Insights from the Scottish independence referendum

Fecha de publicación:
Nicola McEwen, Professor of Territorial Politics, University of Edinburgh; Associate Director, Centre on Constitutional Change

There are important and much discussed differences between the independence debate in Scotland and the UK and the crisis currently gripping Catalonia and Spain. The United Kingdom is sometimes reified in Catalan discussions on these matters, as if the recognition of democratic self-government were somehow part of its DNA. Certainly, the response of the UK government to the independence challenge from Scotland is a million miles from the response of the Spanish government in recent years. But one does not need to look too far into the history of the UK to find examples of when responses to nationalist challenges – whether within the context of a declining empire or on the island of Ireland – were less accommodating. This contribution offers a more nuanced view of the process that led to and legitimised the 2014 independence referendum. It also discusses some of the similarities between Scotland and Catalan nationalism, especially in the substance of type of polity the advocates of independence are seeking and the institutional barriers in the way of achieving these goals. Three themes are discussed in turn: (i) the process underpinning the independence referendum in Scotland; (ii) the meaning of independence and the territorial objectives largely shared by mainstream Scottish and Catalan nationalist leaders; and (iii) the role and response of the European Union.