The campaign for Scottish independence has garnered international interest, especially since recent polls indicated, for the first time, that success is within reach for the movement to break away from the United Kingdom. Some secessionist groups here in the United States are finding inspiration in the developments across the Atlantic and are following what's going on in Scotland particularly closely.
Scottish independence has long been an issue in the British Isles. Scotland will hold a referendum on September 18, giving its citizens the chance to vote for or against secession from the United Kingdom.
This week, National Journal talked to the leaders of secession movements in the U.S. about what the campaign for Scottish independence means for them. Vermonters may think they have little in common with Southerners, and Southerners even less with Pacific Northwesterners, but independence advocates in each of these parts of the U.S. are watching intently as Scotland heads to the polls next week.
Second Vermont Republic
The Green Mountain State has an independent streak that reaches back centuries. For 14 years in the 18th century, the Republic of Vermont stood alone before it became the 14th state of the still-fledgling United States. Now, a group of modern Vermonters are agitating for a Second Vermont Republic.
Rob Williams is a professor and the publisher of 2VR, an online journal that explores the idea of an independent Vermont. "I think the Scots have done a fantastic job of really making secession sexy," Williams told me. "If you look at the way the secession conversation has unfolded in the past several years, they've really tapped into what makes Scotland Scotland. That's something we've been trying to do in Vermont." Williams thinks Vermont should follow suit, playing up the symbols, culture, and history that make the state unique.
The Vermont independence movement has already taken some of these lessons to heart. The movement has its own flag—borrowed from Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys militia—and a "reasonably robust network" of activists. What they're missing, Williams said, is the grassroots power of the Scottish campaign. "The Scots have proved that with a lot of time and effort and energy, you can build a political and economic conversation around independence," he said.
Williams said the success of the Scottish movement has had a positive effect on the Vermont independence movement, no matter the outcome of Scotland's referendum. Williams could hardly conceal his excitement for what's happening overseas. "If I didn't have to teach," he told me, "I'd be in Edinburgh right now!"
Brandon Letsinger is the director of CascadiaNow, an organization that raises awareness of a regional identity—social, geographic, and cultural—in the Pacific Northwest. The organization defines Cascadia as a biological region bound by its environment rather than political borders: It starts as far south as Northern California, reaching up through Oregon and Washington into British Columbia and part of the western coast of Alaska.
Letsinger is more cautious about calling his cause an independence campaign outright. "Especially in the U.S.," he wrote to me in an email, "the term 'secession' has a heavy stigma and a deep cultural context." His movement, rather than aiming to create a separate political entity, is trying to get Pacific Northwesterners to tap into their identity as residents of that region rather than thinking of themselves as American or Canadian.
But he says he's been following the Scottish independence movement for some time. "If Scotland is successful, it will provide a clear pathway that is both peaceful and democratic, and rooted in a positive future and shared collective identity," Letsinger said. "That will have far-reaching impacts on other movements ... and we'll certainly be watching very closely."
League of the South
The League of the South advocates for a "free and independent Southern republic," according to its website. The organization paints blurry borders around its proposed nation-state, calling the 11 once-Confederate states, plus Kentucky and Oklahoma, the most convincing makeup of a "cohesive political South." The League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a neo-Confederate hate group, claimed at one point recently to have 25,000 members.
Michael Hill, president of the organization, says he is watching the Scottish independence campaign closely. "We think it's a great thing that the Scottish people actually get to go to the polls and decide their future with a vote," Hill said. "That's something that I hope that we can do one day."
He said that the League of the South has learned a lot from the Scottish secessionists. The Scottish campaign has taken "full advantage" of technology and social media, attracting many young people to their side, Hill said. These are lessons that the League of the South has been implementing for almost a year, and as a consequence, Hill says he saw the average age of his membership drop from somewhere in the fifties to the thirties in just a few years.
Hill said that the success of the Scottish movement is likely have a positive effect on his own cause. Scottish independence will be "a brick out of the wall of centralization and the old idea of empire-building," he said.
He doesn't mind that an elected Scottish government will likely follow a brand of European socialism: "That's up to them—if that's what they want, that's what they should have." What matters to Hill is the victory of the principle of self-determination. "We support the Scots because we believe that every identifiable distinct people like that ought to be able to rule themselves," he said.