The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) plan to hold an independence referendum in 2014 puts Scotland at the head of Europe’s separatist pack. While public opinion polls suggest the “no” campaign would prevail were a vote held today, attitudes may change as the referendum draws closer.
Much of the SNP leader Alex Salmond’s efforts to date have been devoted to persuading Scots that there are few risks in breaking away from the UK and that much would remain the same. His strategy was torpedoed last week from an unexpected quarter when Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said an independent Scotland would not automatically qualify for EU membership and would have to apply like any other candidate country — a view with implications for those Catalans and others who wish for greater autonomy.
As in Catalonia, fiscal and financial considerations would play a large part in Scotland’s decision, given current high levels of public spending and the importance of public-sector jobs. Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, a Scot, said last week that breaking up the UK would lead to a “race to the bottom” on tax and public spending that would hurt ordinary people.
Like Catalonia, Spain’s Basque areas already enjoy significant levels of autonomy. Years of violent attacks and assassinations carried out by the armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), meaning “Basque homeland and freedom,” gave prominence to separatist sentiment. Violence, though, was repudiated by most Basques and in October last year ETA announced a “definitive cessation of its armed struggle.” Spain’s Basques have their own president and parliament, its own police force and control of their own budget. However, if the Catalan movement gains traction, a knock-on effect is likely.
Elsewhere in the EU, Italy’s Northern League (Lega Nord) is nominally committed to the independence of “Padania,” its term for the country’s northern regions, but in practice it pursues a federalist agenda. At one time it advocated secession, but in recent years has been drawn into national politics and joined the last government of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Bavaria, in southern Germany, has an even less vigorous separatist tradition dating back to the days of the pre-war Bavarian People’s party.
At the heart of the EU, though, in Belgium, the separatist tendencies of the French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemish are frequently aired.