What does the second referendum in Scotland mean for Catalonia?

The debate on Scottish independence, which seemed closed after the 2014 referendum, has been reopened following Brexit. Only a week ago a new referendum was proposed by Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon after failed negotiations with the British executive, who insists on carrying out “Hard” Brexit.

The desire to remain in the EU, which is one of the main arguments for the second referendum, could be cut short if any member country decides to veto Scotland´s admission fearing that it would create a precedent for breakaway territories. Sturgeon’s predecessor, Alexander Salmond recently argued that an independent Scotland would be perfectly compatible with the interests of EU members making clear references to Spain and the Catalonian issue.

Earlier this week the Spanish Minister of Foreign affairs, Alfonso Dastis, stated that Scotland should not stay in the EU unless it is a part of the UK. This means that if independence does finally happen the Scottish would have to start the EU integration process from scratch rather than just remain in the EU with a change of status. In general, Spanish public officials have expressed their support for a united Great Britain but also insisted on distancing the cases of Scotland and Catalonia, arguing that the first has stronger claims that do not apply to the latter.

The news about a second referendum have also caused reactions on the other side of the independence debate in Spain. Despite the results in 2014, which were a great disappointment for the independence movement in Catalonia and in the Basque Country, Carles Puigdemmont and Oriol Junqueras, head and vice head of the Catalonian executive, have addressed the Spanish government demanding a similar referendum before the end of 2017.

The response from Madrid has been clear “Neither the executive nor the Parliament has the power to negotiate National Sovereignty which belongs to the Spanish people as a whole”. This is where the difference between the Scottish and the Catalonian case resides.

While Scotland was for hundreds of years an independent country that in 1707 joined the United Kingdom, Catalonia has never existed as an autonomous entity and it’s only one out of 17 regions conforming Spain. As opposed to the British legal system which leaves room for the celebration of such a referendum with Parliamentary consent, the Spanish Constitution, like most constitutions in Europe, does not allow it.

Therefore, it will be very hard for separatist’s leaders in Catalonia to fulfill their promise of holding a referendum in 2017, and if they do it will have to be done illegally and against the will of a majority of the population.