On September 18th, Scottish voters headed to the polls for what was most likely the most important political, social, and economic decision they have had to make in their lives. Scotland’s citizens finally had the opportunity to determine whether they wanted to remain a dependent country within the U.K., or become an independent state. While this had been headline news throughout Europe for some time, another territory in Western Europe has taken note of the Scotland’s potential reform and has begun calling out more loudly for independence as well.
In the north of Spain, the Basque Country has existed within the framework of the Spanish government, and until recently, its people have not made much headway in securing an autonomous, independent state. But with Scotland’s referendum on independence having already taken place, Spaniards in the Basque Country are hungry to have their own state as well. In fact, the northern autonomous region is preparing for its own referendum set for November 9th of this year.
The Basque Country’s desire for independence is not a new phenomenon. For roughly the past 100 years, the Basque people have been fighting for independence. According to Elkarri, an online forum dedicated to promoting the discussion of Basque issue, the Basque independence movement gained traction during the Franco era as he successfully and “violently suppressed all symbols of Basque identity and all forms of self-government.” When Spain was at its most tumultuous point in the past century, Basque expression was repressed. As a result, throughout many cultural and even sporting events today, the Basque flag flies proudly while the Spanish flag is nowhere to be seen.
One glaring difference, however, between the two independence movements is the constant presence of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA; Basque Homeland and Freedom), a widely known terrorist group that has killed around 800 people over past 40 years. Because of this unwanted influence, Madrid has been hesitant about ceding the region to a radical faction, thereby exacerbating the already tenuous situation. Similar to the situation between Dagestan and the Russian Federation, the parent government would rather combat ultra-nationalism than see it flourish as its own governing regime.
Fortunately for the Spanish government, a majority of Basque citizens agree. According to a poll taken in 2011, 55% of Basque respondents agreed that maintaining their autonomous status within the larger Spanish state was preferable to achieving complete independence. While some denizens argued in favor of federalism (relatively higher freedom in laws, and institutions separate from larger national ones) or continued autonomy, the majority of respondents do not consider independence as a viable, prosperous solution.
I could not agree more with the 55%. In certain cases, take South Sudan for instance, instead of sitting down to solve cultural or religious issues, citizens see an independence referendum as an easy way to escape such problems. But what many independence-seekers neglect to consider—and hopefully those in Scotland took into account as well—is future viability with regards to institutions and economic security. All too often, nationalism takes hold over a population and subsequently blinds voters going to the polls from seeing the effects of independence 50 or 100 years down the road.
Take for example the Basque Country in northern Spain. Their Gross Regional Product (GRP; GDP for a particular region) as of 2008 was roughly €66.26 billion, or just larger than that of Oman. While that is by no means near the bottom of list of countries’ GDPs, for a state in Western Europe to produce only about €20 billion in exports annually, there has to be cause for concern. Plus, more likely than not, their ability to remain part of the EU and the Eurozone will put into jeopardy their continued use of the Euro. Without EU membership, trade output and continued financial assistance that Spain currently enjoys will most likely cease as well.
In addition to economic output, what happens to social institutions? When a region secedes from its parent state, do the education, healthcare, and welfare systems remain the same? Logically I would say no, only because many of the aforementioned sectors are often nationalized. (For a Scottish example, will the NHS continue to function as normal or will an independent Scotland be forced to establish its own healthcare service?) Now, in this newly formed state, all previously nationalized social systems must be re-established, which not only takes time and effort but resources, namely money.
Diplomatically, how would an independent Basque state be received? Surely the harmful influence of ETA would show its menacing face and ward off the many countries in the international community from establishing diplomatic ties with the Basque Country. Would other states offer to establish trade ties knowing full well that a universally acknowledged terrorist group still holds significant power in the county?
All of these questions, and them some, must be considered by the residents of the Basque Country in future referendums—and apart from the terrorist element, voters in Scotland must take these issues into consideration as well. No voter will admit that independence is easy. Many will cry out for independence in the name of nationalism or a greater regional identity, but when the issues are laid out on the table, independence does not seem so sweet. In any event, the world’s focus is on Scotland, not the Basque Country, so our Spanish friends up north have until November 9th to examine how a potential Scottish independence would work for them.
Image Source: AP/ Daniel Ochoa De Olza