Can Catalonia learn something from Scotland?

I was in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, an elegant, relaxed ,  welcoming world heritage city, earlier this  week  and was struck by the peacefulness and civility of Scotland’s devolutionary process compared to the shambles that has come to characterize the Catalan  issue  in Spain.

In the impressively  located and historic Edinburgh Castle, one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions,  there endures a sense of cultural identity that is both British and Scot.

Visiting it I was reminded of the  “Better together”, slogan which unionists  used successfully to win the ‘no’ vote in the last legal referendum on Scottish independence .

Fresh tensions between the  regional governing   Scottish national party and the central government’s ruling British Conservative have been  sown by the UK’s majority vote in favor of Brexit.

But Scottish nationalistic demands remain conducted within the law and channeled  through political discourse and negotiation , and not characterized   by civil disobedience,  unilateralism and repression..


While the figures of two of Scotland’s most famous national heroes and once outlawed rebels ,William Wallace and Robert Bruce,  straddle  the entrance to Edinburgh  Castle,(even though neither actually ever lived there), huge reverence is also given to the more recent memory of Scottish soldiers in Royal regiments  who died for King and country in  two World Wars.

Again I couldn’t help reflecting on how at the root of Catalan and Spain’s problems is the absence of a consensual, shared and binding historical  narrative and how distant seem Scotland’s  wars with England compared to the opening in Catalonia of old wounds and prejudices from the Spanish Civil war and Francoism..

In Edinburgh , our guide spoke  English with a distinctive Scottish accent ( in Scotland unlike Catalonia where a majority  speak Catalan,  only a small minority  of Scots –less than 2 per cent of the population speak Gaelic. ) .

He was  nonetheless showing his distinct Scottish roots  dressed in a kilt and showing  a mischievous  glint in his eye  as he gave us  graphic  accounts of the violence Scots used on the English and vice-versa in past battles for the Castle dating back to medieval times. .

Present date political reality remains defined by the ‘no’ result of a referendum on independence, the terms of which were democratically  and peacefully  discussed and agreed to by the British prim-minister David Cameron  and the SNP leader and Scottish nationalist party leader Alex Salmond.

The Scots , who voted by  a majority to remain inside the EU, now are uneasy with Brexit but they are not pushing for  another independence  referendum as yet nor is London in a hurry to grant them the privilege.

Meanwhile a   consensual historical narrative is to be found in the Royal Palace within Edinburgh  Castle  where lies there  the Stone of Destiny . Lest we forget, before the mythical stone’s return  to its natural  resting  place, this ancient symbol of Scottish national identity  was taken by King Edward Ist of England and built  into his own throne, much to the fury of Scots.

From  then  onwards  it was used in the coronation  ceremonies for the monarchs of England and Great Britain. But  in  1996 Queen Elizabeth , as an act of reconciliation, agreed to have the Stone  returned to Scotland, with the agreement that it be temporarily returned to London  to be used when crowning her successor..

For now Queen Elizabeth , thanks to this and other gestures of friendship, remains a highly respected  figure in Scotland across a broad spectrum of political opinion as in England, in contrast to the challenge Spain’s King Felipe is facing in winning the respect and loyalty of  pro-independence  Republican Catalans who want nothing to do with a Bourbon monarchy.

Not to say that the Scots have not had to be won over to their  current accommodation with the British state . On her coronation  in 1952, there were Scots who objected to her being crowned Elizabeth 11nd  as no Elizabeth  before her  had ruled as Queen of the Scots. Worth here recollecting that James VI of Scotland , became James I of England in the 1603 union of the crowns. When his Stuart line was thrown out by William of Orange, the incomer was welcomed by many Protestant Scots, although less so by Catholics.

In fact  William never visited Scotland , nor did his successor Queen Anne, who saw through the union of the English and Scottish parliaments in 1707. King George 1V visited Scotland n 1822 more than one hundred years after the Act of Union between the two monarchies.

King George was unpopular in London. But his visit to Scotland, organized by the much admired romantic Scottish poet and historical novelist Sir Walter Scott ,  was a huge  success. As he stood  on the terrace of Edinburgh Castle the King said, “I must cheer my people.” The historian Sir John Plumb later commented  that  the Hanoverian King George showed the way the monarchy must follow if it was to survive in a democratic age.

It  was Queen Victoria that during her long imperial reign, built up   a special bond with the Scots. She loved Balmoral, the Scottish castle bought for her by her husband Prince Albert and enjoyed by her successors.  Once a widow, she scandalized part of London society by developing  a close romantic friendship with her personal attendant ,a Scottish highlander called John Brown  as immortalized in the film Mrs Brown.

Among the current Queen’s children,  it is  Princess Anne who is most often identified with Scotland. A  regular and enthusiastic visitor and patron of Scottish sports and arts, she is well known for her support of the Scottish national rugby team and happily sings the Scottish national anthem when attending international games. She  appeals to ordinary  Scots as the most down to earth  of the  Royals, a popular choice for the unofficial  title of Princess of the Scots.

If many  Scots retain  a certain ambivalence towards the British monarchy , they have not rebelled against it nor do they have any plans to declare  any unilateral  declaration of independence. The monarchy was  not an issue in Scotland’s lawful  referendum despite the Scottish  Nationalist Party (SNP) having many  supporters in favor of a  Republic particularly among working class  Catholics.

The SNP’s  current policy is that the Queen would remain head of state in an independent Scotland although she would be probably be called Queen of the Scots to underline the idea that sovereignty belongs to the Scottish people. . Significantly  the singing of the poet Robert Burns ode to brotherhood counted on  the agreement of the Queen , and was sung at her  inauguration of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 .

Though there are republicans in the SNP, and indeed it is not long  ago since the party favored the idea of a Scottish republic, the present policy is that the Queen would remain head of state in an independent Scotland. (She would probably be re-styled Queen of Scots to reflect the nationalist view  that sovereignty belongs to “the Scottish people”.)


“The great thing about not having a  written constitution   is that we muddle along, we compromise and adapt,” a friend in Scotland,  the journalist Robert Powell told me.  In other words political give and take and statesmanship are what matters in a decent democracy.

Together Robert and I   visited  the new  Scottish parliament building  . It was designed as  a democratic  “space open to ideas and growing out of  the land “ , by the  Catalan  Enric Miralles who died of a brain tumor  in 2000 for years before  the  inauguration of his masterpiece.

Constructed from a mixture of steel, oak, and granite, and drawing its inspiration from the local landscape and upturned boats of Scotland’s coastline, the complex building was hailed on opening as one of the most innovative designs in Britain.

Although the threat of terrorism has  since meant security being stepped up, it is more accessible to the public than the traditional Houses of Parliament in Westminster , its members less stuffy.

The Scottish parliament was half empty and immersed  in a relatively uncontroversial  debate over an issue of equal pay when we visited it,  in stark contrast to the  volatile atmosphere  that has characterized  the Catalan parliament of late, where pro-independence parties in the regional  government have openly defied the Spanish Constitution. The Scots like  to see themselves as more egalitarian  than the English and nationalists believe they could build a better and more just society were they to become independent.

But there is no hint of insurrection against the British state as some of the more radical elements in Catalonia are demonstrating  in their confrontation with Madrid.

The devolved Scottish  parliament is located at the end of the  avenue known as the Royal Mile and next to  The Palace of Holyrood where the Queen takes up residence every year, hosting dinners and a garden party as a way of maintaining closer contact with all  her subjects.

She  also spends holidays at Balmoral Castle, the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852.

Quite a lot of pomp and  circumstance surrounds  Scotland’s Royal presence  from kilted military regiments to the Company of Archers  (the Queen’s official bodyguard in Scotland,) but the important point is that the British  Royal family in its modern phase has developed   an important political, cultural and social engagement with the Scottish people which seems to have defused historic antagonisms between London and one of its regions rather than inflaming them. For its part Scottish nationalist and the UK government   have behaved with a democratic  ethos which is struggling to prevail in  Catalonia.



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