Catalunya is a nation and has the right to choose

Next Sunday, the people of Catalunya go to the polls to choose their new government. However, this election will have further implications than merely a change in seats for Catalan political parties.

Due to the intransigence of the Spanish state, this vote has been given the status of a proxy for a referendum on Catalan independence.

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First published in The Sunday Herald 20 September 2015

Indeed, Catalan nationalist leaders have said in recent weeks that a victory for them would launch a "road map" to Catalan independence within 18 months.

I will be there, as an election observer but I certainly won't be neutral. I am firmly supporting Catalan democracy. Catalunya is a nation, and has a right to choose, and absolutely nobody should stand in the way of a democratic expression of will.

My Catalan colleagues watched our own experience of an independence referendum one year ago with a great deal of envy and frustration. The cooperation between the UK government and the Scottish government – the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement, the explicit agreement to respect the result of that vote no matter what the outcome - was a good news story for democracy and an example the State of Spain would do well to follow.

Instead, what should be an energising debate about Catalunya's place in the world has instead become a divisive and frustrated binary argument. In the absence of a democratic process, the result can only be festering frustration, and I think there is a real risk of that frustration spilling over.

This point absolutely underlines a key difference between Scotland and Catalunya. Whereas nobody anywhere in Scottish or UK politics seriously thought that we did not have the right to make the decision, regardless of their views on yes or no, in Madrid especially the unity of Spain is a matter of theology.

This attitude is going to need something of a speedy reformation if Spanish politicians are going to continue to claim to be democrats.

As Spain's wealthiest and most economically productive region, accounting for about a quarter of Spain's tax revenue, Spain needs Catalunya on the books. Indeed, take Catalunya out of Spain's numbers and Spain is back in the economic danger zone just as it looks like they're coming out of it.

For Catalans, as with many Scots, the wish for independence is not just down to questions of identity, language and history, but there is also an underlying rejection of the dominant, central government.

Many Catalans do not see the conservative, free-market orientation of the Spanish government as compatible with their own political preferences and understandably believe that they could manage their own economy more effectively independently rather than through the current centralised system.

This is certainly a sentiment many in our own country would sympathise with.

As we saw in our own referendum too, the EU has not exactly been forthcoming on the question of independence and EU membership, and I fully expect that this chilly neutrality will continue. However, the EU is pragmatic and when the votes are counted, from a Brussels perspective a Catalan passport looks very much like a Spanish one. The issues, though, from a Brussels perspective, are way more complicated than they were in Scotland's case - the Eurozone has zero - nada - rules on how to deal with such an eventuality and the markets will be watching.

However, Catalunya is a nation, and has a right to choose.

That is absolutely clear.

And the EU is pragmatic enough and flexible enough to adapt – as it did with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the reunification of Germany, the exit of Greenland, and on many other occasions - and because the alternative is simply anti-democratic, anti-European, and potentially explosive.