Top 3 separatist movements with lessons for Cascadia

A motorcade flying Catalonian flags passes through the streets of Barcelona. With a strong economy and a unique language and culture, many Catalonians want to see their region secede from the rest of Spain. (Photo by Seth Halleran)
A motorcade flying Catalonian flags passes through the streets of Barcelona. With a strong economy and a unique language and culture, many Catalonians want to see their region secede from the rest of Spain. (Photo by Seth Halleran)

The Pacific Northwest, the Upper-left U.S.A., or as John Quincy Adams dubbed it “the Empire of Astoria.” Whatever you call this wonderful region, if you live here you’ve probably heard of Cascadia.

What you might not have known is that in 2011 it placed #8 on Time Magazine’s Top 10 aspiring nations.

The idea of a Republic of Cascadia (comprised of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and parts of Idaho, California, and Alaska) has been around since the 1970s. In 2005 the Cascadian Independence Project, or Cascadia Now! was founded to raise awareness about the Cascadia movement and promote independence of the Northwest bioregion.

Other organizations like Seattle’s own Crosscut and Sightline Institute see Cascadia as more of a transnational cooperative identity.

And while we here in the crunchy states playfully hang Doug Flags in our living rooms, around the world other secessionist movements are really happening… with varying levels of success.

Here are three budding nations that aspiring Cascadians can look to for inspiration:

1. Scotland

The regional flag of Scotland for centuries, St. Andrew's Cross could soon be the flag of the world's newest independent nation. (Photo from Wikipedia)
The regional flag of Scotland for centuries, St. Andrew’s Cross could soon be the flag of the world’s newest independent nation. (Photo from Wikipedia)

After over 300 years of union with England, Scotland is taking matters into its own hands.

Easily the most promising and straightforward example on this list, the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill will ask Scottish voters this Thursday: “Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No.”

We’ll have to wait until then to know for sure, but recent polls have shown that not just Scots but also most Britons believe the vote will pass. And while the Queen herself remains silent, spokesmen have insisted she will respect the choices of the people.

Those in support of an independent Scotland have plenty of different reasons, but what most are seeking is the opportunity to detach themselves from the government in Westminster, aiming to move closer to a welfare-state.

But like Scotch whiskeys, the consequences of an independent Scotland are quite complex. A vast majority of the U.K.’s Labor party comes from Scotland, so an independent Scotland would cause a huge power shift within the U.K.

Scottish independence introduces a lot of questions about larger economic and political ripple effects. How is debt divided between the U.K. and Scotland? What will happen to the pound? Will Scotland become a member of E.U.?

What Cascadia can learn:

Seceding from a nation isn’t just about being told “you’re independent now.” It comes with a heavy price tag of logistics — and in the case of Scotland the possibility of one of the world’s oldest and most successful nations having its place in global politics reevaluated.

The prospect of an independent Cascadia necessitates that it first ask itself why it needs to secede. Scotland seemingly feels that the government in Westminster is holding it back from becoming the country it wants to be. Cascadian secessionists must ask them selves: can they say the same?


2. Catalonia

Demonstrators gathered last week at La Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona to celebrate La Diada, a regional holiday commemorating the day the city fell to the Spanish in the War of Spanish Succession. (Photo by Seth Halleran)
Demonstrators gathered last week at La Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona to celebrate La Diada, a regional holiday commemorating the day the city fell to the Spanish in the War of Spanish Succession. (Photo by Seth Halleran)

Looking to Scotland as a beacon of hope, the Catalan people have scheduled their own referendum this year to vote for independence… without the blessing of the Spanish central government.

Catalonia is the northeastern region of the country, home to Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city. Much like Scotland, Catalonia has a rich culture and history entirely its own, but while a Scottish accent differs from an English one, Catalan is an entirely different language from Spanish.

As a region that already has some autonomy from the central government in Madrid, Catalonia has scheduled a vote for its independence for Nov. 9. Madrid has made it very clear that they won’t sit back and allow an independent Catalonia to secede.

Despite the central government’s lack of sympathy, close to 2 million people rallied in Barcelona last Thursday to celebrate the 300th anniversary of La Diada, a regional holiday commemorating the day Barcelona fell to the Spanish in the War of Spanish Succession in 1714. (Check out more photos from La Diada here.)

But Catalonians are more concerned with their future than their history. Participants in the rally formed together a human “V” shape across the center of Barcelona for votar or vote in Spanish and Catalan.

President of Catalonia, Artur Mas has shown incredible support for the referendum and plans to move forward — but he’s also said that he will not push a vote if it is considered illegal by the central government.

Catalan voters clearly are invested in their right to decide, with polls showing close to 60% of Catalans want to secede from Spain.

What Cascadia can learn:

The necessity for civility and tact. Because of a non-cooperating government in Madrid, Catalonia’s vote has become more symbolic than anything else.

A Cascadian secession achieved in close cooperation with the United States would likely be the most successful in establishing a promising independent nation in the Northwest.


3. Abkhazia

A map of Georgia showing the tiny breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (Map via Wikipedia)
A map of Georgia showing the tiny breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (Map via Wikipedia)

It’s hard to talk about secessionist movements without also talking about war.

Abkhazia is the tiny, semi-recognized nation bordering Georgia to the west.

Part of a larger ethnic conflict between Georgians and the Abkhaz people, the independence of Abkhazia remains contested today.

During the Soviet era, Abkhazia was an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the larger Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. During this time, Abkhazian officials sent manifestos demanding secession from the Georgian SSR and inclusion into the Russian SFSR, with no success.

However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, tensions in the region grew, coming to their bloodiest point with the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia in the 1990s.

Though a ceasefire was declared, the South Ossetia war in 2008 reignited resentments and Abkhazia become involved when their troops fired on Georgian forces in the Kodori Gorge.

The war ended with Russia officially recognizing the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia. But this independence only came with heavy military support from Russia, amounting to political control.

Following their independence, Abkhazians in 2014 led a demonstration leading to the resignation of Abkhaz President Aleksandr Ankvab.

To this day Abkhazia remains recognized as an independent country only by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru.

Meanwhile, Giorgi Margvelashvili, President of Georgia, has come out saying that Georgia intends to return Abkhazia and South Ossetia and “unite Georgia through peaceful means.”

What Cascadia can learn:

Even partial independence can be a costly objective, and secession, if not done correctly, can lead to cultural suffering and bloodshed. With independence comes uncertainty and instability. Secession is a process that usually breeds animosity, and a newfound freedom can force a nation to ignore the desires of its citizens and instead focus on its relations with other countries.

Flying the Cascadia "Doug Flag" at Portland May Day celebration in 2012. (Photo from Flicrk by badlyricpolice)
Flying the Cascadia “Doug Flag” at the Portland May Day celebration in 2012. (Photo from Flickr by badlyricpolice)

This article has been updated since it’s original publication to clarify information about the origins of the Cascadia movement.


  1. “Scotland seemingly feels that the government in Westminster is holding it back from becoming the country it wants to be. Cascadian secessionists must ask them selves: can they say the same?”

    Regardless of one’s opinion on actual secession, the question of whether or not the national government of the United States is holding back the northwest region should be a obvious and resounding “yes.”

    1. I don’t really disagree but I found it hard to come up with many examples of how. For instance, the issue of gun control. The majority of people living in the Greater Seattle Area are all for it, but there’s a huge number of people living outside the cities in WA that are against gun control.

      But that’s just the first thing that came to mind for me. In what other respects did you see the federal government holding back the NW?

  2. Energy policy and a more aggressive response to the threat of climate change is the issue on which our regional interests conflict with what is being done at the national level. We will see how 20 miles of coal trains a day rolling into West Coast ports sit with the people of “Cascadia” in the event that fossil fuel interests to the east of us prevail.

    Cascadia’s water will make us the Saudi Arabia of the 21st century, rich in the most precious resource when California’s huge food production industry collapses from lack of irrigation water. Like North Sea oil for the Scots, that asset may fund a sense of “who needs to be in the same nation with Texas and Kansas?”

  3. It is a huge mistake to put together or even to compare the cases of Scotland, Catalonia and Abkhazia. What happened in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as rightly mentioned, was ethnic cleansing of local population conducted by Russia in order to artificially change the demography of these regions and provoke also artificially manifested so called “desires of independence”. Notably, the same processes started simultaneously in other former USSR states – Moldova and Azerbaijan. These countries decided to be independent and strive towards the EU/NATO, that Russia could not forgive and created such frozen areas to maintain the leverage. Absolutely the same thing is now happening in Ukraine and now everyone can observe Russia’s state of behavior and policy that was unfortunately not so evident for others in the beginning of 90s. If Russia is compelled to comply with its international obligations and withdraw its illegal military forces from the territories of other states such “frozen conflicts” would immediately vanish.

  4. Maybe there should be two Cascadia’s, the one with Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland that stretches from British Columbia and stretching to as far south as the border between Lane and Douglas counties (Oregon) with the eastern parts of BC, Washington, and Oregon, as well as southwestern Oregon as the other Cascadia.

    1. What about California , Idaho? They are wealthy states , economically and have the same goals. We can be a wealthy republic with them.!

  5. Cascadia first needs a central active governing body. Then public info floods to make the millions of cascadians aware that this is a real and happening goal
    Next 1 person 1 vote. on all the issues
    -succession from the U.S.
    – healthcare
    -economic plans
    – gun control
    – expatriate status granted to those who do not wish to withdraw
    – local military / national guard formation

    but most of all we need 1 voice!!! too many cascadian orgs …too much “disorganization” will kill this before it gets started.
    we just need to “border” eastern highways into the region. Form our own governing party and stop sending federal taxes from us to the U.S. govt’
    If we ask the body we are leaving if we can…..we never will. We just need to pull in our resources and establish new import / export laws and businesses for our shipping / train / land products.
    We have the water, the coasts , the natural and manufacturing resources to support ourselves. if we can support our regional citizens AND %15 of the U.S. with our products / exports, then we can definitely separate from the U.S. economically and be a wealthy republic.

    1. Schel – I get that unifying the messages are important… but one dominant voice (or central government) is not necessary for autonomy.

      Rojava is an example of this, where the governing bodies were formed from a coalition of groups representing a variety of people and uniting under principles of gender equality, sustainability, and democratic socialism. They have a co-presidential model that focuses power at the local level and they successfully defend their borders from both ISIL and Turkey. The militias which defend these borders are (again) coalitions of various groups and positions for commanding officers are determined by election. I only recently learned about its existence… and it’s already given me so much hope for the future of humans.

      BTW, Cascadia sort of already has a central voice: CascadiaNow!

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