by Zoran Oklopcic, Associate Professor at the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University.
Since the advent of popular sovereignty at the turn of the 19th century, referendums have been one of the most (excuse the pun) popular techniques of ascertaining the extent of popular support for a variety of far-reaching political projects. Oftentimes viewed as indispensable for demonstrating the legitimacy of secessionist pursuits, independence referendums have only rarely resulted in victories for advocates of the constitutional status quo. Among the 54 referendums that have taken place since the early 1800s, 43 saw the triumph of pro-independence majorities. In terms of their actual success in seceding, however, things predictably look different. Out of the victorious 43, only 22 pro-independence majorities managed to achieve independence peacefully. In the case of the remaining 21, independence either never occurred, or, when it did, took place only after a period of protracted violence.