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Scottish independence referendum: bad for Spain, good for Catalonia?

Por: | 24 de febrero de 2014

Catalan independence Pro-independence  waving the flag of Catalonia in Barcelona. Flickr: Ivan McClellan

In an interview with the BBC last week, President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said it would be, ‘very difficult, if not impossible’, for an independent Scotland to continue as a member of the European Union citing Spain as one of the main obstacles for Scotland’s reentry into the EU as an independent state.

Barroso said that member states seeking to prevent their own semi-autonomous regions from calling for independence would almost certainly block Scotland’s membership and that Scotland would have to apply for EU membership in the usual way.

Insinuating Spain would veto Scotland’s entry, Barroso said: “We’ve seen that Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance, so it’s to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country...”.

Reacting to Barroso’s remarks, Scotland’s Finance Minister, John Swinney, said there was no indication any member state would veto Scotland’s membership, even Spain where Catalan separatists are pushing for independence.

Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, recently told Britain’s Financial Times that Spain, “...has no plans to interfere”, in Scotland’s push for independence.

But Spain has always maintained strong opposition to separatist movements in Europe and while García-Margallo refused to comment directly on whether Spain would veto Scottish accession to the EU, he did say that the cases of Scotland and Catalonia were, “fundamentally different”.

Scotland and Catalonia - the facts 


So how threatened should Spain feel that its own autonomous region of Catalonia might fight to follow in Scotland’s footsteps?

As The Economist points out this week, “there are distinct parallels between Scotland and Catalonia, both small nations merged into larger kingdoms in the 1700s both now seeking to rule themselves”.

In November last year, the regional government of Catalonia set the date for a referendum on independence for 9 November, 2014, less than two months after the Scottish referendum. It asked Madrid for permission to hold the referendum, but its plea was rejected last week in the Spanish Congress. Catalans are increasingly looking at David Cameron and the UK’s dealings with Scotland as the democratic touchstone, and bemoaning Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy’s unbudging stance on the matter.

Where the debate and subsequent deals surrounding a referendum on Scottish independence have been relatively polite, seeking to reach agreements where possible, the debate surrounding a Catalan referendum seems at a permanent stalemate: the Spanish government unwilling to budge an inch on the matter.

“I believe that our ties cannot be broken without huge...economic, political and social costs”, wrote Rajoy to the head of Catalonia’s regional government, Artur Mas, in December 2013. In the letter, which came after thousands of Catalans formed a 400 km human chain to push their independence bid and demand a referendum, Rajoy offered to meet for talks, but was clear that there would be no independence vote.

Calls for a referendum on independence in Catalonia have been growing steadily since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008. As Spain’s economic and industrial hub, the region, of 7.5 million people, accounts for around one fifth of the country’s economic output and one quarter of its taxes. Catalans are becoming increasingly fed up with bailing out the poorer regions of Spain, a factor that has contributed to an increase in support for the independence movement.

Recent polls put Catalan support for independence at just over 50 percent with over 80 percent of Catalans wanting the chance to vote on the issue. In Scotland, polls suggest that around a third of the population would vote for independence, but support for the yes vote has been growing in recent weeks.

Even David Bowie waded into the debate this week during his Brits acceptance speech, urging Scotland to, “...stay with us”.

There have been indications that the Spanish government is worried about growing support for Catalonian independence. In December, Spain embarked on a major diplomatic offensive, instructing its overseas embassies to explain why secession was not the answer for Catalonia or Spain.

Rajoy and MasSpanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy and President of the Government of Catalonia, Artur Mas. Mas has vowed to continue to demand a referendum on independence for Catalonia. 

While there are certainly parallels between the two regions, there are also some fundamental differences.

Scotland’s referendum will be simple yes/no vote for independence, while Catalonia’s nationalist groups are split on whether to press for increased devolution, full independence or a version of federalism. The Spanish government maintains that a referendum on independence in Catalonia would be against the Spanish constitution.

“I will see to it that the law and the Constitution are observed. That's my plan for Catalonia. I guarantee that the president will observe the law and will comply with the law", Prime Minister Rajoy reiterated in an interview on Antena 3 TV in January.

While the Scottish National Party has always campaigned for independence and support has hovered at around 30 percent for decades, support for Catalan independence has shot up dramatically from the teens to over 50 percent, many say as a reaction to Spain’s economic crisis and the unfair burden Catalonia has to bear. Critics point to this fact, suggesting the overwhelming surge in support for independence is more a knee-jerk reaction to Spain’s financial crisis.

Scotland’s independence referendum has the power to affect both the Spanish government in Madrid and the pro-nationalists in Catalonia. The government will be worried that Spain’s autonomous communities will follow Scotland’s example and Catalans will feel emboldened to continue pressing Madrid for a referendum.

Despite last week's rejection of Catalans’ calls for a referendum, pro-nationalists show no sign of stopping their fight,

“...we will call new elections by 2016 at the latest and this election will become the election on independence”, said Catalan President Artur Mas, when asked what he would do if the referendum were blocked.

“You cannot convince the Catalan people that they have no right to vote on this. You cannot stop a democratic and peaceful movement like this."           

Hay 14 Comentarios

Hi John, the information is not incorrect. As you can see , this post was written in February, so the figures shown are the percentages as they were reported in February. The percentages you gave are what is currently being reported (in September) the percentage was nowhere near 52% back in February.

Sorry to say, but the information here is incorrect,
At the moment by the most recent survey 52% of Scottish would back independance,

You see John, JordiP is in your side I'm afraid. I'm feeling badly "superseded, at least..."

Johansinho, Cuchillero: your arguments appear to be wrong or false. Superseded, at least. Please have a look on

Johansinho: the vote for the 1978 Spanis Constitution in Catalonia was guided by the hope to fly from the black and hollow hole of the franquism. The constitutional horizon appeared to promise a better position of Catalonia inside Spain. This hopes have been hardly killed by the two main parties ruling the Spanish Government. By the way: Catalonia have never been a part of Spain until the war of Sucession, ended 1715 with the "Decreto de Nueva Planta" dicted by the first Bourbon king, Felipe V. Yet as early as in 1640, Catalonia tried to leave the Spanish double crown and enter below the France rule; this action derived in an ephimere Catalan Republic, stopped "ferro et igne". Since 1715, several selfruling of the catalan society have been crushed by Spain with military means. Facts are facts.

Johansinho: Who is the responsible to attribute to the territories os societys the titulation of "region", "country", "nation" or other? Remember that Bokassa have tittled himself as "emperor". In the Middle Age, the "boss" of Aragon, which was a territory poorer and less populated than Catalonia, wore the royal crown without any kind of modesty. Do not forget that which give a territory the quality of "nation" is not the titulation but the pack of laws and institutions. And Catalonia, a country formed by the union of a handful of counties (with a "primus inter pares" chief count) was, undoubtely. All the rest is nonsense.

Don't be so candid John. The 16 billion are creative accounting as around 14.5 correspond to Catalunya's share of the total national shortfall and thus settled in the books as regional debt. In other words, Catalunya has by no means transferred 14.5 billions of cash out of 16 you're claiming. The roughly remaining 1.5 billions fiscal balance in favour of Catalunya are certainly a modest contribution from, in your own words, "the economic powerhouse in Spain" towards territorial solidarity. It happens in every civilized country, so little merit.

Hi Johansino: 1) alas, based on this Constitution you are touting, Catalonia is a "nationality" and not a "region", right? 2) you continue to avoid defining your concept of productivity; 3) if Catalonia can sustain a fiscal imbalance of €16B per year in favour of the central government, how could it not pay a €50B debt if it became independent? and 4) I thought that when asking for a divorce, it was sufficient to break up if one of the Parties wanted so (self-determination), right?

Hello again John:
I forgot to answer your two questions:
1. The difference between a nationalities and a Country is great and it is imbedded in the Constitution, that all parts of Spain has signed. The constitution in Spain, signed by 95% of Catalonia, does allow for these kinds of votes in any region, only in the country Spain. This is something we should accept.
2. Regarding productivity, Catalonia has a rather big population, which partly explains the high level of debt. However, it is not at all the most productive region in Spain. Navarra, Pais Basco and Madrid are all more productive on a per capita basis.
All the best!

Hello John:
Thank you for the feedback! The fact of the matter is that Catalonia has so much debt that it has no access to the financial markets. In other words, no one wants to lend money to Catalonia, except for Spain that does so at a way too low interest rate, below market, and because Catalonia is a Spanish region. Thus, Catalonia would be bankrupt within a few months without the constant financing my Spain.
Regarding the voting issue: Catalonia signed the constitution with 95% majority recently, in 1978, and all people in the World should follow its constitution. I does not matter if it is the constitution of Norway, the UK (which allows for a referendum in Scotland as Scotland is a country) or Spain (which does not allow for a referendum in Catalonia as Catalonia is not a country). The constitution must be protected at all cost by any democracy and that is why the only way to vote about this is in Spain, not Catalonia, but that has democratically been rejected by a massive majority.
All the best amigos!

Cuchillero: it seems to me that a jurisdiction like Catalonia, capable of contributing 16 billion Euros/year to Spain's equalization funds, should be able to repay 50 billion in total debt much faster without the burden of Spain. Isn't that true?

Well, these sort of things happens among best families. According to The Independent today, "independence row gets vicious as First Minister Alex Salmond accuses UK Government of being 'thieves' who plunder Scotland's oil and gas reserves". Does this language sound familiar in Spain? By the way, in northern Britain the state accounts for a bigger share on the economy that it did in the communist countries in the old eastern bloc, situation that may well applies to Scotland. And it is no a joke whatsoever, Catalunya is technically bankrupted because their wealth has been squandered by greed and irresponsible Catalan politicians for years, patriots as they are called now...

Johansinho: 1) if you believe Catalonia is just a "region", why does Spain's constitution make a distinction between "regions" and "nationalities"? and 2) what do you mean by" productive"? As a matter of fact, Catalonia has the lowest % of public service workers amongst all autonomous communities in Spain and also leads Spain's exports amongst all regions and nationalities. Finally, your point about Catalonia being unable to pay debts when it's the economic powerhouse in Spain is just a joke, right?

The reason Scotland can vote is because it is a country. Catalonia is not at all a country but simply a region. It is the duty of any President to protect the constitution for all citisens, not just the loud once. The Catalans voted for this Spanish constitution with 95% majority as late as 1978 and they cannot change it just because they do not want to pay back all the money they owe and have borrowed from the reat of Spain. Catalonia is alao only the 4th most productive eegion is Spain, after Navarra, Basco and Madrid.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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