A TOP author has stressed the importance of Catalonia’s “massive” grassroots movement to its quest for independence – as he compared its situation to Scotland’s.

Chris Bambery, co-author of Catalonia Reborn, said there was a tendency in some leading circles inside the SNP and the independence movement to belittle what the Catalans had achieved.

He told The National: “Despite the Spanish state physically trying to prevent it, they did hold a referendum in 2017. Then they declared independence – though a more virtual event than a reality.

“I’m not suggesting that we declare independence, but I do think we need to learn that the Catalans were able to force the Spanish state to pardon the nine imprisoned leaders through the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

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“The ANC is the driving force for keeping independence on the front burner even while the political parties are in-fighting and have no real strategy.”

His comments come as polling from the Catalan government revealed support for independence had fallen to 38.8%. The Centre for Opinion Study figures illustrated a 5% decline since last year, and a massive drop compared to the 2017 referendum when 90% voted yes, though that was boycotted by those against independence.

Bambery said that support was waning because of global issues like Ukraine, the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

He added: “The war has shifted people’s concentration, and it’s had a knock-on effect in demonising nationalism, people look at the invasion in Ukraine and think ‘we don’t want to go there really’.”

Dr Daniel Cetra, nationalism researcher at the University of Barcelona, said there had been a decline in support for self-determination following the 2017 referendum because most Catalans didn’t see it as “plausible”.

Despite this, calls for a referendum have remained high at 72% of the electorate, and he expected the desire for secession to fluctuate between 38% and 45%.

Cetra said: “There’s a widespread feeling of disappointment and lost momentum within the movement and, inevitably, some activists are becoming detached.”

He added that Catalonia had lost its strong independence policy from the previous decade. “It’s now characterised by the tensions and divisions between the Catalan pro-independence parties on strategy,” he said.

“The Republican Left’s (ERC) pragmatist stance of negotiating with Madrid contrasts Junts’s strategy of continued disobedience headed by strong leadership in the figure of Puigdemont.”

Bambery said that unlike the SNP’s long-time domination in Scotland, in-fighting within the Catalan coalition government between the ERC and Junts had weakened nationalism – which Madrid exploited.

He added: “We’ve seen the continued persecution of leading Catalan figures by the Spanish judiciary. The most recent has been with former president Quim Torra, who was persecuted for putting a banner up in solidarity with political prisoners and he’s now facing a ban from office.

“There’s continuing repression from Madrid. Again, it doesn’t seem to end, it’s demoralising.

“There’s no sign that the Spanish state is serious about entering into dialogue, so it’s not dissimilar to Scotland where there’s a feeling that despite constant talk of a second referendum, there is no likelihood of that in the near future.”

Cetra said that while Scotland and Catalonia were comparable in many ways there were some crucial differences in the ways Spain and the UK responded to independence movements.

He said: “While the UK Government of David Cameron was amenable to negotiating a referendum in Scotland, thus creating a precedent, the successive Spanish governments have continued to oppose one.

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“The different state responses have, in turn, resulted in markedly different political dynamics in Catalonia and Scotland.”

Bambery agreed that it was unlikely the government in Madrid, increasingly influenced by far-right parties like Vox, would legislate a constitutional referendum but he said that Catalans knew this and understood the need to seek support across Spain, Europe and beyond.

He added: “I think there’s an element of that we can look for in Scotland. While the UK Government did give us a referendum in 2014, in the current situation it’s unlikely that Johnson’s government is going to agree to that.

“We need to be building a grassroots organisation as well as looking south of the border and beyond for allies that can help us in that fight.”