Leading article

Will Spain learn from Scotland in the battle for Catalan separatism?

Plus: The Spectator reveals Corbyn’s great conference crib

3 October 2015

8:00 AM

3 October 2015

8:00 AM

One of the unforeseen consequences of the reunification of Europe after the Cold War has been a resurgence of independence movements in western Europe. Emboldened by a greater sense of security and influenced by the rebirth of independent nations to the east, separatist parties have begun to challenge the boundaries of nation states which a quarter of a century ago we took for granted.

Scotland’s near miss — a 45 per cent vote for ‘yes’ — inspired the leader of Spain’s Catalonia region, Artur Mas, to launch his own vote on secession. This week, forbidden by Madrid from calling a referendum, he called regional elections in which pro-independence parties formed a bloc: effectively a test, they claimed, of voters’ desire for independence. There was a majority of seats in the regional parliament, but a minority of the votes, leaving Snr Mas with a pyrrhic victory.

Catalonian separatists are unable to command genuine majority support because, as in Scotland, a majority can see that independence from a three centuries-old nation state carries more risks than possible benefits. Simple transactions would become imports and exports. Why make foreigners out of friends and relatives? Then comes the issue of EU membership for Catalonia, which — as with Scotland — is by no means assured and may very well result in Catalans sending to Brussels some of the money they hoped to save in transfers to Madrid.


But Madrid ought to allow Catalans to reach this conclusion without trying to bully them into it. If David Cameron was too laid-back about the Scottish referendum and failed to make the case for the Union until it was nearly too late, the government of Mariano Rajoy has taken the opposite approach. He has threatened to impose direct rule from Madrid and dissolve Mas’s regional government of Catalonia. Over the years, the Spanish government has issued constant reminders that secession is illegal under the Spanish constitution. So it is, but that does not mean that constitutions cannot be changed by parliamentary vote.

Such a tin-eared approach is not going to win the argument. On the contrary, it will merely stir passions, and send moderate voters towards the separatists, to protest against what they see as centralist arrogance. As with all separatist movements, the arguments for Catalan independence collapse when you begin to appreciate that Catalonia itself is hardly a homogenous entity. It is made up of four provinces, dominated by Barcelona. All nation states are the result of historic accidents, ancient wars or intermarriage of royal families. Yes, Catalonia and Scotland were independent in the 16th century. But Europe was then divided into about 500 polities. Should they all be restored too?

It is dangerous for any national government to dismiss the separatists’ case as absurd or criminal. As the forces of globalisation continue to tear down boundaries, it becomes easier for separatists to say that the logic for large nation states has vanished. We are in a new era now. The case for national unity has to be made with passion, clarity and logic. Britain almost fell apart last year, after our government struggled to make a compelling case for unity. Spain should learn from our mistakes.

Corbyn’s crib

Nobody expects politicians to write their own speeches. But it was extremely odd of Jeremy Corbyn to crib large chunks of his first major conference address from a speech that had been sent to — and rejected by — every Labour leader from Neil Kinnock onwards. Corbyn promised to bring in a new kind of politics. Yet in his speech on Tuesday, he lifted several passages directly from a text that had been freely available on a speechwriter’s website for years. That’s a trick that would disgrace a GCSE student, let alone a man who wants to be prime minister.

Corbyn’s team are not used to the level of scrutiny they now face. They probably didn’t think his crib would be exposed within minutes of the speech being given — which it was, thanks to the brilliance of TheSpectator’s writer Alex Massie who broke the story on our Coffee House blog. It was then followed by the national media.

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Show comments
  • SNP “AJOCKALYPSE”

    Just the standard arrogant, ignorant, unionist MSM tripe from the BRITNAT Speccie.

    The people of Catalunya and Scotland are on their own inevitable journeys towards self determination.

    Good luck to the people of Catalunya in determining their future.

    Thankfully in just a few short years the people of Scotland WILL make our decision to be independent.

    #indyref2021

  • Might it be more productive to reflect that Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, whether it was written by Keir Hardie, Allan Massie or Bill Bailey went down extremely well, despite the frantic efforts of consensus-mind media to cry foul, and that he is not playing to the usual agenda or by the rules set by those who wish to form opinion?

    • KingEric

      Went down extremely well with who exactly? Firstly, the amount of people who listened to it was extremely small and for the vast majority, it was probably only the coverage on the news media they saw. Given that the biggest story was that it was a very old speech, given by someone proclaiming himself to offer something new and different, I doubt it changed any minds of the people he needs to change. In other words, his speech ended up as a damp squib.

  • Man on the Clapham omnibus

    I don’t think you know very much about Catalonia and the history of the Catalans. There are two great differences between the Scottish and Catalan situations:

    1. The Scots may, to some extent, dislike the English and the Tories in particular, but it is no more than a dislike. Many Catalans view Castilians and Franco as interchangeable and they have a visceral hatred of both

    2. The economic case for Scottish independence was very thin and with the low oil price nonexistent: in fact there is a strong case for the status quo. This is not true in the case of Catalonia: it has a population of seven million plus; there are more Catalan speakers than Danish speakers; it makes a major contribution to the Spanish state, approximately 8% of Catalonia’s GDP – far more than any likely contribution to Brussels; it uses the Euro and could continue to do so – it is true it would not an independent central bank, but then neither does Spain. Quite simply it is one of the most prosperous parts of Spain along with the Basque country.

    Your point that Catalonia is an amalgam of different entities is absolute nonsense – you may as well say there are many counties in Scotland. In fact the more rural areas outside Barcelona seem to be more strongly in favour of independence. Some of the small rural towns could teach the North Walians a lesson or two in linguistic apartheid – although they always try to speak French or English.

    The most difficult aspect would be the bloody minded attitude of Spanish government and the likelihood that if Catalonia went so would the Basque country. But this will probably just delay things.

    Finally, you are right that Madrid shouting at the Catalans will guarantee their exit.

    • rob232

      There is no mandate for an independent Catalonia. The majority did not vote for a plebiscite.
      In the event of a possible referendum when people tend to vote for the status quo I doubt if more than forty percent would vote for separatism.
      The Spanish constitution doesn’t contemplate independence of different regions. Whose fault is that? Well Catalonia has had enormous influence in Spanish government over the last forty years including forming a national coalition government with both PSOE and PP during eight years. It boasts more than its fair share of diputados in the Cortes. One assumes that the Constitution approved by referendum in 1978 and maintained these last 40 years had Catalan approval at least until recently. One of the advantages of a written constitution is it protects us from the excesses of individual politicians.

      • Man on the Clapham omnibus

        You are probably right, but it does depend on Madrid treating the situation carefully. The point I was making wasn’t that the Catalans would definitely go for independence, rather that unlike Scotland there are few economic problems in doing so, and there are no emotional bonds with Madrid.

    • Zalacain

      “Many Catalans view Castilians and Franco as interchangeable and they have a visceral hatred of both” As irrational a point of view as it gets. That would be similar to people seen Stalin and Russia as interchangeable.

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