The signature policy of the devolved Scottish government's ruling party (the Scottish National Party) is that Scotland should be an independent state, separate from the United Kingdom. To that end, Scotland is gearing up for a referendum on independence, to be held in 2014.

Opinion polls suggest that a majority of Scots currently oppose independence.

  • What consequences have resulted in the past for parties (or other political movements) which promote independence referenda, but go on to lose them?

  • Do they subsequently gain or lose popular support in such circumstances?

  • Does the loss of such a referendum usually weaken the movement towards independence for a significant period, or can an approach along the lines of "keep asking the question until we get the right answer" succeed?

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    The same thing could apply to parties such as UKIP. Their main policy and even the name of their party is all about gaining independence from the EU. What happens if this fails or what happens if they gain independence? Do they just disband the party as their main aim has been accomplished.
    – UKB
    Commented Dec 5, 2012 at 23:47
  • @UKB I understand that UKIP has broadened its goals, attempting to siphon support from the BNP and the right of the Conservative Party with e.g. calls for more restrictive immigration policy ... so the failure of a referendum on independence from the EU (which, to be fair, is not a nation state by any commonly accepted definition) might not affect them as much. It's an interesting point, though: I remember watching Jimmy Goldsmith promise that his party would be disbanded immediately after a referendum on EU membership, and UKIP might be considered the spiritual heirs of his Referendum Party.
    – user97
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 3:39
  • There's also a Puerto Rican independence party, but they only have a few percent of support. Obviously they lost the recent referendum. Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 6:04

1 Answer 1


A number of examples are given at Wikipedia. A somewhat recent example is the Quebec independence referendum of 1995. Independence was rejected by a narrow margin, with 50.58% voting against. Quoting from the Wikipedia article:

The day after the referendum, Jacques Parizeau resigned as the leader of the Parti Québécois, as he had said he would do in an interview with TVA taped days before the referendum but not made public until after the vote. Lucien Bouchard was the only candidate to succeed him. Bouchard became Premier on January 29, 1996. Over the course of the next few years, support for sovereignty decreased. Despite winning reelection in 1998, the PQ chose not to hold another referendum, waiting for "winning conditions". The PQ would lose the 2003 provincial election to the Liberal Party of Quebec, led by Jean Charest.

In the decade after the failed referendum, Parti Québécois dropped from 45% to 28% of the vote. Whether this is a consequence of the failed referendum, I don't know, but I guess it might be, and I wouldn't be surprised if a failed independence referendum in Scotland (or, for that matter, Catalonia) would have similar consequences.

Edit, 3½ years later:

In the Scottish independence referendum, 2014, 55.30% of the voters rejected Scottish independence. In only four local authorities (including Dundee and Glasgow) did a majority support independence.

In the United Kingdom parliamentary election, 2015, the SNP saw its share of the Scottish vote increase from 20% to 50%, leading to an increase from 6 to 56 seats (out of 59 Scottish seats) in the first-past-the-post system.

In the Scottish Parliament election, 2016, SNP saw its constituency vote increase slightly (from 45.4% to 46.5%) and its regional vote decrease slightly (from 44.0% to 41.7%), leading to a decrease from 69 to 63 seats (out of 129) in the additional member system.

Membership increased from 25,642 in September 2014 to 116,000 in April 2016.

Of course, other things have happened in the meantime and it is difficult to attribute trends to any single event. However, it is apparent that the lost independence referendum did not lead to a decrease in SNP popularity (thus far).

  • Great example, thanks :-) Can't award the bounty for another 7 hours; once I can, I will.
    – user97
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 23:40

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