Tough Catalonia and tough Scotland in search of independence?
Following a record-breaking vote —the highest election turnout in 24 years, the Catalan News Agency reports— Catalonia has joined Scotland in taking the first steps towards becoming an independent country. Pro-independence advocates maintain that Catalonia has suffered the unfair burden of contributing disproportionately to Spain’s regional redistribution scheme, aiding poorer regions at the expense of Catalonia’s country-leading industrial sector.
Arthur Mas, President of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the leading Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), has never supported independence, as of the last election in 2010, and some opponents claim calling the election two years early was a ploy to divert attention from the dire unemployment and poor economic growth of the intervening years.
President Mas is seeking a constitutional amendment, but as Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has stated his intention to oppose the initiative, it is unclear how the referendum will proceed. Economic austerity, which galvanised the nationalist movement in Catalonia, can be seen effecting similar sentiments across Europe in the likes of Belgium, Italy, and Germany. Many similarities can be drawn to Scotland in particular, which as of the Edinburgh Agreement signed by First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron in October, have set a date for a single-question vote on independence in 2014.
Mr Salmond has been the face and driving force behind the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) ascent to a majority in the Scottish Parliament since 2011. Unlike Spain, the UK federal government led by Mr Cameron has peaceably obliged Scotland’s desire to hold a referendum. But unlike Catalonia, Scotland has been a country in its own right before.
Outright aggression between Scotland and the UK ended in the 18th century with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highland Clearances; however, devolution in Catalonia has a much more recent, unsettled past. Following the death of General Franco in 1975—who brutally suppressed Catalonia, its culture, people and language—a new Spanish Constitution was ratified in 1978, eventually unifying the seventeen autonomous regions of Spain (including Catalonia) under the Estado de las Autonomías.
Replacing the framework for a united Spain after decades of civil war and dictatorship, the Spanish Constitution struck a tense balance between federal and regional authority: establishing “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation,” while “it recognises and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed…” (Preliminary, Article II)
Though Catalonia has enjoyed a degree of autonomy within Spain, the momentum behind its independence referendum has been swift and passionate—building on real grievances from a half-century under Franco, and the perceived economic injustice of reckless public spending and central government payouts in recent years. Though Scotland must share its North Sea oil revenue with the rest of the UK and suffered the Highland Clearances, those ill feelings are of generations past and the economic benefits of independence are highly disputed.
Still, the SNP planned their referendum on the anniversary of the Battle of Bannock Burn in 1314, when Scots defeated the English, like the CiU has organised its rallies with reference to the 1714 siege of Barcelona by Spain. Headed by charismatic leaders, both movements hope to stir nationalist sentiment as they call for independence.
In Catalonia, the greatest inhibitor to independence is the risk of being excluded from the EU. Similarly for Scotland, Mr Salmond has been lambasted for not seeking legal advice on EU membership—whether the new country would automatically be admitted or have to reapply. Another worry is losing domestic market advantages in Britain and Spain respectively; both regional economies are tied to their host country as well as reliant on trade with the EU.
Responding separately to the cases presented by Messrs, EU President José Manuel Barroso has repeatedly stated that a new breakaway state, like any other state, would have to reapply for EU membership, accept the terms of the Schengen Agreement and adopt the Euro currency.
Though both countries could eventually join theoretically, a protracted application process could be inhibiting, threatened by either Spain or the UK’s veto as well. While the SNP has debated whether it would want Scotland to stay with British pound stirling, Catalonia has strong connections to the EU and would likely look to remain in the Eurozone.
On their national pride and identity, Scots can feel both Scottish and British, as well as Catalonians might also consider themselves Spanish or European.
Stephen Burgen describes this sentiment in the Scotsman: “it was not just a bad marriage, but a forced one, yet tolerable while the money still flowed.” Contrastingly, Louis Moreno contends that in Scotland: “the institutional idea behind the implementation of devolution…was to establish a ‘dual parliament’…in order to reflect the dual level of legitimacy provided by Scots’ self-identification.” Though Scotland enjoys such a reciprocal relationship with the UK and Catalonia has mobilised many more in-favor of switching its allegiance towards the EU if their status-quo doesn’t change.
Catalonia and Scotland are different cases. “Whereas the UK has a long and solid democratic tradition that is an example to emerging democracies around the world,” the Financial Times reports, “Spain can only boast of having had Europe’s last fascist dictator…” After the Generalitat de Catalunya overwhelmingly passed an amendment to Catalonia’s Statue of Autonomy in 2006—defining Catalonia as a “nation” with increased tax and judicial powers—the Spanish Constitutional Court reversed most of the measure in 2010.
The federal government shot down another independence movement in 2008 with the Basque region—which now at least has the ability to levy its own taxes, pro-independence leaders in Catalonia emphasize. Still, economic arguments may split countries apart, but they lack the positive, binding force that creates nationalism, the Guardian concludes in an interview with reputed nationalism scholar Walker Connor.
Ironically, Catalonia—the nation with many more reasons to want independence, in ways beyond just those of economics—faces a substantially more difficult referendum process compared to Scotland, whose less surefire claim will be heard in 2014. Artur Mas is now following Alex Salmond’s example, calling for a referendum on Catalonia’s independence within the next four years.Tagged in: Alex Salmond, artur mas, catalonia, independence, north sea oil, Scotland, spain, uk
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