Comparing Catalonia and Scotland: Part 4, Territorial Extent

This one is sort of the opposite of the language story.  Scotland is a fearsomely complex story involving several different languages and some highly confused social attitudes, whereas in Catalonia you can sum it up as “they speak Catalan”.  However defining the territorial extent of the Catalan lands requires a bit of explanation, whereas determining the territorial extent of Scottish lands can be summed up as “eh … Scotland”.

Scotland is well defined.  Despite a Scottish worldwide diaspora numbering in the tens of millions, there are no other countries, territories, provinces, or regions which are predominantly inhabited by people who define themselves as Scottish and where there are political movements seeking unification with Scotland.  The land of the Scots is Scotland, whose only land border is one of the oldest established national frontiers in Europe.  Minor historical quirks like Berwick aside, that’s all there is to say on the matter.  Scotland has no territorial claims.

Scottish independence may have an effect on the debate within Northern Ireland about its constitutional future, however there is no prospect of Northern Ireland uniting with an independent Scotland despite the occasional petulant shriek of “well you can just jolly well take Northern Ireland with you” from south of the Border.

The great majority in Northern Ireland don’t want to be part of Scotland, and hardly anyone in Scotland would welcome Northern Ireland as a new part of Scotland.  Scotland has a vested interest in ensuring the continuing success of the Northern Irish peace process.  We’ve got quite enough problems with our own sectarian loons getting upset about fitba matches, we certainly don’t want to encourage them with international territorial disputes.

There are only two semi-serious arguments about Scotland’s territorial extent.  Both come under the heading of unionist scaremongering.  In fact they’re not serious at all, but in a universe where Alan Cochrane is a political commentator and Alistair Carmichael is a bruiser, the plausibility bar has already been set pretty low.

These arguments relate to claims that Westminster might cling on to some bits of Scotland, not that Scotland might have designs on bits of England or Ireland.  There’s the argument about Westminster keeping Faslane as a sovereign base territory, and the hoary old claim that Shetland, Orkney and the North Sea oil might not want anything to do with the rest of Scotland if we decide to govern ourselves.

This second claim was invented in the 1970s by Westminster politicians who wanted to put Scotland off voting for Home Rule and who got friendly journalists and backbench MPs to run their wee fairy story in the papers so they couldn’t be directly blamed on Westminster.  There’s never been any evidence to back up the assertion that Northern Islanders do not regard themselves as Scottish.  However that didn’t stop Alistair Carmichael and Tavish Scott – two typically Norwegian names there – trotting out it out again toward the end of last year.

Of course Westminster has no particular affection for the inhabitants of Orkney and Shetland over those of Auchtermuchty or Shotts.  It’s the oil they’re after.  Mind you, international law says that even if Westminster did hang on to Shetland and Orkney, Scotland would keep the oil fields anyway.

We still don’t know which joker thought it was a good idea to threaten Scotland with the annexation of Faslane, but since the only way the rUK could maintain Faslane as a functioning nuclear sub base would be with the active cooperation of an independent Scotland, it’s about as likely to happen as Mariano Rajoy learning the words to els Segadors and pledging allegiance to Barcelona FC.

The current Catalan independence debate is taking place in the Generalitat de Catalunya, the lands once ruled by the Count of Barcelona.  Like Scotland this is also a well defined territory, whose current borders date back to the Middle Ages – apart from the French department of Pyrenees Oriental with its capital in Perpinyà / Perpignan, known in Catalan as Catalunya Nord.

The Spanish monarch ceded these northernmost districts of Catalonia to the King of France in 1659 after losing a war with France for control of the Netherlands.  It wasn’t about control of the tulip trade, or access to Amsterdam coffeeshops, it was some sort of spillover from the 30 Years War.  Whatever it was it had bugger all to do with Catalonia, but Catalonia had to pay for it in terms of territory.

Although many Catalans would quite like to get Catalunya Nord back, its French status is not a live issue, no one’s going to fall out with France over it.  Nowadays a large majority of its population speak only French and although many have sympathies with Catalan independence aspirations south of the border, there is no significant political demand for reunification.

The old Generalitat de Catalunya was originally one of the realms of the monarchy of Aragon.  The others were Aragon itself, centred around the city of Zaragoza (Saragossa in Catalan, which was also the old name in English), the Kingdom of Valencia, the Kingdom of Mallorca, and the island of Sardinia which is now a part of Italy.  All the rest are part of modern Spain.

The Catalan language still has a presence in all these areas.  In the case of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, Catalan remains the majority language although it is now threatened by the spread of Spanish as an everyday spoken tongue.  In Aragon there is a strip of Catalan speaking towns and villages running the length of Aragon’s border with Catalonia, an area known as La Franja.  In Sardinia, the Catalan language has almost disappeared, although it’s still spoken by many residents of the town of L’Alguer (Alghero in Italian).

Outside the Kingdom of Aragon was the tiny Principality of Andorra, which has retained its independence for over 1000 years.  Its inhabitants are Catalan speaking and proudly identify as Catalans as well as Andorrans.  They are also extremely proud of their small country’s success in maintaining its independence, and fully intend to keep it that way.

All these territories are considered by Catalans to form els Paissos Catalans ‘the Catalan Countries’.  The big unanswerable question about the independence of Catalonia would be what happens in the other Paissos Catalans.  As I explained in the article on language, the Catalan language is closely tied to a Catalan sense of identity.  The extent of the Catalan language correlates closely with the territorial extent of Catalan national sentiment.  This is why the Partido Popular which currently governs in Aragon, Valencia and the Balearics is so keen to assert that the local varieties of Catalan are not in fact Catalan at all.

Support for independence or pro-Catalan sovereignty in Valencia, the Balearics and La Franja is far less pronounced than in Catalonia itself, however it is still politically significant.  The Coalició Compromís, the coalition of Valencian parties supporting Catalan sovereignty, is the third largest party in the Valencian parliament with six deputies, and over 280 local councillors throughout the Valencian Community.  The coalition of progressive and pro-Catalan sovereignty parties in the Balearics has four seats in the Balearics parliament.

For Westminster and Scotland, Scottish independence finishes once and for all with the “Scottish Question” in Westminster politics.  However the independence of Catalonia would not necessarily end the “Catalan Question” for la Moncloa, the seat of the Spanish government.

The independence of Catalonia would most likely strengthen political demands in Valencia and the Balearics for greater autonomy or for closer links with the newly independent Catalonia.  It would also most likely create an irresistible push towards independence in the Basque Country, and lead to greater calls for autonomy or self-determination in Galicia and the Canary Islands.  Far from ending questions of “secession” for Madrid, Catalan independence would open the door to a whole new range of demands.

This helps to explain the vehement reaction from la Moncloa to Catalonia’s independence movement.   However in the intransigence of its response, Madrid is most likely storing up future problems for itself.

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