THE Brexit-induced cracks in Britain’s constitutional settlement, have a shattered mirror image hundreds of miles away in Spain, where independence-supporting “regional” parties polled a record 2.3 million votes in the European elections – more votes in just two “provinces” of Spain than Podemos polled across the whole country.

But did you hear much about it? While far right gains were wildly oversold and even the EU-wide Green surge got a mention, the success of small, progressive, independence-supporting parties has been glossed over. And that’s a shame.

When Scotland succeeds in becoming a new member of the EU, our arrival could have a positive impact on the fortunes of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Meanwhile their ability to sink party political differences and work together across party barriers and territorial borders could provide an interesting model for Scotland and Wales right now.

The EU elections saw a new party list created in Spain called the “Now Republics” – a coalition between Galicians, Catalans and Basques centred on the socialist Junqueras in Catalonia rather than the managerial Puigdemont, (though he also became an MEP).

The charismatic and imprisoned Junqueras came top of the “Now” joint list, but a candidate from EH Bildu – a coalition of pro-independence parties in the Basque Country – came second. And that signals an important advance in Spain’s constitutional deadlock.

The prize is mutual support in the Spanish Parliament, where the Now Republics’ 19 members will press for the release of “politically motivated” prisoners in Catalonia and the Basque Country. Until now, the Basques have been reluctant to press their case too hard in the international arena because of the violent struggle waged for almost 60 years by ETA. Violence was renounced in 2011 and ETA ceased to exist in 2018, but the scars and divisions are only just healing.

Local reconciliation projects are taking place across the Basque region. One example is Errenteria, a town near San Sebastian with the highest number of deaths from ETA and state violence where councillors from each political party – including the pro-Franco PP – are sitting together in a reconciliation forum to share experiences and support one another.

But the other thing hindering the Basques is an unusual problem – their superior position within the hierarchy of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions. Unlike the rest, the Basques actually control tax-raising.

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It’s a quirk of Spain’s complex history that the Basques have a greater sense of economic autonomy and control than the Catalans, to whom tax raising powers was denied. Of course, the Basques must pay Spain’s government for central services including the monarchy, foreign affairs, armed forces, Guardia Civil and Spanish police, pensions – and many believe they are being overcharged.

They must also accept centralised Spanish attitudes on devolved policy areas, or risk having their legislation overruled by the Spanish Constitutional Court (sound familiar?). That’s already happened to progressive measures like a proposed ban on fracking, delivery of healthcare regardless of the patient’s origin, help with prescription costs for the elderly and chronically ill and a planned ban on plastic carrier bags.

This irks the Basques – like Scots they had their own kingdom and managed to keep their laws, customs and language until the mid 19th century, even though the fascist dictatorship of General Franco almost sounded the death-bell for Euskara, the oldest language in Europe which predates all living European languages and is unrelated to any others. Franco’s insistence on dubbing not subtitling foreign films may sound like small beer but it denies the Basques (and Catalans) the chance to substitute foreign film subtitles with their own languages and, as a result, children learning their mother tongue at school end up watching Netflix in Spanish.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing the Basques, though, is the fact there are several Basque administrations. The Basque nation is not one but two autonomous regions – the larger Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) and the smaller, more traditional, Navarre. There’s also a Northern Basque Country in France.

The two Basque communities in Spain are run by separate governments – largely as a result of different histories and loyalties during the civil war. In 1936, the provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa remained loyal to the Republic while inland and deeply traditional Navarre and Araba sided with Franco. In Navarre, 1% of the Basque population, was killed by Franco-supporting neighbours and the bodies of more than 3500 teachers, trade unionists, councillors, mayors, men, women, and some children, have been dug out of ditches and pits.

The National:

So, until now, the history of the Basque Provinces has demonstrated the success of Spain’s divide-and-rule policy, creating separate and sometimes rival regional governments with the same language and nominally the same desire for self-rule. The Basques could be a single state of three million people. Like Catalonia, they believe they already contribute more to the Spanish Exchequer than the average autonomous region.

The £15 billion Mondragon Corporation, for example, is the 10th biggest business group in Spain. Based in the inland town of Arrasate, it started as an industrial co-operative in 1956, staffed by workers educated in a technical college set up after the Civil War by a local priest.

Now it’s the world’s largest workers’ co-operative and acts as a parent company to 111 smaller co-ops, producing everything from fridges and washing machines to equipment for the timber trade, and has a university. With strong economic performers like Mondragon, the two Basque Regions produce 8% of Spain’s GDP despite making up just 6% of its population.

But the compromise accepted by the leaders of Spain’s smaller constituent nations during the “coffee run” which followed Franco’s death has created vested interests and voting habits which keep the Basque peoples apart. In 1975 when Franco died, his ideology was not defeated. So the powerful establishment which shared his outlook managed to force through a compromise, devolving power to 17 autonomous regions with Basques, Catalans and Galicians acknowledged as nationalities not nations. Just as in Britain where power devolved has become power retained, so it has proved in Spain where the post-Franco transition settlement effectively kept power at the centre and outlawed “breakaway” republics.

It’s taken 40 years for this “transition” compromise to fall apart. Some believe the violent years of ETA acted as internal “glue” for the Spanish state and slowed progress in Catalonia.

But if the peaceful route now being pursued in both nations produces only imprisonment and direct rule, what then?

The immediate challenge for Basques is how to play a smart hand with the Catalans and get some kind of deal from the new minority Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez. The socialist leader tried to mollify the Now Republics by proposing two Catalan lawmakers as parliamentary speakers – but the Catalans have dismissed that as a cosmetic exercise. Meanwhile the trial of Junqueras and his co-defenders is about to end, but hopes of a positive outcome are low.

So what can the independence-seeking Now Republican parties do next? Will too much opposition crash the Socialist government and let the defeated right-wing coalition, including the deeply conservative Vox, regroup and potentially win power? Will cheaply bought support simply repeat the unsatisfactory compromise of 40 years ago?

One thing’s certain. The Basques and Catalans have a combined population of 11 million people – almost the same as Scotland, the whole of Ireland and Wales. And they aren’t going to back down.

According to historian Mark Kurlansky: “The few hundred years of European nation states are only a small part of the Basque story.

“There may not be a France or a Spain in 1000 years … but there will still be Basques.”