An independence referendum is a type of referendum in which the citizens of a territory decide whether the territory should become an independent sovereign state. An independence referendum that results in a vote for independence does not always ultimately result in independence.
The articles on specific referendums are linked with dates in the table on past referendums.
An independence referendum typically arises first after political success for nationalists of a territory. This could come in the election of politicians or parties with separatist policies, or from pressure from nationalist organisations.
Negotiations for the terms of an independence referendum may take place between the nationalists and the government which exercises sovereignty over the territory. If terms can be agreed, then the independence referendum can be held with its result binding, and respected by the international community. Independence referendums can be held without the consent of governments, but their results are usually ignored by the international community.
Various issues can be discussed in negotiations, such as the date and timing of the poll, as well as voter eligibility. For these instances, common electoral practice is often widely used, although there can be deviations, as seen with the lowering of the voting age for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
Other issues to be negotiated include what question or questions should be on the ballot, and what the voting options could be. Independence referendums can offer options of greater autonomy as well as, or instead of, the status quo. They can also put forward other constitutional questions to ballot. The questions that referendums ask may be revised if parties involved in negotiations consider them to be too leading.
Negotiations notably need to address what would make a result binding. For some independence referendums, a simple majority is required for one option. In other cases, a quota can be used, where a certain percentage of the vote or the electorate needs to be in favour of an option for it to be binding.
Successful negotiations can be hard to achieve for nationalists, as governments can be reluctant to give up sovereignty. For example, nationalists planned to hold a referendum in Catalonia in 2014, but met opposition from the Spanish government. As a result, the referendum that went ahead was unofficial and non-binding.
In the event of a vote for independence, there may be negotiations on the terms of secession for the territory from the sovereign state. A declaration of independence for a new state is then made, and international recognition can follow, as well as membership of international organisations such as the United Nations. In cases involving non-binding referendums, this can lead to a unilateral declaration of independence, and therefore partially recognised or self-proclaimed states.
In the event of a vote against independence, there may still be a strong nationalist movement and calls for there to be a rerun of the independence referendum. For example, after two referendums in Quebec, the Parti Québécois has continued to raise the prospect of holding another referendum, and the Scottish National Party has said that there should be a repeat of the 2014 referendum if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
|Proposed state||Date||Former state||Majority for independence||Independence||Recognition||Notes|
|Liberia||1846||American Colonization Society||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Maryland||1853||Maryland State Colonization Society||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Norway||1905||Sweden and Norway||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Western Australia||1933||Australia||Yes||No||No||The result was ignored by the British Parliament|
|Mongolia||1945||Republic of China||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Faroe Islands||1946||Denmark||Yes||No||No||The Declaration of Independence was annulled by Denmark|
|Saar||1955||France||No||No||Yes||Saar voters' rejection of independence prompted France to negotiate the Saar Treaty, transferring the territory to West Germany.|
|Guinea||1958||France||Yes||Yes||Yes||The question asked was whether Guinea wanted to join the French Community; the failure of the referendum led to independence|
|Rhodesia||1964||United Kingdom||Yes||State with limited recognition||No|
|Cook Islands||1965||New Zealand||Majority for associated status||Associated status achieved||Yes||The referendum was on whether the Cook Islands should became an associated state of New Zealand. This status is sometimes considered to be independence.|
|Puerto Rico||1967||United States||No||No||Yes|
|West Papua||1969||Indonesia||No||No||Yes||The question asked was whether West Papua wanted to give up its sovereignty to Indonesia, with an alleged majority yes.|
|Bahrain||1970||United Kingdom||Yes||Yes||Yes||The question was whether Bahrainis preferred annexation by Iran or independence.|
|Northern Ireland||1973||United Kingdom||No||No||Yes||The referendum was boycotted by the republicans.|
|Niue||1974||New Zealand||Majority for associated status||Associated status achieved||Yes||The referendum was on whether Niue should became an associated state of New Zealand. This status is sometimes considered to be independence.|
|Comoros||1974||France||Yes||Yes||Yes||The country declared independence on 6 July 1975, with Mayotte remaining under French control.|
|Aruba||1977||Netherlands||Yes||No||Yes||Plans for full independence were scrapped in 1994|
|Ciskei||1980||South Africa||Yes||State with limited recognition||No||Like other Bantustans, its independence was not internationally recognised.|
|Micronesia||1983||United States||Yes||Yes||Yes||Micronesia became an associated state of the United States|
|Macedonia||1991||Yugoslavia||Yes||Yes||Yes||Independence was achieved in 1993.|
|Nagorno-Karabakh||1991||Azerbaijan||Yes||State with limited recognition||No||Led to de facto independence|
|Transnistria||1991||Moldova||Yes||State with limited recognition||No||Led to de facto independence|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||1992||Yugoslavia||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|South Ossetia||1992||Georgia||Yes||State with limited recognition||No||Led to de facto independence|
|Puerto Rico||1993||United States||No||No||Yes|
|Moldova||1994||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes||The issue was whether Moldova should retain its independent status|
|Quebec||1995||Canada||No||No||Yes||Results ; Yes : 49.42 No : 50.58|
|Nevis||1998||Saint Kitts and Nevis||Yes||No||Yes||62% of voters approved of independence, but a 2/3 majority was required.|
|Puerto Rico||1998||United States||No||No||Yes|
|East Timor||1999||Indonesia||Yes||Yes||Yes||The referendum was organised by the United Nations; independence was achieved in 2002|
|Montenegro||2006||Serbia and Montenegro||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|South Ossetia||2006||Georgia||Yes||State with limited recognition||No||The issue was whether South Ossetia should retain its de facto independent status|
|Transnistria||2006||Moldova||Yes||State with limited recognition||No||The issue was whether Transnistria should retain its de facto independent status|
|Tokelau||2006||New Zealand||Majority for associated status||Associated status not achieved||Yes||The referendum was on whether Tokelau should became an associated state of New Zealand. This status is sometimes considered to be independence. 60% of voters approved, but a 2/3 majority was required.|
|Tokelau||2007||New Zealand||Majority for associated status||Associated status not achieved||Yes||The referendum was on whether Tokelau should became an associated state of New Zealand. This status is sometimes considered to be independence. 60% of voters approved, but a 2/3 majority was required.|
|Puerto Rico||2012||United States||No||No||Yes|
|Gagauzia||2014||Moldova||Yes||No||No||The question asked was if Gagauzia should declare independence if Moldova ever united with Romania.|
|2014||Ukraine||Yes||Yes||No||Led to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation|
|Donetsk||2014||Ukraine||Yes||Yes||No||The issue was whether the Donetsk People's Republic should retain its de facto independent status. Only a portion of this territory can be considered independent.|
|Lugansk||2014||Ukraine||Yes||Yes||No||The issue was whether the Lugansk People's Republic should retain its de facto independent status. Only a portion of this territory can be considered independent.|
|Veneto||2014||Italy||Yes||No||No||The referendum was conducted online by a private organization, Plebiscite 2013, without voter verification, and without the cooperation of the Italian national or Venetian regional governments. Plebiscite 2013 claims a turnout rate of 63.2% of all eligible voters, while critics of the poll cite turnout rates as low 3.6%, and trace a large portion of the website's traffic to users outside Italy.|
Expected independence referendums
|Proposed state||Date||Current state||Recognition||Notes|
|Chuuk||–||Micronesia||No||Originally scheduled for 3 March 2015, but later indefinitely postponed.|
|Khalistan||–||India||No||Originally scheduled for 2020.|
|Iraqi Kurdistan||–||Iraq||No||Originally to be held in late 2014, later postponed. See Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum.|
|New Caledonia||Between 2015 and 2018||France||Yes||See Nouméa Accord.|
|Bougainville||Between 2015 and 2020||Papua New Guinea||Yes|
Plausible independence referendums
||This article possibly contains unsourced predictions, speculative material, or accounts of events that might not occur. (January 2015)|
|Proposed state||Proposed date||Current state||Information|
|Veneto||TBD||Italy||Venetian Independence and other alike groups have been long proposing a referendum on the independence of Veneto from Italy. After the Regional Council of Veneto approved a resolution on self-determination (with an explicit reference to a referendum) in November 2012, a referendum bill was proposed in April 2013. In the meantime, Plebiscite 2013 (a non-partisan committee, formed mainly by former members of Venetian Independence) organised an online referendum, with no official government recognition, for 16–21 March 2014. According to the organisers, turnout was 63.2% and 89.1% of participants voted yes. This was enough for Plebiscite 2013 to declare Veneto's independence. In June the Regional Council finally discussed and passed a law concerning a referendum on special autonomy for Veneto and another in order to hold a referendum on the independence of Veneto. See also Venetian nationalism#Recent developments.|
|Scotland||TBD||United Kingdom||Scotland may ask a new independence referendum in case the United Kingdom leaves the European Union or its demands for more autonomy will be neglected. According to an opinion poll, almost half of Scottish voters back a re-run of the 2014 independence referendum by 2024.|
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