly. Scotland wanted access to the lucrative English colonial markets, which within six decades was to include Canada. England wanted to ensure that the Hanoverian royal house would ascend to both the thrones of Scotland and England after Queen Anne's death. This union had long been a goal of Anne, who was destined to be the last Stuart monarch. She had actually been pregnant 17 times, but not one of her children survived.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and both Quebec and Scotland are seriously considering independence. But again, the echoes of history are strong. As they did with union, Scotland entered into negotiations with the British government to initiate the process of devolution, beginning in 1999. Admittedly, former Prime Minister Tony Blair was wary of beginning the process, fearing it would eventually lead down the road to independence. But bilateral negotiations around devolution have continued and Scotland not only has a working parliament again in Holyrood, it now has taxation powers. The referendum for independence, which seems like the next natural step forward, is scheduled for fall 2014.

Contrast that to Quebec's rather bumpy journey towards separation. It is safe to say that Quebec's relationship with the rest of Canada has echoed its rather adversarial beginning to this day, with the FLQ and the October Crisis of 1970 as the extreme example of this. As opposed to Scotland's more progressive approach, Quebec moved directly to its end game - separation - by holding two failed referenda, one in 1980 and one in 1995.

In essence, the two failed referenda bookended intense constitutional negotiations held between 1980 and 1995 to try and find a way for Quebec to exist successfully within Canada. Witness the repatriation of the constitution in 1981, the Meech Lake Accord in 1987, and finally the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. As a result of these failures, but because of the extremely close defeat of the 1995 referendum, the federal government passed the Clarity Act in 2000, to provide clarity on exactly how Quebec could exit Canada. Quebec immediately enacted its own, contradictory law in response. We now have a separatist leader in a minority government, openly musing about a third referendum.

Hindsight is, of course, 20-20. Pauline Marois' trip to Holyrood was doomed before it began - the two separatists have little in common, other than their divisive end goal.

Lee Tunstall has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary, Alberta.

Suggest a correction
This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada. Certain site features have been disabled. If you have questions or concerns, please check our FAQ or contact