Is Scotland triggering a breakaway movement in Catalan?

In the Independent on Sunday on 22nd January, Brian Brady reported:

Spain has indicated it could block an independent Scotland’s accession to the European Union, sources said. It has already refused to recognise Kosovo’s existence as an independent state. Madrid fears such moves will encourage separatist ambitions in Spanish regions, particularly Catalonia and the Basque region. Spain’s refusal to recognise Kosovo has frustrated the former Serbian province’s ambitions to enter the union.

Reading this story with reasonable care and attention, however, it appeared that the source for this piece of journalism wasn’t Spain, but Whitehall. Throughout the story, the only direct claims are sourced to “senior Whitehall sources” and “A senior UK minister said”:

“We understand the Scottish view is they would wish to join the UN but they would not wish to join Nato. They might wish to join the EU, but we fully expect Spain to block it, fearing it might encourage the separatist spirit on their doorstep.”

This made me cynical, but the story was more effectively skewered by Craig Murray, a Foreign Office diplomat of 20 years experience, who debunked the story in three paragraphs. The reality:

Firstly, nobody in the EU has ever left the EU voluntarily, let alone been expelled, and the idea that 5 million EU citizens in a stongly pro-EU country would be thrown out against their will is not in the realm of practical politics. The whole dynamic of the EU is expansive, with countries continually accepted into membership who technically should not be. Everybody knows, for example, that Romania and Bulgaria were not remotely close to compliance with the acquis communitaire when they were admitted. There is no appetite anywhere in the EU to argue that an EU member successor state would have to re-apply.


Though Craig Murray is wrong: there evidently is an appetite in Whitehall, which is part of the EU though the Tories love it not, to argue that Scotland would have to re-apply to re-join the EU if it left the UK.

The second reason you can tell this story comes from England not from Spain:

Secondly, Scots are much liked internationally. There is a strong popular understanding throughout Europe of Scottish desire for independence – bagpipes, Braveheart and a separate football team are an intrinsic part of this strong Scottish popular recognition. There are no votes in Europe in being beastly to the Scots, and that includes Spain. The Spanish government are not stupid. It would be very unpopular in Spain to act against the Scots, and would infuriate the Catalans and actually boost the independence movement there. Tactically, there are times when it is best to pretend to be relaxed about self-determination, as Cameron is doing.

But it’s not unpopular in England to act against the Scots. The anti-Jock stories and comments are crawling out in the English newspapers.

And finally, Craig Murray points out the actual facts, not the Whitehall story:

Thirdly, there is a real difference here with the Kossovans. Spain does not oppose Slovenia, Croatia or other parts of the former Yugoslavia from EU membership. It did not oppose the Czech Republic or Slovakia. Spain does not automatically argue against EU membership for splitting states – that is a lie spread by English unionists. Unlike Kossovo, the Scottish state is not inextricably linkes with organised crime, and is not outside the EU.

I referenced the story as a dead thing in the post I wrote for today, the day of the launch of the consultation. It apppears however that someone in Whitehall – that unnamed “senior UK minister” perhaps? – intended the Sunday’s Independent story as just the first step in a campaign.

This morning in the Herald, there’s a new story. Timed to coincide with the day that the consultation is to be launched, it’s said:

Confidential communciations [sic] reveal the British ambassador in Madrid has been confronted with mounting fears in Spain that the 2014 referendum in Scotland will spark demands for similar polls in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

But just as with the Independent story, the “confidential communications” appear to be sourced from Whitehall.

The documents show UK ministers have been briefed to reassure their Spanish counterparts that Scotland’s constitutional question is quite different from those of Spain’s minority nations and regions.

Britain’s ambassador in Madrid, Giles Paxman, in a telegram marked “restricted”, has set out the UK’s official response to such speculation.

Who leaked these briefings and that “restricted” telegram? This “senior UK minister”? Who is he?

Mr Paxman, whose elder brother Jeremy presents Newsnight, stressed the Spanish Government would be unlikely to allow a “regional” plebiscite along the lines of that planned by First Minister Alex Salmond.

This is Jeremy Paxman with Alex Salmond on Newsnight last night:

The Herald references the Independent’s Whitehall story:

A London newspaper on Sunday cited an unnamed UK Government minister saying Spain would seek to block the European Union membership of an independent Scotland.

That claim was denied by the Spanish Government but not before it sparked a flurry of newspaper reports in Madrid, Barcelona and elsewhere. The media reaction forced Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo to say his country would remain neutral in Scotland’s constitutional wrangles.

Forced him? Or was that just what Spain’s position was all along, before and after this “senior UK minister” decided that appropriate Unionist campaigning entails leaking entirely false stories about other EU countries?

Who is this “senior UK minister”? The Herald mentions unnamed ministers:

One Coalition minister, speaking anonymously to The Herald, insisted Spain was worried, despite its formal denials it would veto Scottish EU membership. He said: “It [Spain] would be extremely unhappy about the thought of member states breaking up and would not make that a straightforward process.”

Another senior Coalition source last night stressed the Scottish independence referendum was having “serious political implications” for other European governments.

I appreciate that newspapers value confidential political sources. But this is unconscionable. So far in this story of how Spain will “veto EU membership” for Scotland – a story which appears to be completely false from beginning to end – we’ve had at least one, maybe three, coalition Ministers of the UK government, speaking anonymously with the clear intent of disrupting a Scottish referendum for which there is a democratic mandate.

There’s only one way to describe this. It’s just plain wrong.

Can Leveson call the editors of the Herald and the Independent on Sunday to give evidence about this story?

Who is this “senior UK minister” who seems to be leaking confidential documents without David Cameron showing the slightest concern?

Where’s responsible journalism in reporting this story without any effort to check if it’s actually true?

If you have questions, feel free to share them in the comments. I want to know the answers.

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Filed under European politics, Scottish Politics

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