By Mark McNaught

In March of this year, delegates from Diplocat (Council of Public Diplomacy of Catalonia) attended the Constitutional Commission’s conference in Paris on a written Scottish constitution.  They appear to have drawn inspiration from it: on June 7 they held the first in a series of academic conferences at Sciences-Po Paris to explain Catalonian independence to a broader audience.

Entitled ‘The Law in Service of Peoples: The Right for Catalonia to Decide’, the conference was composed of jurists, philosophers, Catalonian MEPs, and delegates. Catalans made a strong case for the legality of a referendum, and passionately explained their reasons for seeking independence.

Called after a massive demonstration in Barcelona on September 12, 2012, the most recent election to the Catalonian Parliament gave their independence movement a strong mandate: 105 of 135 delegates now in power are committed to holding an independence referendum.

Catalans are truly envious of what Scotland will have: a legally binding referendum in which both sides promise to accept the results. The Spanish government refuses to even countenance the legality of a referendum, and uses all legal means at its disposal to delegitimize Catalonian independence. In contrast to Scots, Catalans are not legally recognized by the Spanish government as having the right to self-determination, thereby lacking the recognition they so justly desire. Catalans hold David Cameron in high esteem for recognizing the right of Scots to decide their constitutional future.

On the other hand, Scots do not yet have what Catalans have: overwhelming popular support for independence. Polls show at least 60% would vote ‘yes’ in a referendum, thus making  independence a foregone conclusion when the referendum is held.

Despite total opposition from Madrid, Catalans are ploughing ahead with plans for a referendum, and will likely hold it at or near the same time as the Scottish referendum. September 11 commemorates the day in 1714 when Catalonia fell to the Bourbons. How appropriate it would be for Catalans to vote for independence on its 300th anniversary. Scotland and Catalonia can compete to see who recognizes the other first as an independent country.

Catalonia has a darker history under Spain than Scotland within the UK. Franco called the Catalans his ‘Polish’, in reference to Hitler’s treatment of Poland, and acted accordingly. They are still treated with racist contempt by many in the Madrid government. This helps explain the overwhelming support among Catalans for independence, whereas in Scotland relations with the rest of the UK have been much friendlier and independence can seem less existentially threatening.  

Catalonian independence will therefore come about in a much harsher political climate than that of Scotland. Whatever turbulence the Scottish independence campaign is experiencing, it pales in comparison to what Catalans must deal with.  I have it on good authority that the Spanish government has weighed the cost of military occupation of Catalonia if they vote for independence, and simply don’t have the funds. Scots should recognize how civil and peaceful their independence debate is by comparison, and be grateful.

The desire for independence was expressed in a myriad of ways, and for many reasons. The Catalan Parliament actually has more powers than its Holyrood counterpart, but they have little power over taxation to fund and implement their policies. By withholding funds under the guise of austerity, Madrid is able to severely constrain the Catalan Parliament.

Another longstanding grievance has been the lack of action by the Spanish government on the Mediterranean rail corridor, which would make Barcelona an even more important port of entry for goods, especially from North Africa and Asia. Construction would bring enormous economic benefits, yet some in the Spanish government have threatened to re-route the corridor to avoid Barcelona, if they ever get around to building it.

But perhaps the most succinct formulation was that Catalans are tired of being an ‘arm’ of the Spanish state. They want to have their own body politic.

What is inspiring for Scots is to see the Catalans, despite centuries of often brutal Spanish rule, slowly gaining self confidence and asserting their right to self-determination. Catalans are united with Scots in their desire for recognition of their own sovereign state, which will find its place among the often dysfunctional family of nations.

Above all, this conference shows that Scotland will not walk alone in its quest for independence.

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.


# UpSpake 2013-06-11 07:05
I tend to disagree with Mark that Scotland's referendum is not an existential matter. I firmly believe it is.
Only a decisive majority for Scotland to resume nation status will do. A 51/49 Yes will cause great trouble and a No vote will be the existential component I truly fear.
Scotland will be emasculated in a No vote. The very worst of the establishments bile towards Scotland will erupt in full flow. Scotland would cease to exist as a socially just society, we could wave good-bye to our Health Service. Just like the clearances and the post Jacobite era, all vertiges of our nation will be subsumed by the Great British state so, sorry Mark, I just disagree that we are on a painless journey.
# Jo Bloggs 2013-06-11 08:23
I agree with Upspake for once. And if Catalonia has truly suffered more than Scotland from its Union, then it must have been dire indeed. The problem for Scots is that the deep sufferings, deprivation etc have all been effectively defined out of existence, made to appear inevitable due to Scotland's supposed 'backwardness', rather than a direct result of losing power over our country to our extremely hostile and avaricious neighbour.
# InfrequentAllele 2013-06-11 20:03
There's no doubt that the Catalans have suffered more. Within living memory, thousands of people were murdered, were "disappeared", put into internment camps, given long prison sentences, tortured, or driven into exile for supporting Catalan self-determination. People were even arrested simply for speaking Catalan in a public place.

The grandfather of a friend of mine spent 2 years in prison - where he was tortured and beaten regularly - just because the local Guardia Civil officers thought he spoke Spanish badly - like many people from rural areas in the early 20th century in Spain, he had had little formal education.

Nothing similar has occurred in Scotland since the Jacobite Rebellions of the 18th century. But in Catalonia they were happening as recently as the 1960s and 70s.

Mark is not arguing that Scotland is on a painless journey. He's saying that in Scotland we are able to debate independence without having to seriously consider whether Westminster might invade Scotland and put us under military occupation if the referendum produces a Yes result. For Catalans however, Spanish military intervention remains a very real threat.
# SolTiger 2013-06-12 07:29
Yet even through all this the Catalans have held onto their own language, news papers, TV stations and so on.

London has done a much better job disabling national identity in Scotland than Madrid has in Catalonia.

Ofcourse I am a horrific pessimist the fact that the Catalans are willing to stand up despite all the threats is inspiring but also serves to highlight the apathy and scottish cringe here in comparison.
# Breeks 2013-06-12 08:29
I am really stumped to explain the difference in attitudes. I find the anger of the Catalans the easiest thing in the world to understand, and their objectives are crystal clear.

Scotland has the same objectives, but it isn't our people who are being directly abused and imprisoned, it is our Scottish state, and it's been held captive so long none of us is really sure we'll recognise the friend we've never met.

There's a line in Highlander film which mentions the 'quickening' as the end game approaches, and 'there can be only one'. That's just a film, but I hope we see the 'quickening' begin to materialise in the Scottish psyche over the next few months.

I don't judge Scots by their apathy. Fuel the mind with ideas, expose the truth, and the Scots will do the right thing with a smile on their face and a grim determination in the heart.
# newparadigm 2013-06-13 15:35
The Catalans are in a difficult position. Madrid simply sticks to the line that a referendum would be unconstitutiona l. And so it would. But the constitutional perspective is flawed: in effect it means Catalonia can never become independent no matter how strong the support for independence among Catalans. One likely scenario is that a vote is held, and a majority votes yes. A few years go by with Madrid continuing to insist that Catalonia is part of Spain. Catalonia nonetheless evolves into a state while other countries respond in varying ways.
One thing is pretty certain. Any vicious response from Madrid will NOT stop independence and will attract global condemnation. The constitution favours Madrid, but realpolitik favours the Catalans.
One criticism of the article: there are no "foregone conclusions" in matters like these, whatever the polls say. If we took that attitude in the case of Scotland, we'd be assuming a no vote.
# Breeks 2013-06-14 07:31
Scotland's desire for independence doesn't fit the mould. In many ways, it's more like a divorce in progress.
Scotland is the 'trophy' wife, retained to look pretty, add baubles to the marriage, and keep her trap shut because she isn't there for her opinion.
She doesn't find divorce the easy way out, because being a trophy wife has some advantages, and she can persuade herself these advantages make her life fulfilling and tolerable, but the real person inside is never allowed to bloom.

Only with the emancipation of independence will 'trophy wife' Scotland begin to realise her opinion does matter, she does have a say, and her dowry and estate actually belongs to her. She will begin to realise how her partner in marriage has deliberately eroded her confidence and driven down her self esteem through fear that the bonds of marriage were not strong enough to hold the thing together.

Scotland is contemplating divorce, not revolution.

You must be logged-in in order to post a comment.


Donate to Newsnet Scotland


Latest Comments