Catalonia and Scotland: So distant yet so close

Catalonia and Scotland: So distant yet so close

An analysis and comparison of the Scottish and Catalonian Independence movements.

Throughout the history of humanity, we have seen how our political map widely varies: There are nations that appear, disappear, are conquered, conquer to expand or divide. These complex political phenomena are part of the deepest human identity.

Since its inception, every human being has felt the necessity to group with their peers in the search for security, food and the satisfaction of basic needs. Throughout time, these “groups” may interconnect at such a level to share the same religion, the same values, the same customs, the same songs, the same language and the same culture. This process of national identity formation has always occurred, continues to occur today and will continue to occur in the future, so it is necessary that all States, non-state actors and organizations of the world have the appropriate mechanisms to establish the appropriate methods to resolve differences in the most democratic and peaceful way possible.

The independence movements have always existed and –whether like it or not- are part of us as humanity: Since Biblical times we see the “people of God” in Canaan trying to free themselves from the Egyptian empire (and then Assyrian, and then Babylonian, and then Persian, and then Hellenic and finally the Roman) with the help of God. Throughout the last millennium we have also seen the proliferation of numerous armed conflicts for the restructuring of the territory, the rebellion of the Latin American countries against Spain, France and Portugal, the political maturation of the USA that rises against England and the formation of complex movements of independence in Asia and Africa such as the Independence of India, Pakistan and the countries of the Near East.

Nowadays more of the same happens in Europe: A group of individuals who have united and combined efforts in order to advance are sharing political, social or economic ideas in a such intense way that it has evolved into independence movements. We refer to the Catalonian and Scottish Independence Movements. It is worth analyzing some differences and similarities between them in order to understand them and forming a mature political opinion.

Scotland and Catalonia have never shared the same history, culture, economy or aspirations. Studying the case of Scotland may not help us understand Catalonia, and studying the case of Catalonia may not help us understand Scotland. The only relevant thing that both movements probably have in common is the fact of being part of the history of humanity and of man’s desire to be free and self-determine his destiny. However, the political leaders of both movements support each other to consolidate their respective struggles, and even some opponents have accused them of sowing confusion on purpose to manipulate their followers and win new supporters of the independence cause.

The historical process of formation of the United Kingdom is different from the process through which Spain was constituted as a State: the United Kingdom has no written constitution as long as Spain does and the principle of parliamentary sovereignty around which the British political system is extremely distinct from the principle of national and popular sovereignty around which the Spanish system revolves. Many authors such as John Elliot, Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History of the University of Oxford, have devoted theirselves in order to analyze this question with the broad temporal perspective that the comparative study of history offers, with the purpose of better understanding the separatist movements of Scotland and Catalonia through the Identification of similarities and differences between the two:

The first thing that Elliot finds is an essential difference between both territories that can be decisive when it comes to justifying their respective right to self-determination: Catalonia was never independent, while Scotland was. The Englishmen, of course, tried to conquer it at the end of the thirteenth century, but they failed. The other parts of the United Kingdom, that is, the territories of England and Wales, were part of “composite monarchies”, as were the different parts of Spain. Composite monarchies are those that have incorporated territories by conquest, marriage or disappearance of the ruling dynasty. These territories conserved their laws and institutions until the beginning of the 18th century, because the composite monarchies accepted the plurality of the state and the diversity of the different regions. In those realms, everything depended on a permanent dialogue among the elites in order to negotiate and reach an agreement between parts.

How did Scotland get to be part of the United Kingdom? There was a first integration, following the extinction of the dynasty of Elizabeth I of England. When dying without descendants, James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne as “James I of England”. After the union, there were tensions between Scotland and England, but they were for not for political, cultural or national reasons but mainly for religious reasons, since the king of England was also the head of the Anglican church. On 1660, after the death of Cromwell, Scotland is separated from England due to the dissolution of the Commonwealth.    It is worth noticing that fiscal issues were the main reason that provoked the uprising of the Catalans in 1640. So the historical differences are evident, despite the myths modern independence leaders are interested to spread today.

On 1707 both kingdoms (Scotland and England) signed the Act of Union, which brought about the disappearance of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland and led the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, thus dissolving the parliaments of each of these two kingdoms and establishing the Parliament of the United Kingdom based at the Palace of Westminster. The agreement between both kingdoms was the result of the desire to prevent the Stuarts, who were Catholics, from returning to the throne of England. In addition, the Scottish elite was very interested in him because Scotland was bankrupt following his attempt to colonize Panama. With the Act of Union, which served to crown Queen Anne as monarch of the new United Kingdom, Scotland retained its system of religious government, its laws and its institutions. The Scottish deputies joined the new Common Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The history of Catalonia, however, goes through very different paths. Catalonia was already part of Spain and the rebellion of 1640 was not to get their independence, but to protest the taxes that the king wanted to charge. At the beginning of the 18th century, the War of Succession took place, which led the House of Bourbon to occupy the throne of the country. The new king, Felipe V, wanted to have a United Spain, centralized and governed by an autocratic monarch. He abolished the laws and institutions of the territories that made up the Crown of Aragon. The leaders of Catalan nationalism are interested to show this union as the defeat that led to the submission and decadence of Catalonia, when what actually happened was just the opposite, since, thanks to its integration with Spain and the Spanish empire, Catalonia began to arise in economic terms.

Many years later, at the beginning of the 19th century, romanticism replaced loyalty to kings for loyalty to the nation and, from there, there was talk of modernization, freedom, rights, and attributed to the people a soul. For a long time, in Catalonia a double patriotism prevailed. Loyalty to the country was maintained but the broadest nation was assumed at all times. This fact is being underestimated by modern Catalonian independence leaders.

In this way, different historical processes have led to absolutely different results. The main difference between Catalonia and Scotland is that the Scots do not challenge the British legality, while the Catalan leaders challenge (and induce their followers to challenge) the legality of the Spanish State: The unwritten British Constitution allows for separatist consultations, prior authorization of the Westminster Parliament. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 -which received 90.4% support in Catalonia- does not allow it, like all the majority of European Magna Charts with the exception of the British. In other words, the Scots always act without leaving the legal path. The Catalan separatists advocate breaking the legal framework to call a referendum that is not possible according to Spanish laws. This looks like a small detail but legitimacy and legality have powerful consequences on how peaceful could the political process of separation be made to the benefit of all parts. In that sense, all the Scottish political actions are consented and previously negotiated pacifically with the British government.

As we see, The Catalan separatists would be happy to live alone outside of Spain and outside of Europe (as the members of the CUP party have explicitly said). The Scots, however, desire to remain on Europe and to be integrated into the EU system, respecting and being part of European institutions.

The only thing both movements appear to have in common, is belonging to the history of humanity and their research of freedom –or what they consider it to be so- through sharing political, social and economic ideas strong enough to impulse an independent movement.




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