Wednesday

5th Oct 2022

Analysis

Scotland vs. Catalonia: Two independence quests, different paths

  • Catalans: 'If Scotland can decide on its independence, why can't we?' (Photo: SBA73)

Scotland and Catalonia both have strong independence movements, but their paths to this goal are very different.

At an event hosted by the Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels think-tank, politicians and academics from Scotland and Catalonia on Monday (8 September) spoke of why the two nations want to secede from the UK and Spain, respectively, and how they see the new countries joining the EU.

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First the similarities: the independence camps of both countries are polling at around 50 percent, with Scotland’s Yes-to-secession for the first time ahead of the "Better together" camp (51%-49%).

Both the Scottish and the Catalan pro-independence movement have managed to mobilise large parts of their society. They tend to be left-wing, as opposed to the central governments in London and Madrid, which are both Conservative.

They also make the case of having existed as independent nations long before Great Britain and Spain were created.

And they are both annoyed at not having enough influence on politics in London and Madrid and on how their taxpayers’ money is redistributed.

The voting age in both Catalan and Scotland has been lowered from 18 to 16. But while Scots allow any resident to vote, Catalans have put a minimum one-year residence requirement for EU citizens and three years for non-EU residents.

But then there is a fundamental difference between the two: London has agreed that if the 18 September referendum results in a Yes, Scotland can negotiate its independence.

"Both the UK and the Scottish government deserve credit, especially the UK government for facilitating the process and the pragmatism of its approach. Europe should be proud, because it is not often seen that territorial disputes are solved this way," Nicola McEwen, a political scientist from the University of Edinburgh, said.

She noted it was likely the "pragmatism" would continue in case of Yes vote, but said it was unlikely that negotiations with Westminster and the EU could be wrapped up in 18 months.

McEwen also spoke of a "steep learning curve" needed for Scottish officials to get accustomed to the various EU policy areas outside fisheries - which they master well.

She admitted it would be a "difficult" negotiation to opt out of the euro - which is as unpopular in Scotland as in the rest of the UK - but said it was unlikely for the common currency to be imposed on the Scots.

Alyn Smith, an MEP from the ruling Scottish National Party, said "there will be no euro in Scotland", unless people approve it in a separate referendum.

As for the EU requirement for any new member state to join the euro, he spoke of the "Swedish model" - a country which meets euro membership criteria but has no intention of joining.

Smith said his government's focus was more on the negotiations with Westminster, which is set to lose one third of its territory. The main priority of the Scottish government is to keep the pound and the common travel zone with the UK. It would also remain under British crown and as part of the Commonwealth.

EU membership would have to be negotiated anew, but Smith said those were "details" which would be agreed and that nobody would block the democratic choice of Scots.

"How come Malta is a member state, or Denmark, but Scotland is not? The EU should be relaxed about it: You can't create a demos where there's none. I see it as a democratisation process, after dictatorships such as Franco's in Spain, after the German reunification and the fall of the Berlin Wall," Smith said.

Emotional Latins

By contrast, in Spain, Madrid refuses to negotiate anything with Barcelona and says the Spanish constitution prohibits secession. Since a referendum would be illegal, a "public consultation" is to take place on 9 November, which could be camouflaged by early regional elections.

"There is a difference between the Celts, the island peoples and us. Catalans are southern Europeans, Latins, and this means emotions play a big role not only on the Catalan, but also on the Spanish side," said Roger Albinyana i Saigi, the secretary for foreign and EU affairs with the Catalonian government.

He listed what attempts by the Spanish government to politically suppress the issue, such as the cancellation of the presentation of a Catalan novel in the Netherlands by the Cervantes Institute, the state-funded centre promoting Spanish culture.

"We put a proposition to hold a referendum using the UK/Scottish model, but it was simply refused by Madrid," Saigi said.

He said Madrid has found little sympathy in other EU capitals "for handling it so badly, for not trying to offer something in return and let people express themselves".

Scotland’s push for independence has a longer history than its equivalent in Catalonia.

"The key question is, how did secession come about in Catalonia?" asked Montserrat Guibernau, a political scientist with Queen Mary University of London.

She said the push for independence came only after 2006, "as a result of frustration" with the central government and its "neocentralist approach."

"The outcome was a political mobilisation that generated a strong secessionist movement, a bottom-up movement, that is strongly pro-democratic and in favour of the EU," Guibernau said.

She said that speaking to young Spanish people both in Spain and in the UK where she often finds PhD students "serving coffee", she found they have a "great sense of entitlement" when it comes to democracy and their rights.

"We are also in the EU - if Scots have a referendum in the UK, why can't Catalonia have it in Spain," she quoted one of the students saying.

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