Catalan Scots could face both home and away referendums

Artur Mas has led calls for greater Catalan autonomy. Picture: AFP
Artur Mas has led calls for greater Catalan autonomy. Picture: AFP
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Scots resident in Catalonia will soon face a referendum on independence in their adopted land if Catalan president Artur Mas has his way.

There is no date set, nor is it clear who will get to vote, but there is now little doubt that some time in the next two to three years the question of Catalan autonomy will be put to the people.

To outsiders, Catalans often seem closed and unwilling to invite new people into their circle, but many Catalans see Scots as brothers in arms.

“The minute they find out I’m Scottish, the door is thrown open and I get invited to all sorts of things that I don’t see my South American neighbours being invited to,” says Glaswegian Jane Darroch Riley, who moved to Barcelona with her husband nine years ago. “I feel the same strangeness as Catalans do at having a passport that you don’t feel represents who you really are. And probably the same reaction to the Spanish flag that I do to the Union Jack.”

Andy Gemmell, who moved to Barcelona from Edinburgh to study Spanish for a year and stayed on for another 15, says Scottish nationalism has moved on. “It’s less anti-English and more about a positive future for Scotland. The movement here still seems to be based on an anti-Spanish feeling, which is understandable as Catalonia has not been well treated by Madrid in recent times.”

Although of late the debate has focused on finance, at heart it is about identity. “Aside from language, I think it’s the same sort of nebulous things that set us apart from the English that makes them different from the Spanish,” says Ms Riley. “And, of course, we share a reputation for being tight with money which I, as a Scot, would repudiate but they seem quite proud of.”

Gary McMullen, from Bonnybridge, and Nuala McGuinness, from Glasgow, have raised their three daughters in Vilanova i la Geltru, a port south of Barcelona, since they moved there 11 years ago. Do they share this affinity the Catalans feels for Scots? “Yes and no,” says Mr McMullen. “We are in a similar situation politically, both looking for independence through democracy, but if they look upon us as possibly more as brothers in arms, it’s because we are further on in the process of independence.”

“We feel an affinity with them, as realistically it’s the same fight,” says Ms McGuinness. “But it’s their thing.”

Mr Gemmell agrees, but adds: “I think they feel they’ve been silently working as the motor of Spain for a long time and have been under-appreciated and criticised again and again. It’s quite understandable they’re saying enough is enough, we can do better on our own. I think they feel they’ve tried to have a dialogue and it hasn’t worked.”

Ms McGuinness says that, although her children have grown up in Catalonia, they see themselves as half Scots and half American.

“The Catalan system of education is quite prehistoric,” she adds. “The classroom layout is row upon row of desks, with lots of ‘chalk and talk’. Personally, I think the education system in Scotland is far superior.”

However, both she and Ms Riley agree that on the plus side their children have grown up trilingual.

So, would they vote for Catalan independence? “I’m still undecided, just as I’m undecided about Scotland,” says Mr Gemmell. “I don’t think there is enough information. At the moment in Catalunya independence is a word, it’s not a project.”

Mr McMullen and Ms McGuinness would vote Yes. “They should be allowed the right to at least have a referendum to determine whether or not the possibility exists, as ­Scotland has,” they say.