Scotland independence vote fires up Catalonia

The strengthening of Scotland's independence movement is fanning fierce passions in Spain's Catalonia region, where noisy demonstrations are planned on Thursday by Catalans who want to break away from Spain.

Catalonia's president Artur Mas set the northeastern region at odds with Madrid when he announced plans to hold an independence "consultation" on November 9 this year — a move fiercely opposed by the Spanish government.

Now a poll published in Britain this weekend, which showed the "Yes" camp in Scotland moving slightly into the lead for the first time, has sent Catalan separatist feeling into overdrive.

"Scotland makes us envious and fuels our fury," said Josep Maria Guell, a 32-year-old architect, outside the headquarters of the Catalan National Assembly, the region's leading pro-independence group.

"The case of Scotland shows that with dialogue and political will from Madrid, we could resolve this democratically."

The timing for the YouGov poll in The Sunday Times newspaper came at the most sensitive time of the year for Catalonia: days before its annual "Diada" national day on September 11, which falls exactly a week before Scotland's referendum.

– V for vote –

The Diada marks what many in this northeastern region see as the day they lost their autonomy: September 11, 1714, when Barcelona fell to Spanish and French forces in the War of Succession that redrew the map of Spain.

This year the Diada opens the final straight in the dash to hold a vote on whether Catalonia should break away from Spain — a move the Spanish government has branded unconstitutional.

"In Scotland they have already won in that they are being allowed to vote," said Carme Forcadell, president of the ANC.

"But if the 'yes' vote wins there, that will suit us very well. We will see how the European Union reacts."

Proud of their distinct Catalan language and culture, many of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants feel short-changed by the national government in Madrid, which redistributes their taxes.

Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy but it was hit hard by the financial crisis that broke out in 2008.

Mass Diada demonstrations began at the height of Spain's financial woes in 2012, when vast crowds swamped central Barcelona. In 2013, hundreds of thousands formed a human chain around the region.

This year, supporters of independence will mass along two central Barcelona avenues in the shape of a giant letter V for "vote".

Organisers say more than 455,000 people have signed up so far for the demonstration, which will aim to fill the streets with red and yellow Catalan flags under the slogan: "The time is now."

– 'Not a nation' –

The vote "cannot and will not take place", Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned at his last meeting with Mas in July.

Mas vowed to pass a new regional law that he says will allow him push ahead with the "consultation" anyway, but his efforts risk being thwarted by Spain's Constitutional Court.

Unlike Scotland, whose referendum was approved by the British government, the Catalan plan faces outright resistance from national leaders.

The Catalan anti-independence movement Catalan Civil Society (SCC) insists Madrid will get its way and rejects the comparison with Scotland.

"They are two different realities. Catalonia is a region, not a nation like Scotland," said the SCC's vice-president Susana Beltran.

Outside the ANC's headquarters in Barcelona, Scotland was on the minds of those queueing to buy Catalan flags and matching shirts for Thursday's rally.

"We are two countries fighting for the same thing," said Salvador Gorro, a 54-year-old salesman. "If things go well for them, that is good for us."

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‘Spain is a safe country’: Did the UK really need to impose blanket quarantine on travellers?

The UK government's decision to remove Spain from a "safe" travel list, meaning returning holidaymakers face two weeks in self-isolation has caused anger and confusion in Spain where the tourism industry is already struggling.

'Spain is a safe country': Did the UK really need to impose blanket quarantine on travellers?

“This decision is an absolute disaster for the recovery, there’s no other way to see this,” Angel Talavera, head of European Economics at Oxford Economics consulting, said on Twitter, referring to the British government's snap decision on Saturday. 

The government announced that from 11pm on Saturday anyone travelling from Spain, including returning holidaymakers, would have to self-isolate for two weeks.

That meant returning holidaymakers faced being unable to go back to work or see family members on their return.

London also advised against non-essential travel to mainland Spain.

The UK government insists the move was motivated by the need to prioritize public health. 

“We have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK. We've always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary,” a spokesman from the Department for Transport told the BBC.

The reaction from the Spanish government has so far been fairly muted.

When asked about the British government's decision to re-impose quarantine, a spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry said: “The government of Spain considers that the situation is under control. The outbreaks are localised, isolated and controlled. Spain is a safe country. We respect the decision of the UK government and we are in touch with them.” 

Apart from being a blow to the struggling Spanish tourism industry, which depends heavily on the millions British tourists who visit each year, the move has been met with some consternation in Spain where officials have insisted outbreaks are under control.

There's no doubt the number of cases of coronavirus have been on the rise in recent weeks.

Last Monday Spanish health officials reported that the infection rate had tripled in just over two weeks, from 8,76 per 100,000 inhabitants on July 3rd to 27,39 per 100,000 in recent days.

Albeit the pressure on hospitals remains low, according to officials.

On Friday Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that data from 10 regions showed a rise in cases and hospital admissions.

While many of the 283 active outbreaks were small and could be controlled the overall pattern is one of rising cases, the newspaper said.

But experts say the resurgence is partly due to people relaxing and not sticking to social distancing guidelines, but also due to greater testing capacity resulting in more positive cases being detected.

Catalonia has been affected and forced authorities to ask four million residents in Barcelona to stay at home. The north-eastern provinces of Lleida and Huesca have also seen spikes.

On Saturday Catalan authorities ordered nightclubs to close for two weeks and imposed curbs on bars and restaurants with young people and revellers being blamed for the spike in cases.

The regions of Aragon and Navarre have also seen spikes in cases.

But some parts of the country have been less affected by the resurgence including the southern region of Andalusia and the Balearic and Canary islands.

The fact that the UK government said it was not advising against travel to the Balearic or Canary islands, but would still impose quarantine on travellers returning from those regions, has understandably caused confusion.

Regional authorities in the Canary and Balearic Islands say they would try to get an exemption from the quarantine for people travelling back from the archipelagos.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, the foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, said Spain was one of the countries with the “most controls and mechanisms for identifying outbreaks”.

She dismissed suggestions of a second wave of Covid-19. “We’re not worried; we’re identifying cases and isolating them to cut off transmission,” she said.

“As long as we don’t have a vaccine or a treatment, this is what the new normality will be like. We ask citizens to comply with the restrictions and behave in a responsible manner. There isn’t a second outbreak but there are one-off outbreaks.”

The UK's decision has been met with surprise and dismay among British residents and tourists in Spain.

Michelle Baker, editor of the Round Town Times newspaper in Benidorm told The Guardian: “It's so unfair, we're all wearing masks here and there are only 14 cases on the whole of Alicante. The outbreaks are nowhere near here.”

Some British tourists also lamented the quarantine decision saying they felt safer in Spain than the UK.

“We’re quite frustrated by it to be honest, because it actually feels safer in Spain,” British tourist Carolyne Lansell told Reuters.

Rachel Pinnington, on holiday in Los Alcazares, Murcia said: “It feels perfectly safe here. It feels like a knee-jerk reaction by the government. Everyone is wearing masks. It's uncomfortable in the heat but I feel safe.”

In a bid to prevent new outbreaks fifteen out of Spain's 17 autonomous communities have now made face masks compulsory in all indoor and outdoor public spaces. Only Madrid and the Canary islands are not imposing the rule.

The central government, which insists that this is not a “second wave”, considers that the regions have sufficient tools to control the epidemic.

It has also ruled out the possibility of a new state of emergency, which allowed Madrid to impose a strict lockdown in mid-March which was not completely lifted until June 21.

The UK government has also come in for criticism back home.

“I can understand why the government have made this decision … but of course the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” said the Labour Party’s health policy chief, Jonathan Ashworth, speaking to Sky News.

Other countries have advised against travel to particularly regions in Spain with the French government urging its citizens not to travel to Catalonia. However it has not imposed any quarantine against returning travellers from Spain.