**For months, Spain’s central government in Madrid has been hoping that Catalonia will just quieten down and step out of the international spotlight. **
The north-eastern region, which has been a part of the Spanish state since 1714, is home to an independence movement that is swiftly gaining momentum. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his government have reacted by refusing discussions and obstinately asserting that Spain’s “most-treasured jewel” will never become a separate state. It looks increasingly as if this “jewel” may not be his to possess for much longer, however, with such a split sending shockwaves across Europe and potentially crippling the Spanish state.
A previously autonomous region calling for independence from a country with which it shares a tumultuous history that has been buffeted by the financial crisis. Sound familiar? Britain’s own bonny Scotland is, of course, also investigating independence. Both Scotland and Catalonia have referendums promised for 2014, allowing their citizens to vote on independence. Both have determined leaders of political parties ensuring the movements continue to gain momentum. But upon inspection, Scotland and Catalonia’s respective positions, and therefore the roads ahead, look rather different.
Whilst in recent days David Cameron has trumpeted the “unbreakable bonds” between England and Scotland, in October his government nevertheless granted the Scottish Parliament the right to hold a legal referendum. In Catalonia, by contrast, things are a little more complicated. The Catalan president struck an accord that promised to have all arrangements for the referendum completed by the end of this year. Members of the Spanish government, however, have contested that such a referendum would be illegal within the Spanish constitution. In recent weeks, the Catalonian parliament has symbolically declared the north-eastern area a sovereign entity, circumnavigating the issue. It would seem the Catalans will not allow the Madrid government to reject the issue as an irrelevance.
Economically, Catalonia certainly is a “jewel” for Spain. The region accounts for approximately 20 percent of Spain’s economic output, whilst holding only 15 percent of the population. Output is closely tied to the Spanish state, with independence problematising these ties, but it would seem that the region would enjoy a more secure economic independence than Scotland. Catalonia also pays €12bn more in taxes per year to Madrid than it gets back to spend. These figures, combined with the reckless public spending and central government payouts of recent years have fuelled the number of Independentistes, who now make up 50 percent of Catalonia’s population.
Catalan loyalty to their region is fierce. With 50 percent youth unemployment in Spain, alternatives are being demanded by a growing youth movement as well as politicians. An independent Catalonia may seem a long way off, but most people doubted it would ever have come this far. This plucky region is standing its ground and it looks like they may soon own it.