Catalans and Scots: Same dreams, different history

11th September 2014, Comments 0 comments

The surge in support for Scottish independence ahead of next week's referendum has encouraged Catalans trying to break from Spain, but the two campaigns grew out of very different circumstances that could define their success.

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans are expected on the streets of Barcelona on Thursday to demand a referendum on independence -- exactly one week before the vote in Scotland that looks set to be painfully close.

The Scottish referendum has caused political tensions in Britain but no mass protests or violence -- a fact experts attribute to the political nature of the United Kingdom.

The 1707 Act of Union joined England and Scotland but preserved the latter's institutions, including the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which remains distinct from the Anglican Church of England.

The creation of the UK "was at least constitutional, not a conquest", said Professor David McCrone, a political expert at the University of Edinburgh.

"There was always the possibility for Scotland of seceding and that could be a political crisis but not a constitutional one."

By contrast, Catalonia is seeking to break away from a single unified state, making it a much more troublesome constitutional question -- and one that Mariano Rajoy's government in Madrid has vowed to prevent.

The dispute between Spain and Catalonia "gives the impression that the two parties are involved in a bull-fight", remarked Josep Maria Colomer, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

- Economics and power -

Catalonia lost its status during the 1701-1715 Spanish wars of succession, when it backed the wrong contender for the throne and was punished by king Philip V with the abolition of its institutions.

In the following two centuries, Catalonia became the economic engine of Spain as the country slowly declined, culminating in the loss at the end of the 19th century of its biggest colonies, Cuba and the Philippines.

At that point, Spain "went from being a major world power to a country in the second division," said Luis Moreno, who conducted his PhD in Edinburgh on comparisons between Scotland and Catalonia.

And the entity of Spain became something of a burden to its two richest regions, Catalonia and the Basque Country.

By contrast Scotland prospered under the United Kingdom, which offered access to a huge empire, and the global impact of Scots is evident from the number of Campbells and Donalds in cemeteries in India and telephone directories in Canada.

These days, Scotland has access to the oil and gas reserves in the North Sea, and while Catalonia lacks natural resources, it has a strong services industry.

The average income is 27,300 euros ($35,300) a year in Catalonia and 32,700 euros ($42,300) in Scotland, in both cases higher than the state-wide average.

After the union, Scotland retained some legal independence in the UK as well as political influence, not least in providing British prime ministers.

In the last 50 years at least three were born in Scotland -- Harold MacMillan, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown -- but you have to go back to the 19th century to find a Catalan prime minister of Spain.

- Language and superiority -

Scotland covers 78,772 square kilometres and has 5.2 million inhabitants, while Catalonia is smaller and more densely populated, with 7.5 million people in 32,107 square kilometres.

Both have their own parliaments and devolved governments, while Catalonia has its own language that is widely used and taught in schools.

By contrast, barely one percent of the population speak Scots or Scottish Gaelic.

"For Catalonia, the national movement has long been about preserving a distinctive cultural heritage", while the Scottish nationalists have "expressly rejected the more 'cultural' definitions of Scottishness", said Charlie King, professor of international affairs at Georgetown.

Instead, they focus on their "Scottish" values, "in particular, the idea that Scots are natural social-democrats at odds with the conservative stance of the present UK government", he said.

McCrone agrees: "I would not say that Catalan nationalism is about language, but the language issue is the catalyst in many ways, and that is absent in Scotland."

For Jose Vicente Rodriguez Mora, an economics professor at the University of Edinburgh, "Catalan nationalism is defined by a sense of superiority towards Spain".

A Barcelona native who helped found the anti-independence Catalan party Ciutadans, he said Scottish nationalism instead arises from a sense of wanting to prove themselves.

"It is not that they feel less than the English, by contrast, they are proud of being Scottish and want to prove that they can also" run their country, he said.


© 2014 AFP

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