Independence Movements in Europe: Scotland Is Tip of the Iceberg

FILE - In this March 15, 2014 file photo, a demonstrator carries a sign during a pro-independence march in Edinburgh, Scotlan
FILE - In this March 15, 2014 file photo, a demonstrator carries a sign during a pro-independence march in Edinburgh, Scotland. A Sept. 18, 2014 referendum will determine if Scotland becomes independent of the United Kingdom. (AP Photo/Jill Lawless)

You probably know this already but just in case you don't: on Thursday the people of Scotland will go to the polls to decide whether or not they want to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

These are uncertain times for denizens of the British Isles. A people famous for their reserve and stiff upper lip are feeling a range of strong emotions that, god forbid, we're in danger of letting show. Frustration. Confusion. Introspection. Awkward displays of patriotism. It's all there in spades. In short, it's pretty unedifying stuff, made harder to stomach by the regular sound of bagpipes on TV.

One positive, though, has been the abundance of new tidbits of information ripe for consumption. My favourite so far has been better understanding the abundance of movements similar to the Scottish National Party (SNP) that exist across Europe. Some of these are well known like those in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Flanders. Others are much more surprising -- for example, hands up if you really knew about the Venetian and Bavarian independence movements?

The European Free Alliance (EFA) represents 40 progressive nationalist, regionalist and autonomist parties throughout Europe. Its member parties possess a range of different objectives that include minority recognition and greater regional autonomy to 'the biggie' -- outright independence.

It's a fascinating list of members. Here's just a few: there's the Union Démocratique Bretonne (Brittany); the Liga Veneta Repubblica (Venice); the Bayernpartei (Bavaria); Ålands Framtid (the Aland Islands); Süd-Tiroler Freiheit (South Tyrol); Moravané (Moravia); Chunta Aragonesista (Aragon); Mebyon Kernow (Cornwall); Partido Sardu (Sardinia); Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Catalonia); Lausitzer Allianz (Lusatia) and Partit Occitane (Occitania). I could go on. Now try and find them on a map...

The EFA and its member parties are understandably delighted with the progress being made in Scotland and Catalonia (the latter of which has its own referendum on independence on November 9). These examples amongst others, the EFA believes, could help embolden the ambitions of its other member parties, many of whom aren't currently seeking full independence.

After Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders and the Basque Country, Gunther Dauwen, Director of the EFA, points to Corsica as another one to watch. With elections for the Corsican Assembly tabled in December 2015, greater calls for independence are fully expected, as well as the election of more Corsican nationalists into the Assembly.

Dwell upon this for too long and you could be forgiven for thinking that many of Europe's traditional boundaries will change significantly within our lifetimes. It's not, of course, quite as dramatic or as straightforward as that. Many of these movements in Europe remain fringe at best. What is undeniable, though, is that the popularity of certain movements have surged of late, surpassing the expectations of even the most seasoned experts.

But surely all these moves for independence are at odds with the increasingly globalised world we live in? To use a trite, well-rehearsed refrain of the UK's 'Better Together' campaign, should we not be celebrating that which brings us closer together rather than focussing on that which divides us? Gunther Dauwen of the EFA says no. 'The world economic crisis shows that the dogma of globalisation has reached its absolute limits,' he says. 'People long for decentralisation instead of anonymous global uniformity. They want to go in search of their roots and implement positive new policies that address problems in a completely different way.'

To be fair, he's got a point -- at least where Scotland is concerned. The rise in support for the SNP can be seen as a rejection of 'Westminster politics' with all of its perceived cliques, cabals and agendas.

Whether the Scots vote 'yes' or 'no' on Thursday remains to be seen: current polls indicate it's almost too close to call. What is certain is that Europe's nationalist movements - from Scotland to Sardinia, from Catalonia to South Tyrol - will endure, however out of step from the mainstream some of them might first appear.