Global Ethics Corner: Which Separatist Movements Will Succeed?

Dec 10, 2012

From Spain to Scotland to even the United States, separatist movements are making headlines. Do any of these have a chance to succeed? Or all they just for show?

They say breaking up is hard to do.

But peaceful national independence movements across the world have enjoyed a noticeable uptick in popularity and success over recent months.

In October, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and British Prime Minister David Cameron signed the so-called “Edinburgh Agreement,” which will put a single yes-or-no referendum on the independence question before Scottish voters by the end of 2014. Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom since 1707.

In Spain’s Catalonia region, separatist political parties supporting either independence or greater autonomy from the rest of Spain won a majority of seats in last month’s regional parliamentary elections, paving the way for a referendum on independence. While Catalonia enjoyed a brief period of autonomy during the early 1930s, the region has been a part of a united Spain since 1716.

Perhaps most surprisingly, in the days following President Barack Obama’s November reelection, voters from all 50 American states started and signed petitions on the White House website asking to be allowed to peacefully secede from the United States. No one seriously expects the secession of an American state anytime soon. In fact, no state has seceded from the United States since Tennessee became the last of the Confederates to do so at the start of the American Civil War in 1861.

But the ballot-box successes of the Catalonian and Scottish independence movements could potentially hold valuable lessons for separatist movements from Quebec to the Caucasus and from Kurdistan to Chiapas.

Then again, perhaps seceding from a peaceful and relatively prosperous Western European nation is easier in the 21st century than it used to be.

What do you think? Do the separatists in Scotland, Spain, and the United States have any chance of succeeding in their quests for independence? Or is it all just for show?

Let us know.

For more infomration see

Ron Synovitz, "Reading the Elections in Catalonia: Will This Mean the End of Spain?," The Atlantic, November 27, 2012

Associated Press, "UN envoy: No settlement in sight for Western Sahara; will launch shuttle diplomacy round," The Washington Post, November 28, 2012

Photo credits in order of appearance:
Brandon Christopher Warren
Scottish Government [also for picture 3]
Scottish Parliament
Marc Sardon [also for picture 13]
Txiki Trepax
Vicente Rojo
The White House [also for picture 9]
Don Shall
Nils Geylen
Richardson and Cox
Youssef Shoufan
Oriana Eliçabe
Ian Muir
Jimmy Emerson

You may also like

FEB 1, 2023 Podcast

Sanctions Loopholes, Rerouting Trade, & Russia's War Machine, with Rachel Ziemba

Leading up to the one-year anniversary of Russia's second invasion of Ukraine, Rachel Ziemba, head of Ziemba Insights and adjunct senior fellow at the Center ...

Avatar: The Way of Water theatrical poster

FEB 1, 2023 Article

Ethics on Film: Discussion of "Avatar: The Way of Water"

Read a synopsis of James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water" with a discussion of ethical issues in the film related to colonialism, cultural appropriation ...

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in lit up in Ukraine's colors, February 2022.

JAN 26, 2023 Article

Is the West at "war" with Russia?

What does it mean precisely when German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says that the Euro-Atlantic community finds itself at "war” with Russia in Ukraine? Senior ...