dimecres, 8 d’agost de 2012

The Road to Independence in Catalunya and Scotland- A Brief Overview


As Scotland moves towards a 2014 referendum on possible independence from the UK, many in Catalunya will be following the campaign with nervous excitement. A victory for the ‘Yes’ campaign could set a legal and constitutional precedent for gaining independence from within an EU member state, a precedent that would affect any Catalan attempt to become independent from Spain. The left-wing independence party, the Esquerra Republica Catalana have shown the importance of the Scottish vote as they launched a website earlier this year following the Scottish referendum campaign. But just how similar are the situations is these two would-be nations?

The ERC's website-  referendumescocia.cat
History
The histories of both countries are as colourful as they are complex and the individual intricacies of each deserve a much longer and closer analysis than I will offer here. But a simplified historical overview presents certain similarities. Both were independent nations in their own right until they were joined with their encompassing states through a unification of crowns, and both have fought bloody battles in the name of independence. Both retain their own flag, national anthem and a distinct cultural heritage whilst retaining a strong historical claim for independence.

Left The War of the Reapers (Catalunya, 1640-59) Right The Battle of Bannockburn (Scotland, 1314)


Modern Times
Such events may date back the best part of a millennia, yet historical facts have remained central to the progression of pro-independence movements in the modern era. The end of European imperialism completely changed the map of the world and returned the concepts of nation and independence to the front of peoples minds, especially in those places that had known and lost statehood. The return to democracy in Spain after the death of Franco in 1975 allowed Catalans to emerge from years of oppression and begin to dream of independence once again. The Catalan Parliament was re-instated in 1979 but Scotland had to wait until 1999 to elect a parliament of its own. Meanwhile international developments continued to bring the question of independence to the fore. When the dismantling of the USSR led to independence for several new eastern European states, it was questioned whether they could survive outside of the soviet bloc. However, the economical viability of these smaller nations without the support of imperial benefactors has been proven, especially within the framework of a modern European Union. In the current economic climate many Catalans and Scots are starting to believe independence would mean a more stable albeit smaller economy whilst the EU struggles through the worst recession since World War 2. As the possibility of independence has become a reality, public opinion in Catalunya has swerved dramatically in favour of independence. Opinion polls from several sources show that support for complete Catalan independence has risen from around 20 to almost 50 percent over the last decade. In Scotland, despite recent polls show support for Scottish independence has stalled, the fact that Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party achieved a majority in 2011 with a manifesto promise to call a referendum suggests that Scots share a desire for full independence.

Right The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh. Left The Parlament de Catalunya, Barcelona.
Yet for all these percieved similarities, the political atmosphere in Spain and the UK differs hugely. For one, events of the recent past have ingrained a subtle xenophobia towards Catalunya in the minds of many Spaniards. Catalunya was, along with the Basque Country, a main source of dissent against Francos ideal of a united, Castillian Spain throughout the years of dictatorship, a fact that has left many more patriotic Spaniards full of resentment. In turn, many Catalans protest the fact that the majority of the taxes from one of wealthiest regions of Spain are spent in other autonomous regions, while very little returns to the autonomous government in Barcelona. The fact that similar levels of historical and economical resentment can not be seen between Scots and the rest of the UK is perhaps the main reason why the Scottish referendum process has managed to get this far. The issue of language is a further key difference. Since the fall of Franco the Catalan language has become a vital political tool among a populace where 38% use Catalan habitually, and language is held up as evidence of  having a linguistically differentiated culture from the rest of Spain. Such a situation does not exist in Scotland, where native languages such as Gaelic and Scots have all but disappeared.

Needless to say, emotions surrounding this topic are incredibly strong, and I have only touched on several key ideological points here, perhaps to my discredit. Hopefully I can revisit these issues in future blog posts. But for now Spaniards and Catalans alike will watch the Scottish referendum unfold with bated breath,  as this simple overview provides once very possible conclusion; A victory for the Yes campaign will bring great encouragement to Catalan nationalists and set an important precedent within the EU while a vote for ‘No’ could mean the struggle for Catalan independence being pushed back another generation.

Links of Interest:

Sources: Institut d'Estadística de Catalunya,  Centre d'Estudis d'Opinió