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27 Mar 2017

Rajoy’s No Pasaran to the Scots

Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for independence has a new enemy, who is called Mariano Rajoy. The First Minister of Scotland has announced her will for a second Scottish independence referendum because as she said the people of Scotland should have the opportunity to decide about their own future after Brexit. One would expect that the government in Westminster would be her only problem, but that’s not the case.

Spain, almost 2400 kilometers away from Edinburgh, is a factor that Nicola Sturgeon will have to face, sooner or later. The country of the flamenco dance and sangria wine has its own reason to oppose Sturgeon’s idea and wishful thinking. Catalonia is the reason for which the Spanish politicians get nervous every time they are asked something about the Scottish plans.

Catalonia is an area in the north-east of Spain, which enjoys an autonomous status inside the Kingdom of Spain. The area has had known a significant economic growth with its capital Barcelona becoming one of Europe’s largest industrial cities and an attraction for tourists from around the globe. But what is the link between the sunny and vibrant Barcelona with the cold and rainy Edinburgh? The answer is independence.

Sturgeon announced that she will try to stage a second independence referendum in Scotland because she believes that Theresa May doesn’t listen to Scottish proposals and demands concerning the Brexit procedure. She wants Scotland to remain in the European Union because she wants her people to enjoy the benefits of the membership. Theresa May has answered that “now it’s not the time for that”.

The Spanish government is facing a similar problem. Catalonia has been seeking its independence for many years. The present local government of this autonomous area has decided to hold a referendum in the 17th September this year. Catalonia’s president Carles Puidgemont urged the EU to support the bid and commented that “we Catalans will freely decide our own future through a legal and binding referendum.” The pro-independence Catalan government thinks that an EU recognition is crucial for its plan. The Catalan foreign minister Raul Romeva has said that “Europe is a very dear idea for the people of Catalonia. We have always felt a part of it and we have seen it as a source of inspiration for our reality.”

The Spanish government in Madrid is not happy at all with the idea of an independence referendum in Catalonia, but also in Scotland because of the similarities of these two situations. Fifteen days ago, Artur Mas, the former president of Catalonia, was barred from holding a public office for the next two years, after being found guilty for disobeying the Spanish constitutional court by holding a symbolic independence vote in 2014. The sentence, in contrast with Sturgeon’s plan, was commented in an ironic fashion by Puidgemont, who wrote: “what a mistake! How different from stable and healthy democracies.

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The Spanish conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, is “allergic” to any secessionist movement. Since the Brexit vote, Rajoy has said that one of his priorities in the upcoming negotiations will be to avoid any plan for Scotland to remain in the EU, either as independent state or as a part of the United Kingdom. For this plan, Rajoy enjoys the support of the Socialist party, which is the main opposition party and is very uncommon to cooperate with the conservative one.

Government officials in Madrid say that the Scottish issue even tops other economic problems that will occur because of Brexit. Alfonso Dastis, the Spanish foreign minister, has said that “Spain supports the territorial integrity of the UK and doesn’t encourage secessions or divisions in any other member states. We prefer for things to continue as they are.” Dastis gave a clear indication of how will Spain react if Scotland becomes independent and tries to remain a member of the EU. “Scotland would have to join the queue, meet the requirements, go through negotiations as all candidate states and the outcome will be whatever those negotiations produce” said the Spanish foreign minister, sending a message to the Scots, but also to the Catalans that want to gain independence and remain in the EU without following the standard candidacy procedures.

Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party (SNP) probably didn’t expect that Spain will advocate a hard EU line against their plans. Even a speaker from the opposition Socialist party commented that granting “special status” to Scotland, would open a Pandora’s box of demands in the EU. “the Union should build a defense grid against any secessionist demands” showing that Spanish political parties are sharing the same opinion in this matter.