People will always try to seek patterns where none exist. Sometimes they find patterns that do exist, but often they’re disappointed. Is it fair to ask whether Brexit and Catalan independence are linked? Well, yes, if it’s fair to say that Brexit has anything to do with Trump.
It might be more logical to compare Catalan independence with Scottish independence. They’re both areas with long histories and a keen sense of difference. They’re Spanish yes, but not as much as the rest of Spain. The Scots have always been fiercely independent in mind, if not in country. And for a long time, until the United Kingdom was invented, they were independent, just like the Catalans. They had their own kings and everything.
As a Briton, I’m bound to point out that the Scots made their case for a democratic referendum. This case was acted on by the UK government, the legitimate referendum was carried out, and most Scots voted against it. Apart from a brief wobble after Brexit, that seems to have put the lid on it for twenty years or so. The Catalans, by contrast, are shambolic. They rushed to a referendum without any kind of permission or mandate, resulting in utter chaos and a lot of violence. This just isn’t how democracy works. However the Spanish government were so heavy-handed and basically panicky that they have managed to change the minds of several who were originally against independence. Quite an achievement.
The Catalans, somewhat illogically, as independence would see them ejected from the EU, are looking to the EU for support. They will find none. The EU was dead against Scottish independence and went to a lot of trouble to persuade people it was a bad idea. An independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU and sent to the back of the queue to rejoin. Therefore we have to assume their position on Catalonia is the same, even though they have pointedly refused to join in the argument this time, as if to prove their own hypocrisy for the world to see.
If you’re still following all this, well done.
So we can plainly see how hypocritical the EU always is: one rule for them, another rule for those others. Well, they will claim, every case is different. And how right they are. It is these invisible fault lines running in and out of Europe that make the EU a doomed project. It was always doomed. It only succeeded in the good times. Once the region went into recession and financial meltdown, the cracks returned.
In case anyone is thinking ‘it’s only Spain’ in the same way they said ‘it’s only Greece’, there are cautions from the past. Turmoil in Spain was a precursor for the second world war. Yes, it’s only Spain, if you mean a comparatively small economy on the fringe of Europe. But they said that about Greece. They didn’t say that about Brexit.
Is Brexit therefore at all related to Catalan independence? Yes, in some ways. Britain never joined the EU willingly. It just seemed that everyone was enjoying that party so much, we basically had to join or face being left on the sidelines. As the EU became more political, invented its own money and basically became bigger than its own competence, we got cold feet once again. The senseless bureaucratic waste was too much for frugal Britain to put up with. In these ways, Brexit has nothing at all to do with Catalonia.
But if Brexit was about a mood, a feeling, a resentment that had built slowly for decades, then it has everything to do with Catalonia. Brexit was not a calm, rational decision. It was a watershed moment, summed up by the phrase: enough is enough. Up with this we will not put, and we’re out of here. It feels very much as though the Catalans feel the same about Spain. Something happened, or perhaps a series of smaller somethings, and the uneasy truce failed. If Brexit taught us anything it is that populism and ‘feeling’ are calling the shots at the moment. Calm rationality only takes you so far, as Nobel winner and thought policeman Richard Thaler can tell you.
If this tide of populism continues to rise, then Brexit will be seen to be the starting pistol of an anti-internationalist movement. Nobody knows where it will lead, but less Europe, less EU, is assured. Greece may feel, when its debt comes up for renewal, that this time they will just walk away, ignoring Merkel’s menaces. Where will that leave Portugal and Italy? If we have learned anything, we must learn not to make such predictions. People sometimes just fancy a bit of something different.