Canadian regional elections seldom set the international pulse racing but this week’s victory in Quebec of the separatist Parti Québécois was closely watched in Spain, now facing a revival of Basque and Catalan independence demands. These, in turn, are being carefully monitored by the Scottish National party, committed to a referendum in 2014 on Scotland’s future relationship with the UK.
By then, the die may be cast in Spain, where separatism has stormed on to the agenda amid the worst crisis of the post-Franco, democratic era. Alongside the eurozone crisis and Spain’s worsening public finances and chronic lack of economic growth and jobs, Madrid looks to be sleepwalking into a constitutional crisis that could lead to the break-up of Spain.
Next Tuesday, Catalans celebrate their national day, or Diada, in a year when the clamour for independence for the first time commands the support of more than half the population—including figures such as Jordi Pujol, the mainstream nationalist who ran the restored Catalan autonomous government from 1980 to 2003, and Pep Guardiola, the former manager of Barcelona’s football team.
Next month, Basques go to the polls with the separatist Bildu coalition going head-to-head with the mainstream Basque Nationalist party (PNV). After a decade-long ban for links to Eta, the separatist group that recently ended its 50-year campaign of violence, political separatists won more seats than the PNV in municipal and general elections last year. Separatism has gone mainstream, in a Spanish state being shaken to its foundations.
Devolution has been a cornerstone of Spain’s democracy. But self-government was awarded to all regions in order to disguise the restoration of historic rights to Catalans and Basques, peoples with a deep sense of nation, culture and language that Franco’s dictatorship sought to expunge. For rightwing Spanish nationalists, this dilution of the indissoluble unity of Spain remains anathema. The centre-right government of Mariano Rajoy evidently aims to use the present financial crisis not just to shrink the state but to recentralise it.