Why a 'Si' Vote in Catalonia Could Leave Caledonia in Economic Limbo

Article excerpt

Byline: by Gerald Warner

CATALONIA, the autonomous district of Spain that nationalists like to compare to Scotland, goes to the polls on Sunday in a dramatic election dominated by the issue of independence.

If, as opinion polls indicate, the result is a landslide for separatist parties, the SNP will hail the outcome as evidence that small-nation nationalism is now a mainstream tendency across Europe.

Despite the oversimplification any such analysis entails, it is true that the Catalan election has a real significance for Scotland, but not in the sense the SNP would like to imagine.

Scottish separatists and devolutionists have long had a fixation with Catalonia and its claims to autonomy.

It was because of this symbolism that Donald Dewar commissioned a Catalan architect, Enric Miralles, to design the Scottish parliament building, rejecting a home-grown design with more public support.

Dewar was initiating the process that would remove his own party from power and produce a Nationalist government that now endangers the Union, just as post-Franco governments in Spain similarly extended regional autonomy with the consequence today that the continuing existence of the Spanish state is at risk.

Misleading

There are many parallels between Catalonia and Scotland, though some are misleading. There are also significant contrasts.

Historically, Catalonia does not have the claim to have been a sovereign nation that Scotland has. In 1137, the Count of Barcelona married the Queen of Aragon, bringing Catalonia into the powerful Aragonese kingdom.

Although both Scotland and Catalonia were absorbed by dynastic succession, at very different periods of history, into larger kingdoms, what Catalans lost over time was not independence but devolution.

Their traditional laws and customs were the equivalent of devolved government, not the sovereignty that Scotland voluntarily relinquished at the Treaty of Union.

Today Catalonia has regained its autonomy. With a population of 7.5million - one and a half times that of Scotland - it is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain.

It has its own parliament, government and supreme court, its situation being simiunder lar to Scotland; its elections by proportional representation even use the D'Hondt system employed by Holyrood.

Since the financial crisis began in 2008, there has been an outbreak of extreme Catalan nationalism, culminating this year in a demonstration in Barcelona on September 11, after which the president of Catalonia, Artur Mas, performed a U-turn and embraced the separatist agenda.

He and his CiU (Convergence and Union) party are contesting Sunday's elections on a pledge to hold an independence referendum within four years. Sunday's poll is the equivalent of last year's Holyrood elections won by the SNP. However, behind all these superficial parallels between Catalonia and Scotland lurks one massive difference.

Catalonia is the richest region of Spain and its fiscal grievance is that it is allegedly subsidising the other regions because it contributes 19.49 per cent of government tax revenue but only receives 14.03 per cent of government expenditure.

Catalonia claims to suffer a deficit of 16billion euros a year in this fiscal exchange. Viewed from that perspective, the entire Catalan/Scottish comparison is turned on its head. Fiscally, Catalonia occupies the role not of Scotland but of the rest of the UK, which grumbles that it is subsidising Scotland. Public spending stands at [pounds sterling]10,088 per person in Scotland, compared with [pounds sterling]8,491 per person in England.

English voters are incensed by the perceived unfairness of the Barnett Formula, aggravated by free university tuition in Scotland, free care for the elderly, no prescription charges - an imbalance of [pounds sterling]1,600 more public expenditure per capita in Scotland than in England. …