Independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia

There are many similarities between the independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia. Both can point to historic struggles from the early 18th century as key moments in their campaign. Both have had their language, culture and history suppressed in an attempt to mould the countries they are now. Both saw a surge in support during the 1960s and 70s. And both continue to see widespread if maybe not a majority of support for their cause. But one major difference is that between 1936 and 1939 Spain endured a bloody civil when the Nationalists backed by Germany and Italy fought the Republicans backed by Russia. The German and Italian air forces based in Majorca launched wave after wave of bombing raids on the civilian population. Maybe for the first time ever a war was fought not just on the frontline but in the home towns of non serving personnel. For some people 1939 may seem like ancient history but the scars of the Spanish civil war are still very real today. Catalonia’s mistrust of Madrid is deep rooted. When the Spanish civil war ended the 35 year dictatorship of General Franco started. But the desire for a republic of Catalonia never died and still burns deep in the souls of many of its people. Following the referendum on the 1st of October 2017 the Parliament of Catalonia declared independence from Spain. In response the then Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, dissolved the parliament and called for a general election. As a result of that Parliamentary election, held on the 21st of December 2017, the Parliament of Catalonia has 135 members representing seven parties. The situation is now extremely complex. Under threat of arrest many members of the previous parliament are living in exile, others have been arrested as have civic and cultural leaders. As yet nobody has been put on trial. This has created a tense stand off between Catalonia and Madrid. Speaking to Raul Romeva (ex Catalonian Foreign Affairs Minister) he made the point that dialogue was not possible on an even footing when he has to conduct his half of the conversation from jail. He was at pains to emphasise his commitment to non violent engagement and the democratic process. While understanding the calls for Catalonia to simply declare itself independent he believes dialogue and negotiations are the path to the successful establishment of an independent Catalonia. But he reiterated that is difficult when hundreds of Mayors, politicians, civic and cultural leaders have the threat of imprisonment hanging over their heads. An interesting development is that the replacement for Mr Rajoy, whose government fell after a major financial scandal, Prime Minister Pedro Sànchez has said he wants to improve the regions existing self government and his deputy Carmen Calvo has suggested that the legalistic approach to the Catalan issue would now make way for political engagement. Which brings us back to the political prisoners. Jordi Sànchez, former president of the Catalan National Assembly, told me from his prison that the Supreme Court was contaminated and the majority of judges were using political prisoners as hostages. If this is true then it is hard to see how anyone can enter into negotiations where the agreed outcomes can be trusted. As so often in political life if both sides can’t build respect for each other then meaningful dialogue is extremely if not entirely impossible. While Spain keeps nine people in jail for their part in last October’s referendum, including Carme Forcadell who was carrying out her duties as speaker of the house, it is hard to see where any negotiations can go. The President of Catalonia, Quim Torra has an almost impossible job to have meaningful engagement with Madrid, who remain opposed to Catalonian independence, while the Catalonian people’s democratically elected representatives are either in jail or exile.

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