Will Catalunya (Or Scotland) lead the way towards Spanish separatism?

As the eurozone muddles through and, for the time being, seems to have dampened talk of a break up or Greek exit despite few signs of economic recovery and, in the case of Spain, France and Cyprus, a worsening economic state of affairs, there are now major political and constitutional issues for members to cope with.

In Spain, the euro crisis appears to have fuelled an ever growing separatist movement, led, in particular by the Catalans. The recent local elections showed growing support for the pro-independence parties and overall support for a referendum to be called, probably in 2014.

Unlike Scotland though, the Catalans appear unlike to be granted their wish which, if anything, is just adding fuel to the fire when it comes to growing calls for independence.

As Spain tries to overcome a crippling recession with unemployment, bad loans and a property bust that makes the UK look like a safe haven in comparison, the government is now embroiled in a major corruption scandal involving the ruling party, Rajoy’s PP.

Even attempts to convince the local Catalans with increased investment, such as the long drawn out but finally completed high speed rail link connecting Madrid to the Catalan cities of Barcelona, Girona and Figueres, is seen as an example of neglect (“20 years overdue”) and centralist, the delay being blamed on improving links to Madrid rather than, as conceived, opening up the movement of goods from south to north down the east of the country and into France.

So will Catalan Independence happen?

The jury is still out but with little prospect, at least in the short term, of an economic recovery, Catalans are starting to feel “why not?”

There are historical reasons, the present structure was borne out of an uneasy peace after Franco’s brutal regime in which Catalans in particular suffered badly.

There are cultural reasons, the recent constitutional victory for centralists in Madrid to strike out the increased home rule agreed between Catalunya and the previous government has left the Catalans fearing a loss of their identity, in particular the use of their own language.

There are now, importantly, strong economic reasons, EU membership appeared to spread wealth throughout Spain but with this prosperity looking less secure, the Catalans now question whether they, a wealthy and still vibrant economy compared to the rest of Spain, can continue to finance the poorer regions, many of whom, they believe, sneer at them for their independence stance.

If the majority of Catalans continue to feel Madrid takes too much of the local income and redistributes it elsewhere then the clamour for self-rule will probably grow, and quickly.

If the movement does gathers pace and Catalan independence becomes a genuine possibility will this be the first serious test to the current decentralised governing of Spain and, ultimately, lead to the break up of the 17 autonomous regions? Whilst the violent protests of the Basque region are probably most well known outside the country, in, actual fact, probably due to more extensive autonomy in that region, the call for independence is muted.

In the end, this is probably the template for Spain to fend off the pro-independence movement. Offer greater tax autonomy in catalunya, protect its culture and language in the constitution, and highlight the uncertainty of going it alone.

Only recently the Catalans have sought liquidity support from central coffers and with the EU showing little support for fear of prompting a series of separatist movements in such as Belgium, Cyprus, Slovakia and Italy, this step into the unknown at a time of general eurozone recession might be a step too far for many Catalans.

Indeed, from local experience, many Catalans are watching the Scottish Independence debate very closely (probably more so than in the UK!) and, if the Scots gain independence and successfully find a place within the EU, I suggest that only the prospect of a Spanish military coup, would stop Catalunya following in their footsteps.

Unfortunately for those pro-independence Catalans they might not get their wish – in fact, a no vote in Scotland would probably be a major body blow to their aspirations.