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Scottish Campaign Boosts Catalan Quest for Independence

Scotland is said to be “causing headaches in Madrid” as support grows for Catalan referendum

Between 500,000 and 1.8 million Catalans turned out for a demonstration last Thursday in Barcelona. Some carried Scottish flags in addition to Catalan ones. (Photo: Jamey M. Photography)

No doubt emboldened by the Scottish campaign to break away from the UK, Catalan politicians are expected to approve a law on Friday that would allow for a vote on independence from Spain this November.

The referendum would be non-binding and will pose two questions: 1) Do you want Catalonia to be a state? 2) And if yes, do you want that state to be independent?

The autonomous region of Catalonia is located in the northeastern part of the country and is home to 7.5 million people who represent about 16 percent of the Spanish population and account for 19 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. It has its own language and culture.

Last Thursday, at least half a million Catalans—some estimates went as high as 1.8 million—descended on Barcelona to demand the right to vote on a potential split from Spain. 

According to Reuters, "participants dressed in red and yellow, the colours of the Catalan flag, and lined up along two of Barcelona's main arteries to form a huge 'V' for 'vote,' visible in aerial footage. Many wore T-shirts saying 'Ara es l'hora' ('Now is the time') in the Catalan language, in a festive atmosphere on Catalonia's national day."

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The issue pits Catalonia against the rest of Spain.

"We don't expect anything good from the Spanish government. All we get is misunderstanding, intolerance, threats and totally anti-democratic attitudes. They've always been like that," said Oscar Sanchez, who is jobless.

"We just want to be treated equally, with respect. Nothing more. We are Catalans, not Spaniards."

Voice of America reported that some of the demonstrators carried Scottish flags in addition to the Estelada, the Catalan flag that combines red-and-yellow stripes with a triangle and star.

The struggle for Catalan independence has some obvious parallels to the Scottish campaign, but there are dissimilarities as well. For one thing, the central government in Madrid opposes the vote, saying it would violate the Spanish Constitution and that the government in Madrid will not allow it to happen.

According to The Local, which reports news from Spain in English, José Manuel García-Margallo, Spain's Foreign Minister, told journalists on Tuesday that his government would use "all means necessary" to stop the planned independence referendum in Catalonia, including stripping the region of its autonomous powers.

The New York Times reports:

Scotland is now “causing headaches in Madrid,” particularly since the British government recently offered concessions to sway Scotland’s voters, said Antonio Roldán, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in London.

“London is offering major devolution of powers to the Scots to incentivize them to remain part of the union, further complicating [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy’s tougher, non-cooperative strategy,” he said.

Still, Mr. Rajoy also has concerns over whether concessions to Catalonia would trigger similar demands from other regions, led by the Basque Country, which has only recently emerged from decades of separatist violence.

London's Center for European Reform analyst Stephen Tindale told Voice of America that Scotland's upcoming vote has ramifications across the European Union, with Spain at the top of the list.

"Support for Catalan is growing, and they are inspired by what the Scottish are doing," Tindale said. "What's happening is being watched very closely by many other parts of Europe, so they [regional governments] can take the message and argue for more powers from their central governments or, in the Catalan case, complete independence."

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