The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

If Scotland votes to secede, it joins very rare company

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This post has been updated.

Countries don't like it when regions decide they want to be independent. When the American South decided it wanted to secede, the United States government spent 1861 to 1865 convincing it that it had made a bad decision. (Not everyone was convinced.) This is the history of the world: New countries are often formed only after bloodshed.

Making what's happening in Scotland on Thursday rather unique. If it votes to secede from Great Britain -- which polling suggests is a solid "maybe" -- it will become one of only a few countries to have been born by a vote. (Visit for an immediate answer to the question.)

What constitutes a secession of the sort that Scotland might experience is itself tricky to define. We turned to the CIA World Fact Book to find countries that it considers to have save been created by secession. But that, too, wasn't clear. Take Panama. It seceded from Colombia, but (as those who've been watching the PBS special on the Roosevelts this week know) it was hardly as simple as their shaking hands with Colombia's president. Or Kosovo. In the eyes of the United States, it is an independent country. That opinion is not shared. And Crimea. Did its vote count?

Here's what our best research suggests are the only countries (and, for kicks, American states) to have been born through secession and that still exist. If we missed something, let us know. But given how rare secessions are, we are pretty confident we didn't.

Update: We did. We forgot Norway and East Timor.