As the world becomes increasingly polarised, and people become estranged from the government representing them, more and more of us are pondering going it alone. Britain’s vote to leave the EU, Catalonia’s struggle to rid itself of Madrid, and Scotland’s 2014 referendum are perhaps the best recent examples of this. Governments are however struggling to put out the fires of independence all over the world, some in areas you probably wouldn’t expect. We’ve listed five of them here.
The state of Western Australia is the combined size of Alaska and Texas. It has a population of 2.6 million, 2 million of which live in the state capital, Perth. The drive from Perth to the next nearest state capital, Adelaide, would take 28 hours – roughly the same amount of time it would take you to drive from Paris to Moscow. A flight to the Australian capital, Canberra, would take about four hours – longer that it’d take you to get from London to Marrakech.
These vast distances and the isolation that comes with it has sometimes led Western Australians to contemplate whether they should go it alone, particularly when they feel unfairly treated by their distant compatriots.
Resentment was growing in WA in the early 1930s, with many feeling the state contributed far more to the Federal Government than it got back. Feeling forgotten about, separatists held an independence referendum, with 66% backing withdrawal from Australia. Almost 240,000 people had voted, a majority of the state’s population at the time.
The secessionist leaders headed to London with their results to seek British approval for independence. However Westminster was reluctant to go over the heads of the Australian Federal Government, who had not given the vote official approval.
The movement resurfaced in 1974, seeking independence for ‘Westralia’. More recently, the possibility of ‘WAxit’ was raised by liberals in the state who feel they get a raw deal. The Constitution of Australia however refers to ‘one indissoluble Commonwealth’, meaning a divorce down-under looks unlikely.
Of the 193 member states of the UN, 57 got their independence from Britain. Scotland could very well become the 58th; its independence movement buoyed by Brexit turmoil and the growing divergence between Scottish liberalism and Westminster conservatism. There is also a significant independence movement in Wales, where Plaid Cymru agitate for further devolution from English domination.
Most would never consider, nor see how, the English themselves might contemplate or want independence from the UK. England is by far the most powerful of the four countries which make up the union, Parliament is based in London, and English votes typically dictate who is in charge. Nonetheless – and apparently with no sense of irony – a political movement agitating for English independence has gained traction in the past decade.
A political party named the English Democrats was established in 2002, with a manifesto pledging to achieve independence for the English. Its manifesto states that an England independent of the UK would “leave properly and fully the EU; end uncontrolled mass immigration; and fly the Cross of St George from all public buildings in England.”
The party labels the Barnett Formula , which divides UK public spending between the constituent countries, “institutionalised discrimination.” The European Elections of 2014 saw the party gain 126,024 votes for a spend of just £40,000 – “by far the most cost efficient electoral result of any serious party in the UK!”
An association with the British far-right looks like it will prevent the movement from breaking into the mainstream anytime soon however. That, and the fact that a country getting independence from itself makes no sense.
When thinking of a rebellious Canadian province, you’d probably have Quebec in mind. However, since the election of Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Government has led a successful rapprochement. This has come about thanks not least to ‘equalization payments’ paid from Ottawa to Quebec – with $13 billion set to be paid in 2019.
These same policies have however alienated others, not least those on the west coast, who have historically received far less funding in comparison. The most aggrieved are the Albertans, who have taken to social media to share pro-independence op-eds and debate an #Albexit from Canada.
As a landlocked but oil-rich province, Alberta depends heavily on pipelines to transport its resources. Liberal policies have in recent years hindered the expansion of these pipelines, threatening the Albertan economy and livelihoods of Albertan workers. Quebec’s Premier Francois Legault recently called Albertan oil ‘dirty’, worsening a growing rift between western and eastern Canadians.
The Alberta Freedom Alliance advocates for Albertan secession, and cites on its website that ‘for 60 years Alberta has been the driving force of Canada. We now find ourselves stuck with a provincial and federal government whose economic and social values are foreign to us.’ Polls suggest that around 25% of Albertans would support independence, with many referring to Brexit for inspiration.
Critics have however pointed out that Canada’s constitution does not contemplate secession, with any pro-independence vote requiring ratification from all other Canadian provinces. Emmett Macfarlane, an Associate-Professor in Political Science at the University of Waterloo, wrote on Twitter that Albexit ‘would make the Brexit process look like a fucking walk in the park.’
India is an incredibly diverse continent, somehow operating as a nation, and is no stranger to separatism. Aside from the divisions between Muslims and Hindus, nationalist unrest has led to conflict in Kashmir, as well as independence movements in the remote regions of Assam and Tripura. All of these have played a significant role in post-independence Indian politics, as has the Khalistan movement of Punjab, which seeks to form an independent Sikh nation.
When Pakistan achieved independence from the British as an Islamic theocracy, many Sikhs fled to India seeking religious freedom. By the 1950s however, many felt persecuted by the ruling Hindus. Lacking a state of their own, thousands protested when Hindi was declared India’s main language. Persecution and marginalisation within Punjab caused tensions to simmer throughout the 1960s and 70s, before violence broke out in the 1980s.
In 1983, Sikh separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale led an occupation of the Harmandir Sahib shrine in Amritsar. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an attack on the shrine, in which prominent Sikh leaders were killed. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984, prompting riots in which 3,000 were killed in Delhi alone. The violence culminated in June 1985, when Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa detonated a bomb aboard an Air India plane flying over the coast of Ireland – killing 329.
While the Khalistan movement is thankfully nowhere near as violent and divisive as it was in the 1980s, the issue continues to simmer. Many see Prime Minister Modi as a Hindu nationalist, and there has been a recent resurgence of support for Khalistan among Sikhs in India, Canada, and the UK. There are growing calls for a 2020 referendum debating the formation of a Punjabi state. Punjab Referendum 2020 states that its campaign is ‘to liberate Punjab, currently occupied by India. Once we establish consensus on the question of independence, we will then present the case to the United Nations for reestablishing the country of Punjab.’
Read more about the history of the Khalistan Movement at The World Unreported – Khalistan.
Cornwall is the only Celtic region of England. It is one of the six Celtic nations, along with Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. It has its own language, spoken by around 2,000 people, and a distinct local identity famous for pirates, ice cream, and pasties. While Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are allowed their own assemblies and governments within the United Kingdom, Cornwall is considered a county of England – much to the chagrin of the region’s nationalists. Many organisations, both serious and tongue-in-cheek, advocate for Cornish independence.
The Celtic League and Celtic Congress represent the Celtic nations, and have pressured for Cornish independence as part of a wider pan-Celtic organisation. Mebyon Kernow – Cornish for Sons of Cornwall – are a political party which campaigns for a devolved national assembly for Cornwall, effectively Cornish independence from England within the United Kingdom. The Cornish National Liberation Army (CNLA), active throughout the 2000s, modelled itself on paramilitary groups but restricted itself to violating English flags with graffiti. The group also threatened English celebrities, including Jamie Oliver, who owned second homes in the country and were blamed for rising house prices.