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Scottish Independence Activists Want Catalonia to Break Away From Spain

They spent the weekend in Barcelona as Catalans held a symbolic vote for independence.

Norman Todd had never been to Catalonia before this weekend, but on Sunday the 43-year-old Aberdeen oil worker and his friend, Martin Urquhart, were minor celebrities on the streets of Barcelona. "We have been mobbed by locals wanting photographs all day," said Todd, in a momentary respite from the phalanxes of camera phones, SLRs and even television rigs on the Ramblas, Barcelona's main tourist thoroughfare. "Everyone seems to want to talk to us and take our picture."


That Catalans were taking such an interest in this particular pair of visiting Scots is not all that surprising – the two men strolled through Barcelona dressed in kilts, Scottish independence "yes" t-shirts and Catalonia's red and yellow colours, which is unusual get-up for the Ramblas. Todd even wore a badge of the Estelada, the starry independence flag, on his traditional wedge-shaped Glengarry cap.

"We decided to just come over and join in with the feel-good factor that they've got here," said Todd as a young man wrapped in a Catalan flag gave him the thumbs up as he sauntered past. On Sunday, more than two million Catalans out of a potential 5.4 million turned out to vote in a symbolic poll on independence. The unofficial vote which one Spanish minister dismissed as "a sterile and useless sham", took place after the Spanish courts blocked a proposed referendum. Around 80 per cent said they wanted to leave Spain.

Todd and Urquhart were not the only Scottish nationalists who travelled more than a thousand miles to Barcelona to lend their support to Sunday's symbolic poll.

"We didn't get it in our country this time but we see this as the beginning of a decentralisation movement around the world," said Lindsay McArthur a care-worker from Glasgow. Her partner, Stephen Brooks, walked along the Ramblas waving a Saltire, his face obscured by an Anonymous Guys Fawkes mask in the blue and white of the Scottish flag. Cue more photographs. A Basque family stopped to have their picture taken alongside the Scots. "We are next," said the pater familias.


Catalan and Scottish nationalists have long made common cause. In September, a few days before the independence referendum, Catalan president Arthur Mas delighted Scottish nationalists when he told reporters, "I would like a yes vote in Scotland".

Although Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party has often been wary of antagonising Spain by issuing public declarations of support for Catalan independence, there are strong links on activists from both movements.

People queue up to vote

Scottish journalist and former SNP politician, George Kerevan, first met with Catalan nationalists in Barcelona in 1973, when Spain was still a fascist dictatorship under General Franco. More than 40 years on, he sees similarities and differences between the independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia.

"Catalan nationalist politics was always led by the bourgeois," said Kerevan, when we met in Barcelona on the eve of the Catalan poll. "The working class is very split [on independence]. What really changed in Scotland was the working class took over."

Basque nationalists supporting Catalan independence campaigners

Another Scottish journalist in Barcelona for Sunday's vote, James Maxwell, said that there are "structural differences" between independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia. Whereas in Scotland, it was the largely the Scottish National Party leading the marching to independence, in Catalonia, civil society has been at the forefront rather than elected representatives. Sunday's vote was run by some 40,000 volunteers, many from the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (the Catalan National Assembly).


Unlike in Scotland, Catalan politicians, said Maxwell, are in danger of being left behind by an increasingly radical public mood towards leaving Spain. "People in Catalonia are pushing the parties to do radical things whereas in Scotland it was a constitutionally radical party pushing a rather reluctant people," he said. "Until the last days of the [Scottish] yes campaign the SNP was in charge of the narrative whereas here it's clearly been driven by real grassroots anger at the Spanish state."

On Friday night, around 10,000 people attended a final rally in Barcelona ahead of the ballot. Among the loudest cheers of the evening were for Natalie McGarry, an SNP activist and one of the leading lights in the Women for Independence campaign during the Scottish referendum.

Many Catalan nationalists are critical of president Artur Mas, accusing the nationalist leader of failing to stand up effectively to Madrid's refusal to countenance allowing a referendum to be held in Catalonia. For McGarry, that what Catalans need is their version of Alex Salmond. "They are crying out for an Alex Salmond figure. He said, 'We are going ahead with this referendum,' and then it was up to Westminster to agree," she said.

Some commentators see Oriol Junqueras i Vies, the youthful president of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), as a potential Catalan Salmond. While Artur Mas's centre-right Convergence and Union (CiU) are struggling in the polls – in part because of a perceived constitutional timidity – the ERC is on course to triumph at the next Catalan parliament elections.


Regardless of who their next leader is, one thing all Catalan nationalists seem to agree on is the need for a referendum. "We just want what you had in Scotland," said Ivan Trillo, 37-year-old teacher, at a polling station in the Raval area of Barcelona early on Sunday morning. Many describe David Cameron as a "great democrat" for acquiescing to Scottish demands for a referendum, which is probably nicer than what people call him in Scotland.

Nationalists are not the only Scottish voices supporting the call for a vote on Catalonia's constitutional status. Ian Duncan, Conservative MEP for Scotland, said that agreement is needed on holding a vote on Catalonia's future – something Madrid has so far refused to countenance.

"A sense of how [Catalans] view their future will only come once they resolve the [referendum] question," said Mr Duncan, speaking at a polling station in a school north of downtown Barcelona where he was part of multi-national delegation of parliamentarians observing Sunday's poll. "People's fates cannot be determined in a court room, it must be determined in a ballot box." Catalan separatists will be hoping that their poll has convinced politicians in Madrid that Duncan is right.

​@PeterKGeoghegan / @XavierCer​veraV

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