Scotland and Catalonia: meeting a challenge posed to me online

I started following an account called @societatcc_int on Twitter a while ago. Societat Civil Catalana is a sort of ‘Better Together’ of Catalonia and this is their English language feed. They tweeted a link yesterday to a Bloomberg article about a recent foray by Arturo Mas, the Catalan president (UK readers = first minister), to New York:

The Catalan leader made [a] two-day visit to persuade asset managers and business executives to keep investing in Catalonia and support its secession because separation will guarantee a better economic future for both the Catalans and the Spanish. He also delivered a speech at Columbia University, in which he invoked American poet Robert Frost by likening Catalonia’s path to independence as the road less traveled.

For a Brit/Scot this news bore an uncanny resemblance to some of Alex Salmond’s visits to the States when he was first minister, for example his visit to Harvard in 2008 when he said he wanted

to do full justice to the enormous wealth and potential of modern Scotland and its people … to invite companies and individuals across America to share and join in our success.

We’ll draw a discreet veil over the fact that his speech was entitled Free to Prosper: Creating the Celtic Lion economy and was delivered just before the economic crisis.

Anyhow, struck by the Salmond/Mas congruity I tweeted

Very similar to some Scottish nationalists. Crazy.

Perhaps I should have stayed quiet because I then received a tweet from someone who was clearly a Catalan:

My priority is not Spanish National Union … Am I crazy?

I explained that I had meant the word ‘crazy’ in a colloquial English sense, not literally, and I started to wish that I’d kept quiet. I then had a conversation that to be understood needs to be repeated in full.

ME: If you mean am I against separation from modern European democracies ‘Si’

HIM: Independence of SCO or CAT means “separation from modern European democracies”????

Will Spain try to impose new borders in Europe and block immediate Catalonia admission at UE?

My thesis is that blocking Catalonia’s immediate admission at UE will be too suicidal for Spain

And also consider that Catalans will retain full rights on Spanish and European citizenship

Blocking Catalonia in UE will be completely unacceptable 4 Spain in economical, politics terms

Will Spanish government be willing to commit this total economical suicide?

ME: You write the same things Scottish nationalists wrote. You are both wrong

HIM: Is it possible to have an immediate incorporation of CAT or SCO in UE (if no member blocks)?

(A) Why am I wrong? (tangible please, not wishful thinking) (B) I am not a nationalist.

I replied that attempting a serious response was hopeless on Twitter (at least for me) and promised to put a reply on my blog. Anyone interested only in Scottish politics may have switched off already but stick with it; you may find some issues you recognise.

First, let me thank my correspondent for his politeness and for talking with me in my language not his. If the roles were reversed I would be lost and I hope that my comments that follow are clear and come across with as much reason as his. I start each comment with his own words.

Independence of SCO or CAT means “separation from modern European democracies”????

I didn’t make myself clear here – a constraint of Twitter. What I meant was that both Spain and the UK are democracies and it is only their democratic nature that allows, or permits, some groups to argue freely for separation/independence. Both countries had a struggle to achieve democracy, the UK in a period spanning the 19th and earlier 20th centuries, Spain much more recently after the demise of Franco. In those earlier times dissent of the sort represented by separatists would not have been tolerated. Now, both Scotland and Catalonia have their own governments within larger democratic states and I do not see a need for them to separate. I know that this is not the view of nationalists.

Will Spain try to impose new borders in Europe and block immediate Catalonia admission at UE? … My thesis is that blocking Catalonia’s immediate admission at UE will be too suicidal for Spain … Blocking Catalonia in UE will be completely unacceptable 4 Spain in economical, politics terms … Will Spanish government be willing to commit this total economical suicide? Is it possible to have an immediate incorporation of CAT or SCO in UE (if no member blocks)?

I cannot comment on the detail of the situation in Spain and what the Spanish government might do if Catalonia became independent. But the same arguments were played out in Scotland last year. The Scottish government (Scottish National Party) talked about Scotland’s ‘continuing membership of the EU’ (Scotland’s Future p. 25). The UK government obtained detailed legal advice (paras. 142 – 184) which confirmed that an independent Scotland would need to apply to become a new member and that the process of doing so could be prolonged. There would certainly be no such thing as ‘immediate accession.’

Scotland also provides an example of how other member states could block the accession to the EU of a seceding part of another state. The case of the Spanish government’s potential objection to Scottish membership is well known in the UK. Who is to say that other governments apart from Spain (the United Kingdom, Belgium, France?) might not object to Catalan membership?

Catalans will retain full rights on Spanish and European citizenship

I cannot comment on this statement from a Spanish point of view obviously but it does not sound likely. Maybe after independence Catalans could choose either Spanish or Catalan citizenship and maybe some transitional arrangement could be negotiated that would allow joint citizenship for a while. But in the longer term all states require their citizens to have allegiance to one state only. ‘European citizenship’ is not a concept spoken of widely in the UK and I am not sure what its status might be in law. Insofar as we are citizens of the EU it can only be because we are citizens of the UK, Spain or another member state.

My correspondent says he is ‘not a nationalist.’ Maybe we have a different understanding of words here but he sounds like a nationalist to me – someone who wants his country to be separate from a larger one it is part of already.

There are many other aspects of separation in the UK and Spain that I suspect are similar, for example the generally antipathetic views of major businesses in both Catalonia and Scotland to independence. However, my main interest is in securing the place of Scotland in the United Kingdom. I’ve done an honest job in meeting my correspondent’s request to be ‘tangible please, not wishful thinking’ but I don’t have the time or energy to enter into a long discussion about Spain and Catalonia. I will, as is my usual practice, publish any comments people care to make on the subject.

To conclude, but I hope not to provoke, I offer the thought that the issues around Scottish and Catalan for independence seem to me very similar. Many people in both places, although still a minority, want independence but I just don’t see the point.

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