INDYREF2: A bold but unsurprising move from Nicola Sturgeon

The gauntlet is down.

To the surprise of many Nicola Sturgeon announced today that she will seek a second referendum on Scottish independence to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. She is set to ask the Scottish Parliament for permission to do so next, yet given that there is a majority of pro-independence MSPs (the SNP and the Greens), this part should be pretty straightforward. The first hurdle will come from the UK Government which will have to approve the Scottish first minister’s request for a section 30 order transferring temporary powers to Holyrood to hold a referendum. Legally, Prime Minister Theresa May could refuse to grant legal permission to hold a referendum, but I think this looks unlikely. Jeremy Corbyn has also confirmed that the Labour Party would not block such a request.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon | photo via

What is likely, however, is that the Prime Minister will play hard ball on the issue, particularly over timing. In the previous independence referendum, the then First Minister Alex Salmond, was given considerable freedom to choose a referendum date. However, this time around negotiations will not be so simple. There will be further deliberations on the question(s), the franchise (will 16-17 year olds be allowed to vote as was the case in 2014?), and the timing. It may well be that Theresa May’s agreement to another referendum will hinge on the last issue, given under condition that that it is not held until Brexit negotiations are over. The issue now is not whether there will be another referendum, but when.

Calling the referendum is, as I have argued previously, potentially the most important decision of Nicola Sturgeon’s premiership. She made it clear this morning that calling for a referendum is a result of the British government’s refusal to move ‘even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement’. With speculation that Article 50 will be triggered in the coming days, the Scottish First Minister’s pre-emptive strike may make the British Government think again on some of its negotiating positions. I find it unlikely, however, that Scotland will be given a special deal in the Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May has hitherto avoided saying whether she will grant or block the Scottish government’s request. It is a given that she will campaign for a ‘No’ to independence vote. Nevertheless, Brexit indisputably has introduced a new and challenging dynamic to the independence debate that both sides will need to contend with in a future referendum campaign. For the unionists, Sturgeon’s bold move today will be seen as reckless and opportunist, an attempt to further complicate the Brexit negotiations and strengthen the case for independence. This is exemplified by Theresa May’s official spokesperson noting that ‘another referendum would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time’. For pro-independence supporters, however, independence is painted as an alternative to the potential economic uncertainty of Brexit. The Scottish voters, they argue, must have a choice: Hard Brexit Britain or an Independent Scotland.

It seems the future of Scotland is destined to be outside one (if not both) of the unions of which it is currently a member. Support for independence has not dramatically risen since either the 2014 independence referendum or the 2016 Brexit referendum and while it is currently around the 50%, it has yet to remain steady above this threshold. It remains to be seen how the impending Brexit negotiations will influence the independence issue, but a hard Brexit or indeed the prospect of no deal at the end of the negotiations have merely fuelled and emboldened SNP demands for another referendum. It is a bold move for Sturgeon. She will either go down in history as the first minister who presided over the independence of Scotland, or the leader who got it spectacularly wrong.

Let the games begin!

Paul Anderson is a PhD researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University. His main research focuses on territorial autonomy and secessionist movements in western plurinational democracies.

An extended version of this blog post appeared on the LSE EUROPP Blog on 14 March 2017.

PhD Scholarship opportunities in Politics & IR at Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University welcomes applications for generous full-time PhD scholarships available for UK/EU and international applicants. Scholarships include a stipend of £13,000 p.a. and a tuition fee waiver for three years. Applications are invited across a range of subjects and themes including Politics & International Relations (section ‘Social and Applied Sciences’).

Application closing date: 18 April 2017

Registration date: 1 October 2017

To apply, email your potential supervisor and visit CCCU’s “How to apply” pages.

PhD supervision in Politics & International Relations


Politics and International Relations at CCCU offers PhD supervision by experienced and research-active staff across a wide range of areas. Check out our staff and their research interests below:

  • Dr Andre Barrinha: International Relations Theories, Security Studies, European Security, Turkish Foreign Policy, Portuguese Foreign Policy, Technology and the changing character of security
  • Dr David Bates: Contemporary and radical political thought, Marxism, Hardt and Negri, Occupy, Arts and Politics, New Social Movements
  • Dr Mark Bennister: Political leadership (any aspect), British politics, Australian politics, party politics, parliamentary study, executive politics, political oratory and rhetoric
  • Dr Laura Cashman: Migration, minority politics, Critical Race Theory, Romani integration in the Czech Republic, Romaphobia and populism in the EU, experiences of migrants to the UK
  • Dr Amelia Hadfield: Common Security and Defence Policy, Energy Governance, EU Neighbourhood & Development policy, EU foreign policy, International and diplomatic history.
  • Dr Soeren Keil: Territorial autonomy, conflict resolution, post-conflict societies, Western Balkans, federalism, Myanmar, Syria, Federalism
  • Dr Sarah Lieberman: EU environmental policies and governance, the politics of space, Institutions, History of EU integration, decision-making and policies.

To apply, email your potential supervisor and visit CCCU’s “How to apply” pages.

External funding available


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The Italian constitutional referendum: What happened, what happens next

By Francesco Violi, PhD student in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost his bet on the 4th December referendum. Italians overwhelmingly rejected the proposals for constitutional reform that he and the Minister for Constitutional Reforms, Ms. Maria Elena Boschi, proposed. The final outcome shows 41% in favour and 59% against; the turnout of 65.5% was higher than the previous European Elections (57.22%) and the last abrogative referendum on oil drilling (31.2%).


Renzi’s proposal essentially had two main points:

  1. A partial recentralization of powers by intervening on the fifth title (Titolo V) of the Constitution to limit its devolutionary character and completely reshape the role and the composition of the senate. Most importantly, the latter proposal involved a reduction in members of Senate from 315 to 100. The new Senate would have been composed of 74 senators, who would be indirectly elected by regional assemblies in accordance with the population of each region (from 14 senators for Lombardy, the most populated, to 2 senators for the smallest ones). Additionally, each region would have to appoint a mayor as an additional senator. The President of the Republic could also appoint 5 long-term senators. Former Presidents of the Republic would still be lifelong senators by default.
  2. A drastic change of the bicameral form of the Italian Republic (sometimes called perfect bicameralism, bicameralismo perfetto, or balanced bicameralism bicameralismo paritario). In this framework, Italy would have left the current system for a new one, based on the prevalence of the Chamber of deputies (camera), and the establishment of some new law-making procedures. The role of the Senate would have been limited to a representation of regions, with an effective law-making power only on local issues and European Union policies. Italy would thus have had an upper chamber elected by the regions to deal with regional issues, not two similar branches with the same duties.

Mr. Renzi made a few mistakes during the campaign. First of all, the Prime Minister jeopardized his alliance with Mr. Berlusconi (the so-called Pact of the Nazareno, named after the address of the headquarter of the Democratic Party, currently in Via del Nazareno in Rome). Thus, the latter still able to play some political influence in the parliament and among centre-right voters. Secondly, after the disengagement with Berlusconi, Renzi failed to engage with the left wing of the Democratic Party and his most fervent internal competitors. Thirdly, the constitutional reform was simultaneously linked to the new, runoff based, electoral law: the Italicum.  The system is considered by most of its critics as dangerous, since it is a proportional voting system law with strong majoritarian elements. The latter concedes a consistent majority of 55% of seats in the Chamber of Deputies to the party which achieves at least 40% in the first round, and a majority of 53% to the winner of the runoff, independently from the result. Therefore, the Chamber and the Senate have now two different electoral systems. As the Senate was due to play a secondary role and be elected through indirect elections, Renzi intentionally did not foresee a coherent electoral system for the Senate in case of rejection of the constitutional reform.

Renzi’s fatal error, however, was to link the outcome of the constitutional reform to his political career. This move backlashed and actually turned the referendum from being a vote on the constitutional reform to a vote on his government’s performance. Thus, most of supporters of “No”-campaign took this referendum as an opportunity to dismiss Mr. Renzi.

These elements made the referendum more similar to a by-election, and in a lesser sense, a to rejection of the new electoral system. This system is still very likely to be changed by the Parliament regardless, because the Italicum system was planned for only one of the two chambers. Otherwise, will be amended by the Constitutional Court, which is due to rule on it in the next few months.

What happens next

Despite his original intention to leave his post in a [David] Cameron-esque style, Italian constitutional procedures are significantly different from British ones. President Mattarella insisted Renzi resign only after the approval of the Budget law (which needs to be approved by both branches of parliament according to Constitutional Article 81). In any case, Renzi is not going to leave the political arena. Indeed, Renzi is now pushing for a snap general election. If President Mattarella refuses to immediately dissolve the parliament, Renzi would probably support a short-term, transitional government, which would most likely be led by his Minister for Economy and Finance, Mr. Pier Carlo Padoan, or Minister for Cultural Heritage, Mr. Dario Franceschini. In that case, Renzi would probably use that time to take a drastic action against the internal opposition in his party and trigger a snap congress and snap party primaries. The new constitutional proposal received 13,432,208 ballots “Yes” votes, thus boosting the belief that Renzi could work on these numbers to win the next elections. He could also try to attract voters who did not support his proposal, which would then deny the 5 Star Movement a victory in the next election. This route is not automatic, but it is undeniable that Mr. Renzi still has a meaningful support among the public – his current approval rating are considerably higher than any of his political competitors. Nonetheless, the 5 Star Movement is showing a good performance in opinion polls and has very high chances to win the election in case the Italicum runoff system is not abolished.

Otherwise, new proposals for constitutional change are not likely to be discussed for the next few years. Rather, it is very likely that after this rejection no new proposal for changing the balanced bicameral architecture will be advanced. The balanced bicameral system will for the time being remain a national, constitutional specificity, just like the UK House of Lords.

A vote on EU membership?

Many journalist and political representatives interpreted this referendum as a vote against the EU or Euro membership. Yet despite most of Italians having a very poor opinion of EU institutions’ performance during these years, this vote was not about the EU. During the referendum campaign, the EU always remained a very marginal topic. Although Renzi received some formal and lukewarm endorsements from other European and EU leaders and senior representatives, the EU institutions never stepped into the debate. While many Italians consider the Euro as one of the causes of the bad economic performance in the last decade, the ongoing banking crisis in Italy makes calls for leaving the single currency even less desirable. Populist leaders such as Mr. Matteo Salvini (leader of the right-wing and europhobic Northern League) and Mr. Beppe Grillo (political leader of the 5 Star Movement) will try to use the outcome of this referendum to increase their electoral fortunes. Nevertheless, the Italian Constitution remains one of the most supportive in terms of further European integration (Article 11). Furthermore, it does not currently allow for referenda on international treaties and monetary issues. Additionally, the current constitutional architecture was designed after the end of fascism and WWII to thwart any authoritarian tendencies. From this point of view, it is very difficult to draw parallels to Brexit and Donald Trump’s election.

Acceleration and decay: Trumpism and the reluctant passing of the Neoliberal world order

Lewis Bloodworth, a third year student of Politics and Global Governance at Canterbury Christ Church University provides an interesting take on the implications of Donald Trump’s victory.


For many, the election of Donald Trump seemed unthinkable, even impossible; his style of politics completely against the grain of what was deemed acceptable behaviour and discourse, and yet he won. His victory built on a foundation of bigotry wrapped in the guise of honesty, the humble words of a reputable business man simply telling it as it is.

Trump is a by-product of a world made increasingly artificial, simulated and digital; his style politics thriving in a world of hyper consumerism, where reality seems like such a distant entity, always observed but never felt. If anything Trump embodies the ultimate postmodern president, a man who blurs the line between fact and fiction, treats his very name as a commodity; the man of the people, a multi-billionaire.  At a time like this, Karl Marx’s observation that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce” remains as prescient as ever.

Continue reading “Acceleration and decay: Trumpism and the reluctant passing of the Neoliberal world order”

Analysing the 2016 US Election Results: Global Governance Student Blogs

Global Governance, 9 November 2016

Analysing the 2016 US Election Results: Student Blogs

“Elections are a big deal. They’re also in ideal opportunity to upend the term’s curriculum and teach – responsibly and responsively –  on breaking news (this probably works better in the Politics department than with Anthropology or Classics, but, hey). This morning, rather bleary eyed and admittedly shell-shocked, our Level 5 Global Governance students decided to tackle the following challenge:  ‘explain what just happened, and analyse the consequences’. They divided into four groups: (1) How Trump Won; (2) How Hillary Lost; (3) US-UK Special relations; and ‘Global Governance’. The students had two hours to talk it out, download data and evidence from a wide range of online sources, write the following mini blogs, and then present them to the class.  I enjoyed very much what they had to say, and am pleased to share it as a great example of the cutting-edge, real-world focused driven teaching that we specialise in here at CCCU.”

– Dr Amelia Hadfield, Reader in European Foreign Affairs

Group 1: Analysing How & Why Trump Won

g1The unprecedented rise of Donald Trump in the political conversation was captivating, yet the American people, particularly his opponents never took himself and his campaign seriously. As Trump’s momentum surged, his adversaries mounted criticism; through labelling him as a sexist, racist homophobe. None of this however, deterred his core support; and surprisingly seemed to attract some undecided voters along the way. All of this was going on in the background of a seemingly poor election campaign on both sides, and it was not until the evening of November 8th that all these preservations were made into a reality. The question that now lies, is how did Donald Trump manage to win the 2016 U.S. Election? Firstly, Donald Trump is no ordinary Republican. Growing up in New York, this aided Trump in contesting the states in the North-Eastern region of the country; where the Clinton camp were more than confident that these states would support her. In fact, Trump won both Ohio and Pennsylvania, as these results were a sign of things to come. In addition, Trump knew more than anyone that the southern belt states would never have supported Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, so this allowed him to focus more time and money into winning northern states. Thus, showing an element of complacency from Democrat politicians – especially Clinton. Moreover, the unconventionality of Trump and his positions struck a chord with a large proportion of the American people; who seemingly appeared disillusioned with the political establishment, as well as fearing Clinton would have been a vote for continuing the status quo. Therefore, it could be argued that Trump won so many votes, not necessarily because of his ideology, but because of his anti-establishment image that has propelled him to the White House. All of this represents a change in the status quo of the US election, meaning that an unexpected outcome becomes more realistic.

– Emelie Printz, Natasha Gough, Rhys Day and Dean Jeffery

Group 2 : Figuring Out How &  Why Hillary Lost

g2Hillary had a 3-1 lead. She had superior backing, superior media coverage, superior campaign management and an opponent who was giving her the election on a plate. And she lost. The problems started when the DNC decided to push for an unpopular candidate (her) to represent them rather than a popular candidate (Sanders). She is widely disliked for several reasons, the email scandal caused trust issues for the voting populace, although the extent of the scandal was exacerbated by the republicans and FBI. Her experience in the establishment turned into a hindrance not a benefit, she was seen as the face of what is wrong with America, those downtrodden by the economy saw her as the cause of the problem and not the solution. The messages she transmitted were lost in a vacuum. It wasn’t clear who precisely she was targeting to win votes for, or what her policies or messages were, compared to Trump with his recognisable although meaningless “make America great again”. In turn, these mixed messages lost her a huge amount of the minority vote which defected to trump, undoubtedly feeling left behind in the economy and angry as a result. As a candidate she was passive. Trump practically handed her the election on a silver platter, but her tactic of letting him ‘talk himself out’ seems to have backfired. She failed to be aggressive and assertive enough to take him down. Failing to call Trump out properly for not paying tax (which ironically voters seemed to admire). Failing to challenge him over his sexual assaults and misogynistic speech. Failing to cite his bad business decisions and his repeated bankruptcy. Allowing Trump to freely say she was unfit to be president, despite him having zero experience of public office, and a few years of experience on the apprentice. Trump wound up scoring heavily in key areas; e.g. highlighting her wealthy backers, alleging hypocrisy, and more broadly citing a ‘fixed system’ in which she was so deeply embedded and benefitted from. It seems the voters think he had a point too.

– Ned Watkinson, Ed Shooter, Michael Nguyen, Siobhan Simmonds

Group 3: US – UK Foreign Policy : The Season finale! Or ‘from ancient grudge break to new mutiny?’

g3Following the results of yesterday’s US presidential election, one question resonates strongly with many of us: how will this affect US – UK relations? Trump has previously stated that the UK “will be treated fantastically”, but is this an actual possibility? Or will Theresa May finally get fed up with Trump’s idiocy and tell him “he can’t sit with us”. Based on economic interest, our relationship might not be so special any longer (even if your mum told you so). In trade terms, and geopolitical terms, it seems probable that if you don’t have anything to offer America, Trump isn’t likely to care about what you want; something that will pose a large issue for the Special Relationship. Key is security, defence, foreign policy, and trade.  Is Trump committed to the current setup? Unlikely. Dear Donald no longer seems to have ‘much love’ for the NATO clique. Implicitly, he’s suggested that NATO, and its treaties can be ignored, and consequently that the US may not – will not (?) – guarantee to aid the fellow members of NATO. So much for having our backs, dude. However, Theresa May has clarified (unsurprisingly) that the UK will maintain a strong relationship with the US. Helpfully, Trump probably won’t bomb the UK because he has golf courses in Scotland. Win for Sturgeon, Scotland is finally useful – yay! Our take on the Special Relationship? : “WRONG”

– Elizabeth Bailey, Beatrice Rhodes, Zorana Foley, Nia Smith, and Katarina Hill

Group 4: US and Global Governance (Power, US Interests, and the UN)

g4Trump’s take on international relations and his foreign policy approach (admittedly still a little…. ambiguous?) will likely impact all areas of global politics. His policies so far indicate a strong tendency to putting America’s interests first, following his electoral line of “Make America great again!”. Both at home, and aboard, presumably. He has advocated an increase in military action such as the use of nuclear weapon against ISIS. What fail safes are there be on his goals? Can we suggest his past profile as a powerful businessman? Will this realistically influence his behaviour and attitude as a President, i.e. seeking stability and balance (rather than anarchy) to increase his and America’s benefits continuously. But will this be undertaken cooperatively, or unilaterally – i.e. regardless of the effects on the other states or the international system. Equally however – of his idea of leading the country is based on making money (cutting ‘’useless’’ costs, saving time-even if that means decreasing in quality, as long as there is an increase in numbers), this may impair global governance. Not a great fan of the UN, Trump has suggested that America will save money by cutting its energies and financial support for the UN, and rowing back from key agreements, e.g. climate change. This suggests he has little faith in international relations (basic cooperation between states and working with multilateral institutions). Rather, his view is that America can be big on its own and needs neither help or approval from anyone else. Although it is not likely that he will succeed in everything he promised, his rhetoric on these topics alone is dangerous, simply because – being so politically inexperienced – his impulsive behaviour could unintentionally provoke other actors and result in conflict.

– Petra Eskutova, Ruxandra Maria Cojocaru, Joshua Andrew and Arijana Kauzlaric