Independence Processes and Devolution in Scotland and Catalonia, the Road Maps

The recent referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom and the popular consultation on the sovereignty of Catalonia in Spain, are two historical milestones for these two Stateless Nations. In this article we contextualize the emergence of these processes and what are their current agendas.


Jordi Albacete and Lucía Tejedor

Catalonia and Scotland are living very important moments in their evolution as Nations. In Catalonia, uncertainty surrounds a process in which the recognition of the right of self-determination is not yet covered by the jurisdiction of which depends on (Spain). In contrast to the Catalan uncertainty, Scotland, has chosen to follow its nation without State status and share its sovereignty with the rest of the United Kingdom.

2015 marks a new stage in Scotland with more devolved (1) powers from Westminster. In Catalonia, political parties are still demanding a binding (2) referendum in the form of plebiscite elections and a constitutional process.

In this article’s analysis, we point out: some identity factors for these two European Nations, the earliest political consequences of these consultations, and the first aspirations surrounding the constitutional processes (underpinning these campaigns).

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Demographic Data:

Within the 504,645 km2 of the Spanish territory, Catalonia covers an area of 32.113 Km2. In that territory live 7.553.650 people out of the 46.5 million Spaniards. In terms of population Catalonia is the second most populous of the 17 Spanish Autonomous Communities [a limited self-governed region, similar to a federal state] just after Andalucía. It has a population density of 231 inhabitants per km2, well above the national average (92 inhabitants per km2). Catalans represent 16% of Spaniards.

Economic Data:

Catalan GDP (3) amounted to 192,545 million euros, putting it at the head of the Spanish economies by GDP volume. In terms of GDP per capita, last year was 26,666 euros, compared to the average 22,300 euros in Spain. This is often taken to mean that its inhabitants are among those with better living standards in Spain. However, this standard of living is not favourable for all its inhabitants. In cities such as Barcelona and Girona the cost of living usually is not matched with average salaries, which gives citizens with low incomes less buying power than most Spanish regions where the cost of living is significantly lower.

On the other hand, public debt of Catalonia is 29.9% of its GDP (57,146 million euros). This places Catalonia as having the fourth lowest debt, of the 17 Autonomous Communities, in Spain. In terms of the unemployment rate, the biggest problem in the Spanish economy, Catalonia has 19.1% unemployment, the eighth lowest unemployment of all communities.

Language and Media:

It is very complicated to put in figures people who understand, speak or use Catalan as a first language. According to the Government, the percentages are: 45.9% used Spanish as common language, 35, 6% used as frequent language Catalan, 12% used the two and 6.4% used other languages. Catalan Press is well read in Catalan, traditionally, most [cml_media_alt id='708']images[/cml_media_alt]of the newspapers were published in Spanish but in recent years most of the newspapers published in Barcelona have at least one edition in Catalan and this trend is on the increase. Newspapers La Vanguardia and El Periódico have editions in Spanish and Catalan, Ara and El Punt Avui have their editions entirely in Catalan. Catalan is the dominant language for the broadcast media. The public channel TV3 (Television of Catalonia) is the most widely watched as well as the radio stations RAC1 and Catalunya Ràdio (all of them entirely in Catalan).

Sources: EPA, INE, the country data macro, BBC, Scottish Government.

Catalan Road Map (4)

Following the outcome of the Catalan non-binding consultation, with a voter turnout of 37% (2.345.144 voters), the two major parties in Catalonia, Convergència i Unió (CiU) [Convergence and Union] and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) [Republican Left of Catalonia] want to reflect that result on a parliamentary majority. While the two political groups share the same goal each one offers different itineraries.

The President of the Catalan Government (CiU, a coalition of moderate Liberal parties), Artur Mas, introduced its strategy in November: convene (5) a regional election with a single list for all the independence supporter parties held at some point in 2015.

The proposal of the Catalan MP, Artur Mas, has changed after negotiations with the leader of the opposition, Oriol Junqueras and the elections announced the 14th of January will be held the 27th of September this year.

In the event  that (6) the elections would be won by these parties, there are two options that differ from the perspectives of each of the two main political candidates. Catalan MP, Artur Mas, says in the aftermath (7) of the election, a new constitutional process would be initiated [a period to create new legal and political institutions, with a final written Constitution]. In order to create this constitutional process the resulting Government would have to create structures of State (such as a Constitution, public finances, and its own legal system) in a period of 18 months to convene constituent elections, i.e. to choose the party or parties of the future Government.

According to this plan, before those constituent elections would have to hold another referendum to explicitly consult citizenship on independence.

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Another route map is the one proposed by the opposition leader Oriol Junqueras (ERC). Junqueras has agreed to convene elections with Artur Mas for 27th September 2015. In these elections the original proposal from Artur Mas was to present a unitary list. The final option is to convene elections with different lists. At least the two lists (for these parties CiU and ERC) will share a common programme to create an independent state for Catalonia if there is a majority support in the political elections. The reason, according to the Republican leader, is that the unitary list proposed by the President would not reach the absolute majority needed to proclaim independence.

From their perspective, the different political sensitivities would not be so generous as to sacrifice their principles and their social and cultural differences in a monolithic independence.

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His proposal is that different parties add to their manifestos a common point, the Declaration of independence. In past elections these parties favourable to self-determination add absolute majority, then they should create a unity Government to create all the structures of the State, which should be articulated through a written Constitution, which should be subject to referendum. Therefore, only elections would be necessary to proclaim independence.

Civic Movements

The Catalan National Assembly (ANC) is a popular, unified, plural and democratic organisation working towards Catalonia becoming a new European State. The ANC is not a party and does not wish to become one. It is an association of citizens who participate freely as individuals, and who vote at elections for different options. The spokesperson for this Assembly is Carme Forcadell.

Òmnium Cultural has worked for over fifty years as a civil society agency to promote the Catalan language and culture and also to disseminate Catalonia’s will for freedom. In recent years one of Òmnium’s aims has been to assist Catalonia in its quest to become a new independent state. The spokesperson for this agency is Muriel Casals.

Both organisations were responsible for the mass mobilizations to claim for Catalonian independence in the National Day (La Diada on September 11th). They have supported and negotiated with the political parties the road map for the independence in Catalonia.

Constituent Process

Parallel to the political negotiations on the sovereignty in Catalonia a broad grassroots movement has been organized to present a new institutional, legal and legal model projected by a new Constitution. This assembly movement defines the constituent process as “a progression that culminates in the creation of a unitary candidacy with the goal of creating a constituent Assembly to make a new Constitution for the Catalan Republic, so do not pass that the interests of a few pass above a majority.

In this sense, a Constitution fixed the limits of the powers of the State and defined the relations between them and the citizens, establishing the foundations of Government and the Organization of the institutions.

In Spain, the Constituent Process  part of the recognition that in Spain has to overcome the Constitution of 1978 that has become obsolete. 3 of every 4 Spanish could not vote for it or influence the final wording.

In Catalonia the constituent process works by definition and the development of ten key areas: ethical economic system, fair and dignified workplace, participatory democracy, Habitat, State welfare, right to decide on the body, for a sustainable world, citizenship rights, media and culture, and culture of peace.

The Constituent Process was initiated by Economy Professor Arcadi Oliveres, and Benet nun and doctor, Teresa Forcades (former Harvard student).

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The Catalan Constitutional Process has noted with attention other similar constituent processes such as that in Iceland.



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Demographic data:

United Kingdom has an area of 243.610 Km2, of which 78,772 km² are Scottish. That makes it the second largest country in the United Kingdom, after England. In Scotland live 5.2 million people of about 63,800 million of the total, representing 8.2% of all of the United Kingdom. It has a population density of about 65 inhabitants per km2, far from the 411 from England (England is the second country with the highest density of population in the European Union after Malta).

Economic data:

Scotland’s GDP amounted to £ 134 million (including the regions of the Islands (offshore), out of the overall £ 416 million of all the United Kingdom. In terms of GDP per capita, Scotland is approaching much the global 25.161 pounds per capita, since it stood at an average of 25,000 pounds per capita. United Kingdom debt is rated at a 76.1 of its GDP and it is not easy to know how much of that debt belongs to Scotland. Depending on the measurement criteria used it varies between 63% and 38% of its GDP. As for the unemployment rate, in Scotland is a 7.5%, below the global average which is in 7,8%.

Language and media:                                                                                                                                       [cml_media_alt id='732']download[/cml_media_alt]

In Scotland there are two minority languages that also give identity to the country. Scots, spoken by 30% of the population, and Scottish Gaelic, is used by about 60,000 Scots. The country has an important journalistic culture. The three local newspapers Scotsman, The Herald and The Press and Journal outsell other newspapers published in London, i.e. Telegraph, Times, The Guardian, The Independent and Financial Times.

Scottish Road Map

British Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Lord Smith of Kelvin, as leader of the Commission, made up of a total of ten representatives of the five political groups that constitute the Scottish Parliament, to manage and announce the powers to be returned to the Scottish Parliament.

The first key date within the road map was the last November 27, when the Smith Commission published its first article enumerating the reforms to be carried out later.

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While Cameron was very satisfied with the document, in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister of the Scottish Government,  expressed her disappointment and sees the measures as insufficient, as a breach (8) of the promise of the central Government.

As anecdotal fact, some Councillors of the SNP (Scottish National Party) uploaded a video on YouTube where they burned the document prepared by the Smith Committee and claimed that once again they had been tricked by Westminster.

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In general, some of the new powers reflected in the document would be the following: the Scottish Parliament will have the option of fixing the rates of income tax.

Holyrood (the Scottish Parliament) will receive a portion of the taxes raised in Scotland, 10 percentage points of the standard rate, but cannot influence the overall tax rate of  the United Kingdom.

Scottish citizens of 16 and 17 years are entitled to vote in Scottish elections. On this point will press Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon at their first meeting with David Cameron since her appointment, since they want to reform to enter into force in time for the election of the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

The Scottish Parliament will have power to create grant allowances relating to the field of welfare without having to obtain prior authorization from the Department of Work and Pensions. It will also transfer decisions on some types of social security benefits for seniors, caregivers, sick or disabled people.


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The Government and Scottish Parliament will play an advisory role in the revision of the statutes of the BBC. Given these first steps, the next item marked in the road map would be the publication by the British Government of the drafts to implement these measures.

On January 25 this document will be published.

The Radical Independence Campaign

An important civic movement in Scotland has been the Radical Independence Campaign. The aim of this campaign was to rescue a participative democratic culture at the local level in Scotland, inspired by the principles of pacifism and social justice.


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This movement was articulated to consider an alternative to the Westminster cuts agenda and develop a constituent process around the following principles: a social alternative to austerity and privatization, an environmentally sustainable agenda, a Republic based on direct democracy, a social agenda integrating against discrimination of gender, disability or sexuality, internationalist and opposed to the war and NATO.

The movement serves as a platform to discuss aspects of social and environmental justice. Some of their demands are intended to do away with wages that are below the threshold of poverty, ending unfair administrative sanctions or unhealthy living conditions.

Similarities in the Processes of Referendum in Catalonia and Scotland

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  1)  Movements inspired by participatory democracy:

The two movements have been characterized by an open attitude towards the debate. In the Scottish context the Pact between the Government in Westminster and Edinburgh facilitated a more diplomatic climate in the campaign for the referendum. In Catalonia it has performed from an illegality with regard to the Spanish Constitution. In fact, the Catalan Government (President, Vice President and Minister of Education) face a criminal complaint in concept of embezzlement of public funds by fund the campaign for participation in the consultation). However, significant violent episodes were not identified in any of the processes. Also in both cases is mainly residence [and not identity] what determines the voting at a referendum or consultation “, says Professor Balcells in the newspaper 20 minutes.

2) Membership of compound States.

The United Kingdom and Spain are States composed of different national identities (as the Spanish Constitution). The formations of these compound national entities were very different. In 1707 the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England signed a mutual agreement which yielded powers, without interfering with the national identity of either of the kingdoms. In the Spanish case, the Government was decentralized after violent historical events through a Constitution that limits both centralization and decentralization.

3) Small States in a globalized world.

In both cases the territories are small in extent and population. Both countries have made reference to the Nordic countries. Scotland has observed Norway with care and made constant comparisons for having a similar population and public financed sector  benefiting from the oil industry. In the Catalan case it has been compared at times with Denmark.

4) EU membership.

Both nations seek membership in the European Union and the competitiveness within this geopolitical region.

There are other similarities worthy of note such as the fact that national conservative parties: the Tory party in the United Kingdom, represented by David Cameron and the Popular Party Mariano Rajoy, have a marginal representation both in Scotland and in Catalonia, respectively, although the British right is much less unionist that Spanish (since Scottish electoral base committed the conservative parliamentary majority in Westminster).

In addition, two referenda has been raised as a political solution to solve a conflict, of identity and of politics. And in both cases there was also an economic argument to guide the pro-independence interests: If Scots were to have more financial autonomy and higher management in the petroleum industry. In the Catalan case to have more fiscal autonomy to boost commercial and industrial infrastructures.


Independence in Europe

In the context of the European Union, old nations as the Catalan and Scottish identities claimed to have their own voice. Caution has been the dominant feature, especially among Scottish politicians, like in Catalonia when comparing the two processes.

Nevertheless, there have been similar features in both processes such as citizen participation, historical claims and the desire of belonging to the European Union.

Comparing  the two processes of consultation in two political cultures as different as the Catalan and Scottish can induce certain errors or distortions. For example while the two nations are part of multinational States, both have very different origin and a relationship with their State.

From both Scotland and Catalonia different pro-independence leaders have shown their solidarity with the consultation of the European neighbour but they have made it very clear that processes are framed in different realities.

However, from the perspective of a European context and from the perspective of the participation citizen can be certain value associated with some similar and dissonant elements.


Differences in the Processes of Referendum in Catalonia and Scotland

1) Relationship with central Governments.

While in Scotland the referendum proposal became the Cameron Government’s initiative to quell the aspirations of fiscal autonomy claimed by the Scottish Nationalist government, in Catalonia, the path of negotiation has been blocked by the interpretation of the Constitution made by the Government and Spanish parliamentary majority  in particular of Article 120 where it is quoted that national sovereignty resides in the whole of the Spaniards.

However, the Carta Magna, recognizes national identities and not referred to popular queries about belonging to the main political nation. Political parties have taken this argument as a baseline for independence in Catalonia.

In reference to this, it is not surprising that the referendum and consultation processes have seen (and are following) very different itineraries in Catalonia and Scotland.

2) Normalization of the identity debate.

While in Scotland and in the United Kingdom the identity issue is faced in a very natural way and receives, in general little media attention in the rest of the United Kingdom, in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain, the relationship is completely different.

3) Involvement of the media in the problematisation of the conflict between Catalonia and Spain.

In relation to the identity debate, the British media tend to be very pragmatic and generally challenging the official versions of the Government. In contrast, in Spain, the national media, are strongly politicized, contributing to the tension of the discussion.

4) Perception of the value of the economies.

One of the biggest differences is the very nature of the territories, such as the configuration of the population, its linguistic model, or the value of its GDP with respect to the State to which they belong.

In general, there is a dominant perception in the conservative opinion that Scotland has been a burden for the United Kingdom, while the perception of Catalonia is precisely the opposite.

Of course, the effects of the economic crisis in the Spanish State and the British have been considerably different. Anyway, in both cases these scenarios of crisis have served as the starting point for different development models.

5) Civic participation.

Citizen mobilization has been considerably higher in Catalonia, where the latest manifestation of the Diada (national day of Catalonia, which has become the greatest popular festive display of the right to decide on independence) brought together more than two million people. On the other hand, the rate of participation the day of the referendum was much higher in Scotland (95%) than in Catalonia (37%).

2015 Scenario

Ultimately, the devolution and independence processes in Catalonia and Scotland are already generating their first consequences. In the Catalan case, a road map is being negotiated for the 27th of September to articulate a political solution to the popular consultation.

Illegality and bid for a third way (a federalist state) in accordance with the Spanish legislation fill with uncertainty the process and the results that may be obtained from these actions.

Predictably the Spanish Government does not recognize the right of self-determination (as the Constitution is interpreted).

On the contrary, the Scottish case shows very little uncertainty: the referendum was held legitimately. The Scottish Government will receive new powers as NO campaign leaders had pledged in the campaign of independence. However, what is common in the two processes is that both episodes come to stay in the political culture and and have raised the question of the importance of citizen participation. It will be interesting to see at the end of this year how these two processes are articulated and what those new road maps have generated.

Use of English for Spanish Speakers

(1) Devolved [from devolution].

Definition: A transfer or allocation of authority, esp from a central government to regional governments or particular interests.

Example: Cities team up and call for quicker devolution” (Headlines in  Edinburgh Evening News). 

Translation into Spanish: traspaso de competencias administrativas o descentralización guvernamental.

(2) Binding  [in relation to referendum].

Definition:that must be obeyed; obligatory.

Example: “Binding legal contract means Kirklees will get Tesco cash, council director says” (Headlines in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner)

Translation into Spanish: Vinculante/ Obligatorio.

 (3) GDP. 

Definition:(acronym) Gross Domestic Product.

Example: German GDP grows at strongest rate in three years” (Headlines at the Financial Times). 

Translation into Spanish:  Producto Interior Bruto (PIB)

(4) Road Map. 

Definition: a plan or guide for future actions

Example: “Draft road map for Ebola vaccine development” (In Africa Science News Service).

Translation into Spanish: Hoja de ruta.

(5) Convene. 

Definition: to (cause to) assemble or come together for a meeting.

Example: “White House to Convene Summit on Violent Extremism” (Headlines in the Wall Street Journal).

Translation into Spanish: convocar.

(6) In the event. 

Definition: In case.

Example: In the event that I can’t get the loans, I’ll have to find some way to raise the money”.

Translation into Spanish: En caso de.

(7) Aftermath. 

Definition: something that follows from an event.

Example: In the aftermath of war.

Translation into Spanish: Repercusión, secuela, en la fase post.

(8) Breach. 

Definition:an act of disobeying or violating a law or promise.

Example: “St. Louis County investigates possible breach of inmate health privacy” (In the headlines of  STL Today).

Translation into Spanish: infracción, violación, rompimiento.

Autor: Jordi Albacete

I am an environmental journalist. My passion for the protection of human and environmental rights has been inspired by research led journalism. My ambition is to communicate and inspire people to make positive changes in the environment. Twitter @albacetejordi or Linkedin.

Periodista medioambiental. Mi pasión por la protección de los derechos humanos y medioambientales se ha forjado a través de la investigación periodística. Mi objetivo es comunicar e inspirar a la gente para hacer cambios positivos y proteger el medioambiente. Twitter @albacetejordi o Linkedin.

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