LLUÍS FOIX, 17 February 2023
Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images
The 2016 Brexit referendum has taken down four British Prime Ministers – Cameron, May, Johnson and Truss – in just six years. And Scotland’s 2014 referendum has sacrificed Alex Salmond and now Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s chief ministers, both of whom had high popularity ratings when they legally pushed for Scottish independence from the UK. The unilateral declaration of independence in Catalonia was the first cause that cost Artur Mas, Carles Puigdemont and Quim Torra the presidency of the Generalitat.
I know that things are not so simple and that it is risky to draw parallels with the long process of union and disunion between the Scots and the English and between the Catalans and the Spanish. In the last book by the great Hispanist John Elliott (1930-2022), “Catalans and Scots”, it is stated that when the greatest conflicts have arisen in Catalonia and Scotland with respect to Spain and the United Kingdom, the European factor has been decisive in tipping the balance towards agreed or forced union.
Since the birth of the nation state at the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the alteration of borders in Europe has been the consequence of war, mutual agreement between the two parties or international treaties.
One of the arguments for the unfeasibility of Catalan independence is that it is highly unlikely to come about against Spain and without Europe. The same is true of Scotland, which has very strong reasons to secede from the UK. One of them is that 62% of Scots voted to remain in the EU. Europe has not pronounced itself on what attitude it would take if Scotland or Catalonia were to become independent.
Settling historical disputes with a referendum is an unnecessary risk
Resolving historical, real and permanent disputes with a referendum is an unnecessary risk. The negative effects of Brexit are admitted by many of those who pushed for it and those who voted for it.
The conflict of interests, emotions and feelings will continue. Elliott argues that until Madrid and London take more seriously what is happening in Catalonia and Scotland, political coexistence to accommodate the new times of plural and interdependent societies will be impossible.