Secession Demands and Implicit Calculations: The dynamics driving the secession crises in Scotland and Catalonia

James Grizzell

Student thesis: Master thesis


This study aims to unpack the dynamics which have precipitated the current secession crises in Scotland and Catalonia. In doing so, it applies existing secession theories in an effort to explain the “why?” and “why now?” of the crises in these two places. There is virtually no precedent for democratic secession from established market democracies, and yet in Scotland and Catalonia, two constituent regions of consolidated, Western democracies will have held self-determination referendums within two months of each other. This study undertakes to explain why in these two distinct communities, members of effective, democratic host states, independence is a compelling enough objective to trigger a secession crisis. Organized under the framework of Viva Ona Bartkus' secession cost-benefit balance and oriented using assumptions of rationality, this study conceives of secession as the result of the combination of identity and community interest. The research finds that the increasing importance of international institutions, as well the retreat of the central state, has increased the viability of small states in the international system while simultaneously eroding the exclusive benefits of host state membership. From this similar foundation the cases diverge. The Scottish crisis is the result of long-term shifts in the cost-benefit framework, decisively given voice through the Edinburgh agreement and the legalization of secession, but the situation in Catalonia comes after concrete, contemporary events suddenly altered the secession calculus in a context of host state opposition to autonomy and independence. Given the rarity of democratic secession in the developed world, these crises and this study represent a unique opportunity to apply and evaluate existing theories of secession. The experience of these two communities is illuminating for both possible future secession movements, as well as the central governments of the states that host them.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages76