Scotland Is a Country!

Scotland flag
The flag of Scotland (Paul Morgan)

My most recent article about Scottish independence, from last summer, got more than a hundred angry replies on Twitter today.

Not a lot of substantive comments, unfortunately, although I had good discussions with those Scots who argued I had overstated the risks of dissolution and underestimated the opportunities.

No, nearly all replies hounded me for describing Scotland as a “region” and not a “country”, which I know it is.

The reason I use “country” as well as “region” is that Scotland’s constitutional status — a country within a country — can be confusing to readers who aren’t familiar with the UK. That’s all. I meant no offense. Read more “Scotland Is a Country!”

Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways

Pere Aragonès
Acting Catalan president Pere Aragonès gives a speech in Barcelona, December 14 (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya)

Catalonia’s ruling separatist parties are drifting apart.

José Antich writes in the pro-independence outlet El Nacional that the top candidates of Together for Catalonia, the senior party in the regional government, are “supporters of a path of greater confrontation with Madrid.”

The list of the Republican Left, by contrast — currently the smaller party, but the largest in the polls — is led by office holders, including Acting President Pere Aragonès and Health Minister Alba Vergés. Read more “Catalan Separatist Parties Go Separate Ways”

Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed

Quim Torra
Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region’s president, May 14, 2018 (Miguel González de la Fuente)

Successive Spanish governments have treated Catalan separatism as a legal, rather than a political, problem. This has done nothing to weaken support for independence. It has radicalized Catalans.

The dismissal of Catalan president Quim Torra is the latest episode in a decade-long legal drama. Spain’s Supreme Court removed him from office on Monday for hanging a “partisan” banner from the balcony of his government’s medieval palace in the center of Barcelona during the 2019 election.

The banner didn’t express support for a political party, but rather called for the release of the nine separatists who were imprisoned for leading a failed breakaway from Spain in 2017.

Torra’s removal triggers early elections, which polls predict the separatists will win.

He is the second Catalan president in three years to be unseated by the Spanish judiciary. His predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, was ousted after leading the 2017 independence bid. He fled to Belgium to escape prosecution. Read more “Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point

Barcelona Spain
Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain (Unsplash/Egor Myznik)

I have a story in The National Interest about the independence crisis in Catalonia.

The arguments will sound familiar to those of you who have been reading my analyses and opinions. I blame the Spanish government for refusing to listen to Catalans when all they asked for was more autonomy. I think it was a mistake to deny them a legal independence referendum when the majority of Catalans were still opposed to breaking away.

Now half are in favor and hope of a compromise is fading. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at least recognizes that the problem calls for a political, not a legal, solution, but he has postponed talks with the Catalan regional government due to COVID-19. Read more “Catalonia and Spain Are Reaching the Breaking Point”

Sánchez Can’t Put Off Catalans Indefinitely

Pedro Sánchez
Pedro Sánchez addresses a conference of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party January 30, 2016 (PSOE)

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez needs to make good on his promise to open dialogue with the Catalan regional government.

Talks about more autonomy were put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Spain in March. Now that it looks like the country will have to live with coronavirus for many more months, Sánchez cannot delay indefinitely.

Catalonia is due to hold elections before the end of the year. If the Republican Left, the more moderate of the separatist parties, doesn’t have anything to show for bringing Sánchez, a fellow social democrat, to power in Madrid, hardliners could win in Barcelona and make a negotiated solution even more elusive. Read more “Sánchez Can’t Put Off Catalans Indefinitely”

Price of Brexit May Be United Kingdom Itself

The British flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in London, England
The British flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in London, England (Unsplash/Matt Milton)

Britain’s Conservatives won the election this month, but it may come at the expense of the union of the United Kingdom their party — which has “Unionist” in its name — is sworn to protect.

Conservatives neglected their responsibility to the union by calling the EU referendum in the first place. David Cameron hoped to resolve an intraparty dispute over Europe. He ended up dividing the four nations of the UK. Majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU. They were outvoted by majorities in England and Wales.

Rather than attempt a “soft” Brexit that might appease Scots and prevent either a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, Cameron’s successors Theresa May and Boris Johnson negotiated a hard break: leaving the European customs union and single market in order to regain full control over immigration and economic policy.

The price could be Scottish independence and Irish unification, making Britain smaller than it has been in three centuries — and making a mockery of Brexiteers’ aspiration to lead a “Global Britain” outside the EU. Read more “Price of Brexit May Be United Kingdom Itself”

Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed

View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013
View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013 (CucombreLibre)

Since I moved to Barcelona and started writing about Catalan independence three years ago, I’ve worried that Spain’s refusal to engage with the movement would radicalize it and hollow out the middle in Catalan politics.

This is now borne out by research. Read more “Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

Second Scottish Referendum Should Wait

Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014
Statue of a unicorn in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 11, 2014 (byronv2)

Scotland’s National Party is arguing for a second independence referendum after gaining seats in Britain’s general election on Thursday.

Party leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon believes she has a mandate and Britain’s imminent departure from the EU changes the situation from 2014, when Scots rejected independence 55 to 45 percent.

She is right on the first point, but not yet on the second. Read more “Second Scottish Referendum Should Wait”

The Unrest in Catalonia, Explained

Catalans demonstrate in Barcelona, Spain against the imprisonment of separatist leaders, October 19
Catalans demonstrate in Barcelona, Spain against the imprisonment of separatist leaders, October 19 (Fotomovimiento)

Protests continue in Catalonia against the imprisonment of nine of the region’s separatist leaders.

Tuesday night was quiet, probably because it rained heavily, but I don’t expect this to peter out soon.

In case you haven’t been following the news, or don’t know much about Catalonia to begin with, here is an explainer to get you up to speed. Read more “The Unrest in Catalonia, Explained”

Sánchez Needs to Show Statesmanship in Catalonia

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018 (La Moncloa)

Demonstrations for Catalan independence have always have been peaceful — until Tuesday, when a sit-in outside the Spanish government delegation in Barcelona led to acts of vandalism and altercations with riot police.

While most separatists, who were protesting the long prison sentences given to their leaders by the Spanish Supreme Court, left around dinner time, some donned masks and threw bottles and firecrackers at police. Later in the evening, trash cans were set on fire and barricades erected on the Passeig de Gràcia, a luxury shopping street. It took until early Wednesday morning to clear the avenue.

The knee-jerk reaction from the Spanish right is to clamp down. Pablo Casado, the leader of the largest right-wing party in Congress, has called on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a social democrat, to declare an emergency and take command of the Catalan regional police.

That is the worst thing he could do. Tensions are running high. The mossos (troopers) are at least seen as fellow Catalans by most protesters. Send in the National Police or the gendarmerie and the riots are bound to get worse.

Let Sánchez come to Barcelona instead, meet with members of the regional government and start listening to their demands; something he promised to do when he came to power a year ago, but still hasn’t.

This will be seen as weakness in other parts of Spain, where there isn’t a culture of compromise and consensus, but it will signal to Catalans that Madrid is finally taking them seriously. Read more “Sánchez Needs to Show Statesmanship in Catalonia”