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The Catalan Connection in Scotland’s Independence Referendum

EDINBURGH, Scotland — There are a lot of people from outside the country who have come to wish Scots well during their referendum on independence. Some have come to support the continued existence of the United Kingdom. But there are also contingents from other separatist struggles around Europe. Representatives of the Basques, the South Tyroleans, and ...

Christian Caryl/FP
Christian Caryl/FP

EDINBURGH, Scotland — There are a lot of people from outside the country who have come to wish Scots well during their referendum on independence. Some have come to support the continued existence of the United Kingdom. But there are also contingents from other separatist struggles around Europe. Representatives of the Basques, the South Tyroleans, and the Lombards have turned up so far. But probably the most visible are the Catalans, whose population (7.5 million) is a bit larger than that of the Scots (5.3 million).

Aleix Sarri, 28, arrived in Edinburgh from Barcelona with three of his friends from the Catalan independence movement to provide modest assistance to the Scottish bid for self-determination. "We came here to celebrate democracy. We think that the best way to resolve conflicts is by voting."

Sarri, who works as a staffer for a Spanish member of the European Parliament, is full of admiration for the British spirit of tolerance. He and his friends, Sarri says, have had spirited conversations with members of the Better Together campaign (who want Scotland to stay within the U.K.) as well as with representatives of the Yes (pro-independence) camp. "The main difference between the U.K. and Spain is that the ‘Better Together’ people try to convince you. In Spain, they try to tell you that you shouldn’t vote."

The Spanish government has so far refused to allow Catalonia to vote on its own fate — despite opinion polls indicating that 75 percent of the population want the chance.

Sarri and his friends insist that their struggle has little to do with "some sort of identity problems from hundreds of years ago." The Catalans use words like "accountability" and "transparency" with striking frequency. "It’s about getting government closer to the people."

But isn’t there a contradiction about wanting to declare a break with remote Madrid (or London), only to then agitate for membership in the European Union, where the newly liberated nations would find themselves following orders from Brussels? No, Sarri insists: "We’d like to join the EU as equals. We want to co-decide, like all the other countries do." He notes that Luxembourg, Latvia, Estonia, and Slovenia all have officials at the senior ranks of the EU — all of them countries smaller than Scotland or Catalonia. EU officials have strongly hinted that an independent Scotland would not be allowed in.

The Scots, he says, have happily welcomed the help. "One activist told us, ‘I’ll never forget you.’ If you’ve been fighting for something for so long and people from outside come to support you, it means a lot."

One suspects that some Scots may soon be traveling to Barcelona to repay the favor.

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