Homage to Catadonia
Generally I hesitate to comment on politics and social issues on the blog but, having laid my hat over the years both among the Catalans and the Scots and with both nations now in the process of organising a plebiscite on a proposed independent future, for once I am making an exception.
Although their histories and economies differ substantially, there is much that Catalonia and Caledonia have in common. The political union with their larger neighbours, forged in the mists of history among kings and barons, is taken for granted by Madrid and London respectively, surviving by inertia and during certain periods, admittedly, by a common interest. But the times they are a-changing and central government’s off-handed contempt for their junior partners’ aspirations has been creating frustration and building up the head of steam now powering the movement for independence.
Of course, the very notion of challenging the status quo gives offence to those whose patriotic identity harks back to a “great” imperial past and, in the Spanish case, also to the Francoist “España, Una, Grande y Libre.” But, to my eyes, Catalans and Scots find themselves locked into a State whose backward-looking citizens persist in imposing arrogant right-wing neoliberal central governments on them contrary to their own preferences. Neither the UK Conservatives nor the Spanish Partido Popular have any substantial support among their respective minority nations – with what share of the vote they had diminishing over the years as they decreasingly responded to the aspirations of the junior partners.
The stink of corruption
The Catalan position is aggravated by the corruption pervading Spain and its political classes, surpassed in Europe only by Rumania. That is not to say that corruption does not occur in Catalonia, but it is relatively minor in comparison to the levels experienced elsewhere in the kingdom and particularly among their Valencian cousins to the south. The amount of public funds (largely from the EU) channelled into non-viable infrastructure projects or into the pockets of politically-allied fraudsters is truly staggering adding to the catastrophic effects of the bank rescue needed when the property bubble burst so spectacularly. Catalans rightly complain that they are being forced to pay disproportionately through their taxes and higher road tolls and they want to control their own finances, for better or worse.
Archaic nation states
Both Scots and Catalans have to battle against the unfit-for-purpose state structure defended by the EU élite nations (whatever happened to the Europe of the Regions?) which absurdly threaten exclusion from the club if independence is declared in their anxiety to quash secession by the Basques, Corsicans, Flemish who are also straining at the leash of centralism. There are perfectly good arguments for smaller nations to be self-governing (especially within a unified Europe), such as the prosperity and economic flexibility of those that already have their own state (the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands etc.) or have the federal structure such as Germany’s which would have addressed Scots and Catalan demands had they been offered.
And of course there are perfectly good reasons why the larger states should not want to lose out from losing chunks of their population, economy and geography (oil particularly in the UK’s case, tourism and transport links to Europe in Spain’s). It might diminish London and Madrid’s weight in international arenas, but no-one seriously proposes that Tesco, for instance, might give up its Scottish market or Corte Inglés/Hipercor its Catalan one if they went their own way, nor that Scotland or Catalonia might set up barriers if they were fully integrated into the EU in their own right. So threats that their economies would plummet irretrievably post-independence are absurd.
But in the final analysis, Catalans and Scots should be allowed to choose their own future, first and foremost because self-determination is a Right. If they make mistakes, it will be their own and not induced by those who do not share – and often show contempt for – their culture and society. And if they have the confidence to do things differently and hopefully better – let them!