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Had Scottish nationalists acquired their manner, 2023 would have seen the nation head to the polls in a second referendum over independence from the United Kingdom – and so they may need gained. Whereas the primary try in 2014 resulted in 55% voting “no,” polls counsel that after Brexit, a majority of Scots would possibly now favor secession.
But that plan for a recent referendum was scuppered in November 2022, when the U.Okay. Supreme Court determined that Scotland couldn’t maintain such a vote with out the consent of the Westminster Parliament. And that permission appears unlikely provided that the governing Conservative Party believes the 2014 referendum settled the controversy “for a era.” Even a change of presidency is unlikely to matter, with the opposition Labour Party indicating that it too isn’t inclined to permit a second vote.
It appears that on the subject of disentangling nations with a shared authorities, breaking apart might be laborious to do.
Yet, some advocates of Scottish independence level to an occasion that occurred 30 years in the past for instance of how such a divorce might be amicably managed and helpful for all involved: In January 1993, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been welcomed into the United Nations as separate states.
While it’s tempting for some to look again to the Czech-Slovak cut up for comforting classes over the long-run penalties of Scottish independence, as a scholar who has studied the politics of Central Europe, I’m aware of two issues: It wasn’t fully easy, and the circumstances weren’t all that akin to Scotland’s state of affairs at present.
Combined on the finish of the First World War, the 2 nationwide identities that made up Czechoslovakia have been papered over beneath Communist rule and burst into the open with the return of democracy in 1989.
This got here to a head with elections in the summertime of 1992. The choice to terminate the union was rooted in an aversion amongst leaders of the biggest Czech and Slovak events to sharing energy – and a imaginative and prescient of post-Communist financial reform – in a coalition authorities. The Czech aspect, which had been secretly considering by means of what uncoupling would entail, had no urge for food for Slovak proposals of a free confederation and insisted on a cleaner break.
AP Photo/David Brauchli
In the top, a chaotic vote within the federal parliament on Nov. 25, 1992, noticed a slim majority in favor of dissolving the union on the finish of that yr. But it was messy: The first two makes an attempt failed, and the third try succeeded by simply two or three votes (the votes forged and tallied didn’t add up).
Furthermore, the legislature didn’t have the expressed will of the individuals behind it – events that months earlier had campaigned to protect the union in some type acted with out prior authorization or subsequent affirmation by a referendum. Thirty years later, polling finds that very massive majorities in each successor states want a referendum had been held. Czechs nonetheless battle to simply accept the top of federation, with a plurality of 48% concerning it negatively, whereas 62% of Slovaks say it was the appropriate factor.
The lack of well-liked assent however, the Czech-Slovak cut up is cited by advocates for Scottish independence as a mannequin that minimizes the chance of violence and financial disruption.
No doubt, the 2 new nations appear to have flourished. Both went on to turn out to be members of the European Union and the Schengen Area, which permits free motion throughout a lot of the continent. They additionally joined NATO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Czech Republic is routinely ranked among the many most secure nations on the earth with excessive scores for high quality of life. Its adjusted per capita gross home product is now forward of these of older EU member states reminiscent of Spain, Portugal and Greece, and shutting in on Italy’s.
Slovakia needed to overcome better political turmoil and structural challenges. But since becoming a member of the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2009, it has matched or outpaced the Czech Republic in annual financial progress. Indeed, Slovakia has attracted a lot funding by international automakers that it’s now the world’s largest producer of vehicles relative to inhabitants – which at round 5.5 million is nearly similar in measurement to Scotland’s.
Even extra so than the Czech Republic, Slovakia confirms that small states can discover their manner on the earth.
As such, it’s no surprise that some Scots conclude, “If Slovakia could make a hit of itself after the Velvet Divorce, absolutely Scotland can accomplish that too.”
And Slovakia did so whereas remaining on cordial phrases with the Czech Republic. Setbacks such because the latest Czech reimposition of controls on the border with Slovakia are minor in contrast with what we see in close by areas that additionally fractured within the early Nineties – raging conflicts within the former Soviet Union and simmering rigidity within the former Yugoslavia.
The velvet divorce
Where the utility of Czechoslovakia as a precedent ends, nevertheless, is with the precise technique of splitting up.
The attraction of the story of Czechoslovakia’s dissolution is that it gave the impression to be fast and simple in addition to peaceable. In actuality, it took years to finalize some points, reminiscent of preparations for residents of 1 state to attend a college within the different and to amass twin citizenship. Final settlement of the central financial institution’s steadiness took till November 1999 to kind out.
Most of the work of dividing belongings was ruled by a easy 2-to-1 precept that mirrored the relative sizes of the Czech and Slovak populations. Liabilities, in the best way of exterior debt, have been dispatched on the identical foundation, and Czechoslovakia had little of it anyway.
The new worldwide border was not agreed formally till 1996 however wanted solely minor changes. Being landlocked, the brand new states had no maritime points to resolve.
For a number of causes, it’s laborious to think about such an amicable and swift grant of independence to Scotland from the remainder of the U.Okay.
For starters, Edinburgh and London would possibly by no means agree that the time had come to begin discussing phrases of divorce, in the best way that Czech and Slovak leaders did in the summertime of 1992.
Scotland’s first minister has mentioned that the subsequent U.Okay. normal election, as a result of be held earlier than the top of 2024, shall be handled as a “de facto referendum.”
The Scottish National Party would possibly interpret a normal election end result as a mandate to depart, however unionist events would possibly see it in any other case and refuse to return to the desk. Any push in direction of independence within the face of opposition from the U.Okay. authorities might result in an deadlock akin to that between Catalonia and the Spanish authorities.
Even if talks did one way or the other get underway, there isn’t a easy rule at hand just like the 2-to-1 ratio for Czechoslovakia’s partition. That utilized to a technique of ending a rustic, whereas the U.Okay. would search to hold on with its remaining elements.
Instead, there could be laborious bargaining on each main concern – commerce, labor, pensions, foreign money and banking, debt, citizenship, protection, and borders – together with claims to the dwindling tax receipts from North Sea oil and fuel fields.
In all probability, it will extra carefully resemble the United Kingdom’s uneven exit from the European Union than Czechoslovakia’s division.
Speaking of which, Brexit itself presents one other potential headache. Even if Scotland and the U.Okay. authorities have been to succeed in settlement on the phrases of any cut up, they may must be reopened ought to an unbiased Scotland search to affix the E.U. – forcing it to decide on between the only market of Europe and that of the rump U.Okay.
This is to not say that the separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom couldn’t be arrived at. But reminiscent of occasions of 30 years in the past might not serve anybody’s pursuits, least of all Scotland’s – particularly if the trail of the referendum-free “velvet divorce” leaves lingering doubts concerning the legitimacy of the method.
Kieran Williams doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.