The Pathway to a New Citizenship: Policy Diffusion among European Independence Movements

Johnson, Oluwatomisin [Browse]
Senior thesis
132 pages


Meunier Aitsahalia, Sophie [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
On September 18, 2014, as the world watched on, a referendum took place in Scotland on its eventual future as an independent country. Although it ultimately resulted in residents of Scotland choosing to remain part of the United Kingdom, the Scottish referendum sent shockwaves throughout Europe as many analysts started to wonder, “Who’s next?” The drive for independence in Europe is certainly not a new phenomenon, but the potential of the advancement of the Scottish case naturally led to the anticipation of a resurgence of secessionist movements across the continent. This thesis explores the impact of the Scottish referendum on other European independence movements. Specifically, it approaches this study through the lens of policy diffusion, focusing on the mechanisms by which policies and strategies may travel from one regional movement to another, with particular focus on “learning” and “emulation” as factors in the progression of the Catalan, Basque, and Flemish independence since the announcement of the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 and the Scottish Referendum in 2014. This thesis used a mixed methods combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis to shed greater light on the mechanisms at work in the presumed diffusion process. First, the thesis analyzes media coverage of these two critical referendum events in the target regions, using the difference in differences model to identify changes in the amount of attention devoted to issues of regional independence. This element, measured quantitatively in aggregate article counts from a selection of relevant newspapers, serves to establish the existence of a diffusion-based impact. The quantitative analysis also introduces search query patterns as a unit of analysis, in order to rule out emulation as the primary mechanism of diffusion. In addition, a semi-qualitative analysis focuses on changes in the tone and valence of coverage (based on the prevalence of negative versus affirmative terms in the articles). The thesis then turns to data garnered from a series of interviews with relevant actors/archetypes to highlight ideas that may have been learned from the principal movement by the target movements. The implications of the research herein discussed are threefold. First, in finding learning to be the primary mechanism at work in this scenario, this thesis points to a broader change in the nature of policy diffusion among contentious social movements. Secondly, an increased comprehension of the mechanisms behind the current flourishing of secessionist ideals in Europe creates opportunities for leaders within the European Union to effectively respond to these movements, both as a collective and as individual Member States. Lastly, this thesis addresses what seems to be an emerging conception of citizenship as something no longer determined by borders or nationalities as traditionally defined. In combination, these implications help lay the groundwork for future research in the fields of not only international relations, but also communications & media studies.

Supplementary Information