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Scotland ‘No’ fails to stop Catalan secession push

/ 12:39 AM September 20, 2014
Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas gestures during a press conference at the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. A day after Scotland rejected breaking away from Britain, the regional parliament in Spain's Catalonia is expected to grant its leader the power to call a secession referendum that the central government in Madrid says would be illegal. AP

Catalonia’s regional president Artur Mas gestures during a press conference at the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. A day after Scotland rejected breaking away from Britain, the regional parliament in Spain’s Catalonia is expected to grant its leader the power to call a secession referendum that the central government in Madrid says would be illegal. AP

BARCELONA, Spain — Scotland’s decision to stay within the United Kingdom cost separatists across Europe political momentum they could have gained for their own independence ambitions. But the regional parliament in Spain’s Catalonia was still expected Friday to grant its leader the power to call a secession referendum denounced as illegal by the central government in Madrid.

The prospect of an independent Scotland would have served as an example of how to build a new nation, captivating European separatists in addition to Catalans who want to carve out their own Mediterranean nation.

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They include pro-independence Basques in northern Spain; Corsicans who want to break away from France; Italians from several northern regions; and Flemish speakers in Belgium demanding more autonomy, independence or union with the Netherlands.

Scotland’s independence rejection is a disappointment for the European separatists, but “does not mean the end of nationalist aspirations,” said Marc Hooghe, a political science professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium.

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“There is no decisive outcome at all. You might compare (it) with a soccer game (that) ends in a draw, and we go to extra time,” he said. “But the nationalists have missed their once in a lifetime opportunity … the Scots could have led the way for other regions.”

In Catalonia’s regional capital of Barcelona, regional president Artur Mas said he was rooting for a “Yes” vote in Scotland but stressed Catalans simply want the same chance as Scots who were given the right to vote. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said he will block a vote for Catalans in the wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million people.

“What happened in Scotland and the United Kingdom is not a setback for us because what we really want in Catalonia is to have the chance to vote, the same possibility,” Mas told reporters.

Later Friday, the Catalan parliament was expected to debate and approve by a wide margin a measure giving Mas the power to call a referendum despite vows by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to block planned Nov. 9 vote. He said he would then sign a decree authorizing the Catalonia referendum, but did not say when.

Retired hospital director and economist Lluis Enric Florenca was disappointed with the outcome of the Scotland vote and “would have liked the Yes to have won because we would have seen how Europe would have reacted” to a new nation outside of the European Union that would have most likely wanted to rejoin.

But Florenca said Scottish voters got a victory by getting their vote and settling the question of whether they wanted independence or not.

“If we win in Catalonia, all the better,” Florenca said. “If we lose, then at least we know once and for all. What bothers me are the doubts,” he said.

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Rajoy didn’t mention the situation in Catalonia in taped remarks Friday with his response to Scotland’s vote, but congratulated “Scottish citizens who yesterday decided in a clear an unequivocal manner to continue being part of the United Kingdom, and consequently, the European Union.”

Spain’s constitution doesn’t allow referendums that don’t include all Spaniards and experts say Spain’s Constitutional Court would rule the vote illegal if Rajoy’s administration heads there to have the Catalan vote declared illegal.

Unlike the Scotland vote, the referendum in Catalonia wouldn’t result in secession. It would ask Catalans whether they favor secession. If the answer is Yes, Catalan regional leader Artur Mas has said that would give him a political mandate to negotiate a path toward independence.

Despite sharing cultural traits with the rest of Spain, many Catalans take pride in the deep differences based on their language, which is spoken side-by-side with Spanish in the economically important region that is key to helping Spain emerge from its financial crisis.

Polls indicate Catalans are roughly evenly split on independence — but that figure drops significantly when people are asked if they favor an independent Catalonia outside the European Union.

Italy’s secession-minded Northern League party sent a half-dozen observers to Scotland in hopes of sharing in a Yes victory that would have boosted the League’s own push for greater autonomy — if not independence — for Italy’s northern Veneto and Lombard regions.

These regions, home to some of Italy’s financial powerhouses, resent that so much of their tax euros are diverted by the federal government in Rome to be spent on Italy’s poorer south.

“We had hoped for a victory of the ‘yes’ votes, but at least the Scots went to the polls,” said Matteo Mognaschi, one of the League observers in Edinburgh. “They won’t even let us vote here.”

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