Following the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, which saw the Scottish nationalists win a majority of four and 45% of the vote, the British government acknowledged the will of the Scottish people to have a say on their future; whether it be as an independent nation or a continued member of the United Kingdom. The following year, the governments of both Scotland and the UK signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which gave the Scottish Government the legal basis to hold a referendum on the nation’s future. This referendum resulted in a ‘No’ vote for independence, but still the British Government promised further devolution, which is now working it’s way through parliament as the Scotland Bill.
This description is not only a summation of the recent political happenings north of the border but is also an illustration of the Conservative government’s approach to the question of Scotland’s place in the Union; an approach that achieves a balance of supporting a continuation of the United Kingdom with the rights of Scots to self-determination.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the conservative government in Spain’s response to ‘the Catalan problem’.
Following the 2015 Catalan Parliamentary elections, the newly formed, cross-party secessionist bloc Junts pel Si (together with the independence-oriented CUP) won a majority of four and 47.8% of the vote. However, despite the uncanny similarity in support for the Catalan nationalists in 2015 as the SNP in 2011, the Spanish approach differed considerably to that of the British government. In fact last week, in the latest in a long line of conflicts between the Spanish government and its regional counterpart in Catalonia, Madrid blocked a majority vote by the Catalan parliament to work towards a declaration of independence within 18 months.
This difference in approach by two centre-right, unionist governments is telling. David Cameron himself perhaps most eloquently explains this divergence. In response to the public consultation on Catalan independence, which saw 80% vote in favour of an independent Catalan state, Cameron stated: “I don’t believe that, in the end, [it’s right to] try to ignore these questions of nationality, independence, identity…I think it’s right to make your arguments, take them on and then you let the people decide”.
And this difference of approach, as outlined above, is one of the reasons why I find myself in the peculiar position of being both a firm supporter of the United Kingdom on the one hand and a staunch supporter of Catalan independence on the other.
But it is not only the negligence of the Spanish government to the issues surrounding Catalan identity and nationhood, at odds with that of the UK government approach to Scotland, that drive me to support the Catalan case and not the Scottish but also the very real differences within the nature of these movements.
Both at face value and in its campaigning the Scottish independence movement is far more policy focussed than its Catalan equivalent. The Scottish Nationalists try to portray themselves as more progressive than the UK-wide parties and more in-tune with the Scottish political landscape. They oppose nuclear weapons; they are firm Europeans (to reflect the, generally, more Pro-EU positions in Scotland than the rest of the country); and they vigorously oppose the austerity politics of Westminster. Also, the main argument in the referendum appeared to be that Scotland is always at odds with the government in London, in that it doesn’t vote for the ruling party, and should therefore break away in order to have a more representative government.
However, in Catalonia the independence movement has much more of a focus on culture than policy. The Catalan language, the official language of the region, is seen as the font from which all other Catalanism springs. Banned during Franco’s rule, the language is now spoken by over 80% of those living in Catalonia. Furthermore, Spanish is only taught as a foreign language in schools whereas Catalan is mandatory. This is not the case in Scotland where English is by far the most widely spoken language, with only 1.1% of Scots being able to speak Gaelic as well as English.
This policy versus cultural motivation for independence is not the only difference between the Scottish and Catalan quests for independence. There are also a number of economic and historical differences.
Historically, Scotland was never entirely conquered by England. Alternatively, Scotland voluntarily joined the United Kingdom following the accession of James I to the throne and the signing of the Treaty of Union, which took effect in 1707. In the case of Catalonia, military activity was essential in it becoming part of Spain. This was true in the 1700s and the 1930s, as Catalonia was the centre of resistance against Franco’s fascism. Following Franco’s victory, all traces of Catalan culture and government were swept away in a climate in which reading a Catalan book was grounds for arrest.
Even the Eurovision Song Contest saw Catalanism expunged, with the Spanish representative for the 1968 contest being replaced as he sung in the Catalan language. The following year in Madrid, the United Kingdom would win the contest by sending a young Scottish artist named Lulu.
Economically differences also arise. Although the SNP feel hard done by under the current arrangement, Scotland only contributes to 8.3% of UK economic output. Catalonia, on the other hand, makes up around 20% of the Spanish economy. As well as this, Scotland receives around 3100 GBP more than England per capita, compared to Catalonia subsidising the rest of Spain to the tune of 2600 GBP per capita. Therefore, the economic arguments for secession are clearly more in Catalonia’s favour than Scotland’s.
Although I consider myself a supporter of the Catalan independence movement, that does not make me a blanket supporter of all other attempts for national secession. It does, however, make me a firm believer in the right to self-determination. Yet this should only occur when an evidenced wish for that right is demonstrated, which was most certainly the case in Scotland in 2011 and I believe to be the case in Catalonia now. There are a multitude of opinions on secession and self-determination in the UK at the moment, amongst people of all political beliefs, due to the current situation in Scotland. For this reason we must pay close attention to the exchanges between Madrid and Barcelona and make sure our dealings with the Scottish Government in Edinburgh are much more constructive, effective and mutually beneficially than those limited discussions in Spain. Only then will we be able to fully secure the glorious relationship between the constituent nations in our United Kingdom for all posterity.