I have been wondering about independence referendums. How often does a population come down almost 50/50 on the matter of gaining full independence? And how often does that kind of division translate to full independence?
The answer is almost never – and I only say almost because I can’t be sure I’ve found all the referendums out there. It is much more normal for independence referendums that actually end in separation to get more like 95% plus of the vote.
So 97% of Iceland voted to leave Denmark; 100% of Cambodia voted to leave France; 97% of Norway voted to leave Sweden; 90% of Rhodesia voted to leave the UK; 95% of Algeria voted to leave France; and so on.
Malta had a much lower vote – 55% – but theirs was not officially an independence referendum, more a constitutional referendum that led to independence. Estonia and Latvia also had slightly lower votes – 78% and 75% – but these were complicated by the large Russian populations in each country.
Then there was the Faroe Islands, which voted by a minute margin to leave Denmark in 1946 (see my previous post here) but then changed its mind.
This should be a worry for Scotland. If it votes yes by a small margin (and the current polls suggest that whoever wins will win by a small margin) the government (whoever they may be when the time comes) will be pushing through a change in sovereign status that at least 50% of potential voters haven’t voted for (even in a vote like this turnout is unlikely to get close to 100%).
Getting a new country off the ground is tough. Getting a new divided country off the ground could be a whole lot tougher.