Scotland and Catalonia are brothers in arms. Independence movement leaders communicate regularly. On September 18, when Scotland voted on uncoupling from the United Kingdom Catalans were there. When Catalonia votes on independence, a vote originally scheduled for November 9th but delayed pending a court decision, Scots will certainly be in attendance.
Scotland and Catalonia have much in common: similar populations (Scotland 5.5 million, Catalonia 7.5 million), a similar fraction of their Mother Country’s population (Scotland 8.4 percent, Catalonia 16 percent), a similar historical moment when they lost their sovereignty (Scotland 1707, Catalonia 1714), a similar historical discrimination against their native languages (Gaelic and Catalan).
But in key ways the two are quite different. All of Scotland was never militarily conquered by England. It voluntarily entered into what became the United Kingdom and retained many of its institutions, although not its Parliament. Catalonia, on the other hand, fell to the Bourbon King Felipe V after a brutal two-year siege of Barcelona. In the aftermath Catalan institutions were wiped out and the use of the Catalan language severely constrained. In the 1930s Catalonia was the center of resistance to Franco and fascism and when Franco, with the aid of Germany, won he deepened its cultural annihilation to the point where even reading in Catalan made one subject to arrest.
In Catalonia language is an essential point of dispute. In Scotland it is not. While both countries revived education in their ancient languages in the 1980s, Catalonia was much more aggressive. Catalan is Catalonia’s official language. Schools teach Spanish only as a foreign language. Today less than 2 percent of Scotland speaks Gaelic while more than 45 percent of Catalonia speak Catalan.
One of the major factors spurring Scots to vote for independence is their opposition to what many Scots view as the mean spirited policies embraced by Whitehall. When Scotland has the authority to make decisions, theirs are quite different than the Tories. Unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom, the costs of a university education, and care services for the elderly are free in Scotland. There are many other policy differences. Scots are much more favorable to continued membership in the European Union. Scotland wants to eliminate nuclear weapons. In contrast, policy differences, except with regard to language and fiscal flows, do not appear to be a major factor in the drive for Catalonia’s independence.
If Scotland were to go independent, it would almost certainly endure fiscal hardship. Catalonia, on the other hand, would handsomely benefit.
Scotland accounts for 8.4 percent of the UK population and 8.3 percent of the UK’s total output. Under the current spending formula Scotland receives about £31000 ($5000) more per capita than England. By one calculation even if Scotland were to receive 90 percent of the North Sea oil revenue, something the UK would never allow, the subsidy would simply drop to £2100 ($3400).
Most of the people voting for Scottish independence seemed to understand this. Economic betterment wasn’t a persuasive factor for the Yes voter. Only 20 percent were guided by the belief that “on balance, Scotland’s future looked brighter as an independent country.” Some 70 percent embraced “the principle that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland.”
Catalonia has 16 percent of the Spanish population while comprising 20 percent of Spain’s economy. Although most wealthier regions of Spain and other European countries run fiscal deficits (they generate more tax revenue than they receive back) Catalonia’s deficit is comparatively much greater. For example, southeast England is 17 percent wealthier than other English regions and has a fiscal deficit of a little over 6 percent. Paris is 51 percent richer than other parts of France and runs a fiscal deceit of a little over 4 percent. Catalonia is 22 percent richer than the average Spanish region but runs a fiscal deficit of 7-10 percent. By one estimate Catalonian annual subsidies to the rest of Spain may be as much as £2600 ($4200) per capita. Catalonia argues that the fiscal deficit is one of the reasons that its economic growth in recent years has been slower than other regions. Continue reading