Would Scottish Independence Matter to Basques?

While no specific date has been announced for a national independence referendum in Scotland, the campaign for Scottish citizens’ hearts and minds is well underway with the launch of the ‘Better Together’ campaign by the unionists (who want to stay in the Union) on 25 June 2012, and the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign by nationalists a month earlier.   A range of issues have already been brought up during the independence debate, with the economy appearing to be the number one concern given the current gloomy economic climate.

Concerns over banking – namely, whether an independent Scotland would be big enough to support its banking system – looms large in this debate.  Unionists point to the fact that the Royal Bank of Scotland had to be bailed out by the UK Treasury to argue against independence. The Scottish National Party (SNP), on the other hand, cites small, prosperous Northern European countries such as Norway and Denmark to argue that ‘being small and independent is better’.

Indeed, on many issues both sides have referred to other countries and international organisations in making their case. Nonetheless, neither side has discussed the fate of Basque Country in Spain during this debate. Clearly participants in the current Scottish independence debate are not concerned with the potential impact their own independence might have on the Basque separatist movement.

Scholars and analysts have also failed to adequately explore the relationship between Scottish and Basque nationalism. If these two cases are mentioned together, it’s typically in the context of a general discussion of an ‘ethnic revival’ in Western Europe since 1970s.  For instance, Milton Esman’s Ethnic Conflict in the Western World (1977) has one chapter each on the Basque Country and Scotland; Anthony Smith’s Nationalism in the Twentieth Century (1979) has a chapter on the ‘Ethnic resurgence in the West’ in which both Basque and Scottish cases are mentioned along with the Bretons, Corsicans, and the Wallons to name but a few.  Smith draws the reader’s attention to the fact that these separatist movements share certain commonalities such as claims for autonomy based on historicity in the context of industrialised and often advanced economies (Smith 1979: 153).  In a rare instance of the Scottish and Basque movements being directly compared, Cyrus Zirakzadeh (1989) suggests that the surge in voting for nationalist parties in Scotland and the Basque Country in the 1970s was probably in large part due to the acute economic instability both regions faced at that time.  Even in this case, however, the two cases are examined in order to gauge the extent of economic influence on voting behaviour, with the interaction between the two nationalistic movements being only a peripheral concern.

This is not to say there has been a lack of comparative analysis of the Scottish and Basque movements. Indeed, each case is often analyzed alongside other separatist movements. Specifically, the Scottish case is often paired with the Catalan or Quebecois cases while the Basque case is compared and contrasted with the Northern Irish case.  Michael Keating (2001), for example, uses Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland to point out the emergence of new, post-sovereignty nationhood and Montserrat Guibernau (2006) used Canada, Britain and Spain in arguing that devolution does not necessarily weaken overarching national identity.  These cases share a number of features, which makes them ideal for conducting a comparative case study.  However, scholarly focus tends to be on pointing out similarities between these cases, not on analysing the interaction each movement has on the other.

When the Basque case is examined in a comparative light, on the other hand, terrorism tends to come to fore.  Jeff Justice (2005) examined attitudes of Sinn Fein and Herri Batasuna supporters and concluded that they have less confidence in democratic institutions and are more accommodating of unconventional political behaviour; hence explaining their stronger, if tacit, support for terrorism.  The terrorist commonality not withstanding, the majority of scholarly literature tends to highlight differences between the two cases.  Given the success of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, much attention has been paid to the question ‘why hasn’t it worked in the Basque Country?’.  Rorgelio Alonso (2004) argues that the reason is that the Peace Process in Northern Ireland has been developed along the lines of the constitutionalisation of radical nationalism. By contrast, in the Basque Country trend has gone the other way; namely, the radicalisation of constitutional nationalism has been taking place, which undermines the possibility of achieving peace.  John Brew et al. (2009) has also highlighted a range of differences between the two cases to explain why peace has not been achieved in the Basque Country.

In short, comparative case studies of Scottish and Basque independence movements abound.  What is lacking, however, is any focus on the relationship between Scottish and Basque independence movements, presumably because there are not much similarities between the two cases.

That is not to suggest, however, that no ties bind Scotland and the Basque Country.  For one thing, the SNP and the Basque Solidarity (EA)- a splinter party from the more dominant Basque National Party (PNV)-belong to the same parliamentary group in the European Parliament – the European Free Alliance.  There is therefore an institutional platform for these two parties to collaborate. Nonetheless, this prospect is currently being hampered by the fact that the EA doesn’t have a single MEP. The SNP continues to support the Basque Peace Process and its MEPs are members of the Basque Friendship Group of the European Parliament, but it is fair to say the Basque country rarely features into the SNP’s pronouncements on the benefits of independence.

It was also recently reported that the PNV pleaded to be annexed to Scotland as ‘Euskotland’ as part of their annual carnival fun (Daily Record, 22 February 2012).  One of the explanations put forth to explain the Basque country’s action is that Scots might be given the opportunity to vote for independence while there is no such prospect for the Basques themselves in the near future.  This reality is the result of many changes that have taken place in the UK and Spain during the past few decades.

When the post-Franco constitution came into force in Spain in 1978, Spanish regions were given much more power than any regions in the UK could hope to obtain under what many then considered a centralising state in the U.K. The 1978 Spanish constitution, on the other hand, gave the Basque Country significant autonomy including the ability to control law enforcement and public finances without interference from the central government.  The current devolutionary settlement in the UK, however, grants less power and competence to the Scottish government.  Paradoxically, then, given the speed with which devolution is evolving in Scotland, Scots now have a prospect of obtaining independent while the Basques do not.

Nonetheless, an independent Scotland is unlikely to have more than a symbolic impact on Basque separatism. The Scottish and Basque cases do have similarities but their movements for autonomy have been evolving in a different context with different drivers.  Of course, if the Scottish voters choose independence, it would provide a moral boost to nationalists/separatists across Europe and beyond. As the preceding paragraphs indicated, however, in order for Scottish independence to have a tangible effect on other separatist movements, much more conversion of the conditions under which each movement operates would be necessary.

Atsuko Ichijo is Senior Researcher at Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University.  Her research interests over Scottish nationalism, Europeanisation and nationalism and modernity of nationalism.  She is now working on a monograph on the modernity of nationalism using Anglo-British, Finnish and Japanese cases. 


Alonso, Rorgelio (2004) ‘Pathways out of Terrorism in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country: The Misrepresentation of the Irish Model’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 16(4), 695–713

Brew, John; Frampton, Mary and Gurruchaga, Inigo (2009) Talking to Terrorists: Making Peace in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country, London: Hurst

Esman, Milton (ed.), (1977) Ethnic Conflict in the Western World, Ithaka, NY: Cornel University Press

Guibernau, Montserrat (2006) ‘National identity, devolution and secession in Canada, Britain and Spain’, Nations and Nationalism, 12(1), 51-76

Justice, Jeff Wm.  (2005) ‘Of Guns and Ballots: Attitudes towards Unconventional and Destructive Political Participation among Sinn Fein and Herri Batasuna Supporters’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 11:295–320

Keating, Michael (2001) Nations against the State: The New Politics of Nationalism in Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland (2nd edition), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Smith, Anthony D., (1979) Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, Oxford: Martin Robertson and Co.

Zirakzadeh, Cyrus. E. (1989) ‘Economic changes and surges in micro-nationalist voting in Scotland and the Basque region of Spain’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 31(2), 318-339. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2012/02/22/basques-reveal-they-want-to-replace-madrid-as-their-capital-with-edinburgh-86908-23760208/

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  • Roberto Robles Fumarola

    Excellent analysis – please see my essay analysing the effects of democratisation on the end of political violence in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country. There is however one issue to consider, and that is the impact of state recognition in the EU.
    The Spanish are not very keen to recognise secessionist states, for obvious reasons, and this was demonstrated by its refusal to recognise Kosovo. Would Spain recognise a hypothetically independent Scotland? If it doesn’t, what would that do to Scotland’s ambitions for EU membership? The Scottish independence movement’s argument rests largely on the fact that an independent Scotland could prosper as part of the EU, but a potential Spanish refusal would block Scotland’s accession (as any enlargement requires unanimity among the member states, and approval of the European Parliament).
    A victory for the YES side would put the Spanish in a very difficult position domestically, and regionally. If it were to permit Scotland’s accession to the EU, its domestic nationalists movements would be massively boosted and this is not something Spanish is willing to do (in particular the new centre-right government). If it were to veto it, and particularly if it is the only member state to do so, its standing within the EU would be damaged and it would be seen as anti-democratic, refusing to recognise a democratic referendum that is being permitted by its parent state (which was not the case with Kosovo and Serbia).

  • James Mclaren

    An excellent analysis worthy of a deeper reading than I have given it so far, as I have concentrated my  thinking on several aspects vis a vis certain opinions on Scotland and its place within the United Kingdom.
    Let me forst remark on the postulation that Scotland as a small country could not support its banking industry. The author seems to suggest that the Unionist side cites the banking crisis as a an argument to stay within the Union. This is clearly absurd as it was the lack of regulation of the casino banking side of the Banks acting in the City of London that caused the problem. Directly resoponsible for that were Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street who did not act to control the nonsense going on inside these onshore casinos. In other words the London based UK Government allowed this happen, even helped it on its way, and as such are responsible, not the Government of Scotland or its people.
    Futhermore the authopr seems to say that the response to this banking accusation is that The SNP say “small is good.”  That is really a non sequitur. In fact what the SNP’s response to this accusation is that the regulatory authority where the loss occurred has the financial responsibilty for that. Thus, had it happened in a situation where Scotland and England were separate and independent the Westminster authority would have been responsible for that. If you don’t believe me consider the bailout of the Dexia and other banks, which were funded by various EU governments proportionate to there activity in the respective countries. Thus London actually picked up the losses by the Icelandic banks on their activities in the UK and overseen by the UK authorities. In the USA Barclays, Deutche Bank, BNP and RBS all received bailout funds from the US Treasury. In the UK, Santander’s operations are guaranteed by the UK Government.
    Moving next to Roberto Robles Fumarolo, who suggests that Spain could veto the entry of Scotland into the EU, as I presume, it would set a precedent for the secession of some Spanish regions. This is a red herring and the original story was a product of some mischievous minds in the UK Government’s “Black Ops” cells who continually are churning out a daily diet of deniable and indpendence propaganda. The Spanish Government swiftly denied they had said or thought anything of the kind.
    A better understanding of the this point might be to understnd what id the United Kingdom. The UK is not England, it is not Great Britain (which is an island and thus a geographical description like Iberia). The United Kingdom came into being when Scotland and England signed a Treaty of Union (endorsed by the two respective Parliaments) to form a new political aggregation. Scotland and for that matter England did not cease to exist after this and in particular Scotland continues to exist a country although not a nation, with its own legal system, educational system, borders and zone of economic exploitation offshore. Thus about 90% of the “UK’s” oil revenues come from what is, under UN and Maritime Law, Scottish waters. Most of the North Sea fising zone, so loved by Spanish trawlers, belongs to Scotland.
    If Scotland votes votes to become an independent nation again, it does NOT leave the United Kingdom. In fact it breaks the treaty of Union and the United Kingdom no longer exists. England et al is not the successor state to the UK and all rights and obligations of the two sucessor states  are equal. Thus, as has been conformed by numerous EU constitutional siurces and experts, Scotland would not have to apply to join the EU, if it wished to do so. There is no mechanism for EU citizens to be stripped unilaterally of that right.
    I doubt that EU would wish not to have the largest pertoleum producer in Europe within its borders although the Scottish people may not see that it would be in their best interest to do so. Spain would have no veto, nor would London.
    It would have better to use an analogy of Wales somehowe quitting its annexation by England rather than Scotland breaking the Treaty of Union.
    In short, Scotland and the Basque country or Catalan are in no way analogous, except in the sense of wishing to take control of most of the political life and basing their decisons of what they do and where they go closer to their peoples.
    nd legal absorbtion

  • James Mclaren

    I have had more time to read this excellent and particular analysis and feel moved to respond on several other points, again wfrom a peculiarly Scottish perspective. I confess not to be an academicand a supporter of independence for Scotland.
    I agree with the author that the Scottish independence movement sits in a sector of its own and defies any anaylysis of similarity with other N American and European movements.
    Scottish Nationalism, as defined by the SNP is a civic nationalism which is not based on ethnicity, bloodline or place of birth. It suffers from the use of National in the identity of the main independence party, the SNP, in that comparisons, by what we now call the BritNats, National Socialist party of Nazi Germany as an associative slur. The SNP has many members which are reprentative of the mosaic that is modern Scotland and the Oath of Allegiance taken at the start of a new Parlaiment can be taken is a language of choosing which ususally represents the ethnic history of the individual. I think that about 20 different languages were chosen this time. I recently read an article in an independence minded newsblog by a Japanese lady, married to a Scot and living in Scotland which fully supported the movement for independence. I could possibly find it if asked.
    There are many people in the SNP who were born in England and who have moved to Scotland with at least 3 Cabinet members being of that type. The SNP has disavowed violence and to my knowledge there have never been terrorist incidents attached to the independence movement. In fact, arguably, some incidents some decades ago point to State inspired or sponsored terrorism against the independence movement, rather than the other way around. 
    I must finally return to the idea that post independence Scotland would be cast adrift from Mother England who would inherit all the riches of the Union of 300 years. Scotland would be entitled to about 8.6% of all the National assets of the United Kingdom, including the Bank of England and gold reserves as well as military assets. Scotland is not a “region” of the United Kingdom but is a particpative partner in it, one of two. Dissolve the “Union” and both former partners are in the same boat with respect to responsibilities, rights and obligations of every treaty entered into by the former United Kingdom.
    A propos the EU it is quite clear that Scotland and England+ would be in the same position, either both inheriting the EU membership or bizarrely both not. Many anti EU Tories see this as a get out clause from the EU. An anonymous Labour Lord Chancellor, quoted by the former Conservative MP Norman Tebbit, supported this view, at least in private.

    Pointing out that an independent Scotland did not sign EU membership treaties, Mr Tebbit asked whether “the new state of Scotland” would have to re-apply for EU membership.  The Labour Lord Chancellor replied:  

    “But what about the new state of England, Northern Ireland and Wales?  Would we remain members?  After all our new state would not have been a party to the Treaty either.”
    Other legal experts have voiced the same opinion.  Eamonn Gallagher, former Director General of the European Commission and EC Ambassador to the UN in New York, quoted in the Sunday Herald on 18 February 2007, said:  

    “Scotland and the rest of the UK would be equally entitled to continue their existing full membership of the EU.”

    Emile Noel, the first and longest serving Secretary-General of the European Commission said:”Scottish Independence would create two new member states out of one.  They would have equal status with each other and the other states.  The remainder of the United Kingdom would not be in a more powerful position than Scotland.”
    Going further, I have managed to dig up some voiced opinions about Scotland’s eligibility to continue membership of the EU.
    Other legal experts have voiced the same opinion.  Eamonn Gallagher, former Director General of the European Commission and EC Ambassador to the UN in New York, quoted in the Sunday Herald on 18 February 2007, said:  

    “Scotland and the rest of the UK would be equally entitled to continue their existing full membership of the EU.”

    Emile Noel, the first and longest serving Secretary-General of the European Commission said:”Scottish Independence would create two new member states out of one.  They would have equal status with each other and the other states.  The remainder of the United Kingdom would not be in a more powerful position than Scotland.”
    As I said earlier, should the EU still be in existence at the time of Scottish independence, I think they would be nuts to block or try to hinder what would be the sixth most properous nation in the World (on GDP per capita) as well as the richest Energy Economy in Europe (Oil, Gas, Wind and Sea Energy). I don’t know what Spain thinks it would or should do, but I would bet my shirt that Germany would really want Scotland to be a member of whatever economic zone it is in. Scotland has five of the top 100 World Universities, per head produces more scientific publications than any other country and has more graduates per capita than most other developed nations.

  • James Mclaren

    I cut and pasted the points on opinions of Scotland’s EU eligibility from another blog and it appears that I somehow pasted part of it twice.

  • Eneko

    Great article, is a fact that independence and the success of scots will be the way other separatist nations will follow in western europe, if scotland´s independence works all the fears will be vanished to the basques and when they think is suitable for them they will declare independence in the basque parlament with confidence, because the spanish constitution prohibits other way to negociate the spanish union´s fracture.

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