Friday, September 12, 2014

The troublesome Scots and Catalans have much in common!

A little over ten years ago we sold our house in Scotland to buy a house in Catalonia. This may sound like a frying-pan into the fire decision, in the light of the separation movements in both Spain and the UK! But in effect our affection for Scotland and for Spain's most troublesome region is not a coincidence. Both Catalonia and Scotland are beautiful - and both are distinctive from, though wedded to, their bigger partners. Their peoples are at the same time both alike the rest of their Nation State, and very different from it.

To visit Catalonia is different from, in particular, the Andalusian part of Spain. The language is different for a start. Catalan is not a dialect of Castilian Spanish, it is an entirely different language. Franco tried to suppress it, because he saw it as a threat, but you can't kill a language any more than you can a culture. Both survived the dread years of Franco's dictatorship though the legacy of those years remains. For the Catalan Barcelona is far more a capital city than Madrid. To some extent this is also true of Edinburgh though I feel that the Scots get the best of both worlds. They have a country capital in Auld Reekie - surely one of Europe's loveliest cities. In addition they have the world's greatest city, London, as the capital of the State of which they are also part. I know Catalans who hate Madrid with a vengeance. I have never met a Scot who hates London, though (of course) many are not too keen on Westminster!

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games opening ceremony there was a glorious celebration of things Catalan. Remember it was less than twenty years since Franco and there was an understandable wish to celebrate the extent of the recovery from those grim years. Catalans are businessmen above all else and Catalonia had in many ways led Spain's recovery. Spain's membership of the European Union from 1986 was crucial to this recovery and to this day you see more EU flags in Catalonia than you do Spanish ones. But the Catalan flag is now everywhere - for forty years under Franco it was banned.

Pride unites Catalonia and Scotland. Arguably the Catalans have the more distinct culture driven primarily by the language. But the comparison is still a valid one right down to the fact that both are autonomous regions of their mother State with a high degree of self-governance. The nationalist forces in both are strident and peaceful - the Catalans have never taken to arms against Madrid, unlike their Basque neighbours. And nor, of course, have the Scots unlike their fellow Celts across the Irish Sea.

The cases for Scotland to remain British and for Catalonia to stay Spanish are similar and strong. With devolution the Scots and the Catalans get the best of both worlds - autonomy on the one hand and a strong influence over the Governance of a major European state on the other. Both Scotland and Catalonia could function independently, and both Britain and Spain would suffer if they respectively did. Unlike the Scots the Catalans don't have the choice - though if a Scotland votes "Yes" the pressure in Spain to give Catalonia the same option would be immense.

Spain is struggling in confidence and economically in serious trouble. In such times nationalist movements flourish. The Scots "Blame Westminster" and the Catalans "Blame Madrid" are two sides of the same coin. Those of us who argue that these are times for cooperation at national and supranational level and not times to split apart sometimes struggle to fight the simplicities and the gut appeal of the nationalists. The Scots have never been forced to be English (the very idea!) but the Catalans were forced to be Spanish when they didn't want to. The resentment remains. There is no equivalent in Iberia to "Great Britain" - no concept similar to "Britishness". This creates a stridency and a polarisation absent from the debate in Scotland. Even most pro-independence Scots, including Alex Salmond, are not anti-English. They just want to be free of the United Kingdom. Not really the same thing as those Catalans who are virulently anti-Spanish.

Secession is comparatively rare and the idea that two of Europe's great nations could lose part of their historic state is alarming. I know Scotland and Catalonia well and see both as legitimately different and distinctive from the rest of the nations of which they are part. But I believe that they and those nations benefit hugely from being an active part of a greater whole. I hope that the Scots set a mature example to their Catalan fellow-travellers. We would all benefit from a bit of national unity in these difficult times.


At 8:29 am , Blogger mstrubell said...

In the process of signing in with Google, the system was kind enough to erase a rather long reply.
In short, Spain had had two competint political ideologies for the past 400 years. One is,a Swiss, federal model in which each of the founding nations, or peoples, could carrying on running their own things in a highly devolved fusion as they had up until then. The other is the French centrakising and uniformisibg model. There have been wars and military coups over this issue, for several centuries.
The outcome of the attempt to gain more devolution that 89% of Catalan MPs wanted led to an unsatisfactory 2006 Statute of autonomy, which was hacked to pieces by the utterly discreditted Constitutional Court in 2010. Since then the independence movement has,seller almost by the dau. The powerful ruling caste has not budged from a confrontational (we're the bosses here, you just shut up). They are the "troublesome" people, not the Catalans, who want their people to survive, and want to be able to prevent excessive milking of Catalonia's economy (in the form of taxes and gross underinvestment) from continuing to slide down the regional table as a result.
There was more, but I'm running out of time right now. I like to getting together when you're next over!


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