Scottish independence vote watched closely in Catalonia

The vote for Scottish independence may be over, but the effort by the separatists has not gone unnoticed around the world. Other political movements demanding independence or greater autonomy from Italy to Nigieria have taken heart from "yes" forces in Scotland and are agitating for their own vote to fulfill the national aspirations of their people.

A coalition of parties in northern Italy is seeking a regional vote for independence. The Northern League includes the city of Venice, who eye re-establishing their old republic. There are the Basques in Spain who have fought an armed struggle for independence for decades, and are now, after laying down their arms in 2011, agitating for the Spanish government to allow a vote.

Africa, with its artificial boundaries drawn by European powers, is rife with armed separatist movements. The Flemish people, a distinct minority in Belgium, already enjoy a measure of autonomy and are seeking more.

The Wahoons, the Sardinians, the Corsicans -- all have seen independence movements receive a boost from the Scots.

But the next battlefield for independence will probably be in the rich, industrial region of Spain known as Catalonia. The Catalans are an ethnic minority with their own history, culture and language. Until 1700, Catalonia was an independent kingdom. Then, the War of the Spanish Succession resulted in their loss of independence and Castile brought the kingdom under the control of the Spanish crown.

But the drive for Catalonian independence has as much to do with economics as it does the desire for a Catalonian state:

The pro-independence forces claim that Catalonia’s fiscal imbalance with Spain’s national budget amounts to $20 billion (US dollars) per year, according to figures from the Catalan government’s finance minister. This office claims that Catalonia—origin of a quarter of Spain’s exports—suffers an insufficient investment and financial disadvantage since it generates nineteen percent of Spain’s GDP and receives back eleven percent in expenditure from the central government. Indeed, with a population of 7.5 million out of 46 million, Catalonia is, after Madrid, the second-wealthiest of Spain’s seventeen so-called autonomous communities, as stated in the last available Spanish government’s National Statistics Institute account, which excludes the Basque Country and Navarre because they benefit from a special fiscal regime due to their historic “foral” tradition. However, Catalonia is also the most indebted autonomous community among the communities.

Madrid responds to Catalan complaints by claiming that Catalonia receives special assistance from the Spanish government, outside of money from the national budget, in the form of ad hoc loans to make payments not previously planned for. (The central government is in fact its only lender, since Spanish law blocks access by the autonomous communities to shop for loans on international markets.) Spain also insists that solidarity must be at the core of relations among its regional governments. But this has proven a double-edged sword since the separatists claim that Catalonia is discriminated against within this community, noting that Spanish investment in Catalonia (i.e., annual government budgeting for the region) will drop twenty-five percent compared to an average decrease of 7.2 percent for the nation as a whole during the current belt-tightening effort to stop the country’s economic free fall. Catalan nationalists refer to this imbalance as “plunder.”

The imbalance is more than an irritant. It highlights the region's importance as an industrial and financial center. Barcelona is one of the jewel cities of Europe, and even threatening independence causes Madrid to become extremely nervous.

The Catalonian president has called for a referendum on independence in November. The Spanish government is seeking to block the vote in the courts:

Catalan President Artur Mas has promised a referendum allowing Catalans to decide whether they want the northeastern region to break away from Spain. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to block the move in the courts, saying such a vote would be unconstitutional.

The vote would come nearly two months after an independence vote in Scotland. Mas has said a "yes" vote in Scotland would be positive for Catalonia's independence movement. Scotland's referendum follows a 2012 agreement between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond.

Just 23 percent of those surveyed in a Metroscopia poll published in El Pais said Catalonia should press ahead with the referendum, even if it is declared illegal. This is the stance of Mas's coalition partner, the separatist party ERC.

The poll showed 45 percent of those surveyed believed Catalonia should respect the decision of the court and 25 percent said the region should look for other legal ways to redraw its relationship with Spain.

A NC Report poll, published in La Razon newspaper, showed 55 percent of Catalans would not support the referendum if declared illegal. Both polls surveyed 1,000 people.

The wealthy region of 7 million people has its own language and cultural identity and has long sought greater self-rule. Central government spending cuts during a deep recession have helped fuel independence sentiment.

The Metroscopia poll found just 27 percent of those polled wanted full independence from Spain, with 42 percent wanting Catalonia to form a part of Spain but under new terms. Many Catalans want more power over taxes and welfare spending.

The courts are likely to side with Rajoy, but that won't dampen the pro-independence sentiment, The Catalans have been waiting for 300 years. They can wait a little longer.


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