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View from the street: A tale of two Referendums

Headshot of Maanvi

Maanvi Chawla 

Intern (working for CSP as part of our paid internship programme)

A tale of two Referendums

As someone who has been attending university in Scotland for the past three years, I have become very accustomed to carrying my umbrella on the sunniest of days, having black pudding at brunch, and pretending to look the other way when the conversation turns to debating Scottish independence.

My non-engagement in these discussions does not mean that they are not still happening. Nor does it mean that I think the independence movement is not actively influencing government decisions, at the Scottish level, and the UK level.

Can the same be said for other independence movements that are currently taking place around the world? Take for example, an independence movement that involves my home state of Punjab.

The Khalistan movement is an outlawed separatist movement that has been advocating for the establishment of a separate country for the Sikh community since the 1980s. This period sadly also involved violence on both sides of the debate.

The current largely peaceful iteration of the movement is unique because it is spearheaded by the Sikh diaspora, who have made their voices heard by protesting outside Indian embassies and consulates in Canada, the UK and the USA.

The international nature of this movement can be attributed to the crackdown initiated by the Indian government within the state of Punjab, as they consider it to be a grave national security threat and a large number of groups associated with the movement have been listed as “terrorist organisations”.

The leaders of this movement have held a series of referendums in Canada and the UK to gauge support for a sovereign state for the Sikh community, the latest of which is to be held in Canada, which is slowly emerging to be the epi-centre of this movement. The last referendum was attended by more than 100,000 people, despite the objections of the Indian government.

However, results of independence referendums are only as powerful as their influence on the policies of the government in question which, in the case of the Khalistan movement, is currently minimal at best.

By contrast, the power held by legally binding referendums is one of the few things that the SNP and the Unionist parties can agree on. Despite the route to such a referendum currently being somewhat unclear, this fundamental understanding means a UK government would find it almost impossible disregard the results of a legitimate independence referendum, if a majority of Scots did vote to leave the UK.

In this case, all referendums are not created equal, and while there may be similarities in the two movements’ stymied independence aims, it would appear the Khalistan movement is yet to reach the point where a referendum result would ever be acted upon.


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