Big news this week has been the independence ballot in Catalonia. This part of Spain is apparently the size of Belgium and there is a strong urge for self-determination. The Spanish government says the vote is illegal and told police to seize ballot boxes. Awful violence ensued. (Catalonia is apparently an economic powerhouse for Spain.)
I find the regional variations of Spain interesting and evocative. I know a little about the Basque desire for their own country, now less intense and much less violent. The Basque territories do extend into southern France, which is an added complication. Books like George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’ and Laurie Lee’s ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ have added to the mystique. In my own experience, Mrs O’s Andalusian/ Spanish gypsy accent, acquired in her childhood, was mocked in more Madridean areas. She points out that Catalonia was treated apallingly under the Franco regime.
Despite this, it’s not my place to give an opinion on the Catalonian issue, apart of course to condemn violence of any sort. However it does have many connections with other self-determination issues, some of them closer to home. What about Scotland? What about Wales, Northern Island? What about Cornwall and Cambridge?
Cambridge? There was an intriguing little development just after the Brexit vote, in which some people in Cambridge thought they should become independent so they could stay in Europe. More widely discussed in the country as a whole was the contentious issue that although there was a majority of the vote for Brexit, this was not a majority of the electorate.
The independence movement of Cambridge might enjoyably view that wonderful film, ‘Passport to Pimlico’, which gives a great fictional account of how the Pimlico area of London declares independence. That bid failed; but apparently 30 new nations have come into existence since 1990, such as Montenegro and South Sudan. Even more fascinating is the existence of ‘micronations’, small areas claiming sovereignty but not recognised by any other nation or organisation such as the U.N. (See Micronations on Wikipedia.) Examples of these are The Republic of Molossia, The Kingdom of EnenKio, and The Kingdom of Haye On Wye. Really. Sealand, based on a fort in the North Sea, is often called a micronation but still claims to be a sovereign state with de facto recognition by the UK and Germany.
It should be pointed out that lots of these micronations are either tongue in cheek, reactions to a particular issue, or financial operations. There are also historical enclaves. I’m intrigued by the idea that some groups declare themselves a nation across the internet, without geographical commonalities.
(The series of books starting with ‘Europe in Autumn’, by Dave Hutchinson, takes as its setting a Europe which has fragmented into small states, sometimes cities, and one which is a railway line. Recommended.)
All this begs several questions. What gives people the right to self-determination? What sort of democratic process makes the decision to leave a super-national grouping, such as the EEC, acceptable? What constitutes a legitimate majority of an area or group to attempt independence? A simple majority of voters? A majority of those eligible to vote? If there is a clear majority, what will the outcome be?
The final, huge question is of course: What is a nation?
There are no easy answers to these questions, as the people of Catalonia are finding out.
(Flags of micronations declared as free to use or share in image search.)
[Although I have said I don’t feel it’s my place to express an opinion on Catalonia, can anybody please expain why the Spanish government didn’t let the Catalan referendum go ahead and then ignore it or stall any action because their courts had said it was illegal?]