IT’S six years since Catalonia held its referendum on self-determination. At the time, I, as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Catalonia, and other parliamentary members – including Hywel Williams from Plaid Cymru and my SNP colleague Joanna Cherry – visited Catalonia as international observers for the vote.

October 1, 2017, was the day our eyes were opened to the ongoing repression of the Catalan people, and it was an unforgettable and shocking experience. We were all stunned and horrified by the casual use of violence by the national police and security services, and all perpetrated on the streets of a member state of the EU. 

Seeing older people who still had memories of the Franco regime, and young parents protecting their children from the riot gear-clad police attacking their own citizens for the simple act of casting a democratic vote, was something I thought I would never witness in a modern, European country. 

The fall-out from that day continues to reverberate in Catalonia and in the wider Spanish political sphere, where agreement on the formation of a government in Madrid is looking increasingly precarious.  

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A right-of-centre government following the recent election is impossible as they just can’t get the numbers. A left-of-centre government led by Pedro Sanchez – the present acting prime minister – is possible but only with the support of the Catalans.  

Given this tricky situation, you’d think the Catalans would be in a strong position – unfortunately, it’s not that simple. 

 The “asks” being put forward as bargaining chips include an amnesty for all those who were arrested following the October 2017 referendum. That is the bare minimum and is regarded almost as a given by the Catalans, many of whom have suffered ongoing repression for pursuing their democratic rights.

The big ask is on self-determination, with Catalan president Pere Aragones (below) urging the next Spanish PM to take the time to find some common ground between both parties and let Catalonia vote on independence by 2027. 

The National: GERONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07: The vice-president of the Generalitat and ERC candidate in the Catalan elections, Pere Aragones speaks during a central electoral campaign event on 7 February 2021 in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. The party has decided to change

An amnesty would be the easier prize to win. Any government in Madrid is likely to refuse going against the constitution which describes Spain as “indivisible”.

However, if talks fail and no compromise can be found in the next month, then Spain is back into general election territory in January Meanwhile, despite the horrors they have endured, the Catalans continue to keep their eyes on the independence prize.

On the grassroots side they have an excellent pro-self-determination umbrella group, which is well-organised and, despite political differences and tensions, can put on a real united front when push comes to shove.

The National Assembly of Catalonia (ANC) is funded by private subscription, and it employs 20 staff who are constantly organising, creating campaigns and pushing the case for self-determination.

Outside of the political parties, there are think tanks and academics who take time to “re-imagine” what an independent Catalonia might look like.

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We experienced one such event whilst visiting last weekend, when the APPG delegation and I attended the Catalonia Global Institute’s session on A Grand Strategy for Catalan foreign policy and defence post-independence.

It attracted 100 engaged citizens, academics and defence experts and internationally renowned speakers such as the Slovenian former foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel and professor of political science Dr Matt Qvortrup from the UK.

We listened to analysis on the nuts and bolts of what becoming independent would mean in terms of taking responsibility for diplomacy, defence, security and energy rather than relying on the central government in Madrid. These discussions on envisioning Catalonia as independent and its subsequent worldview were steeped in pragmatism and detail and brought home to me the importance of these kinds of realistic, informed and open debates. 

We also visited the Hydrogen Research Centre at the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya Barcelona Tech to discover more about its work and this form of energy’s potential in Catalonia’s net-zero journey.

In discussions on energy-rich Scotland and our abundant natural resources, there were looks of genuine disbelief and incredulity from the assembled energy experts when I explained that Scotland has to pay a huge amount to access the grid, a continuing scandal in terms of our inequity in the dysfunctional family of nations that is the UK. 

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Visiting Catalonia is a special experience – the people, the culture, the food, the music, the warm welcome and hospitality – were wonderful to behold.

But it is their political stamina and confidence that stands out the most and reminds me of how much Scotland could learn from their dogged determination to realise their sovereignty.  

Scotland is crying out for a similar organisation to the ANC to bring the fractured and polarised Yes movement together, to professionalise and start smart campaigning each and every day to get our message out there, open debate and reach those in doubt.

We cannot leave the drive for independence to political parties alone. There’s the Catalonia lesson of having credible think tanks to “re-imagine” a future independent Scotland.

We need to get our ducks in a row on this and encourage more think tanks to come forward with their vision and plans for Scotland. And, very importantly, we need to become far more business-friendly and supportive to building our economy to bolster the work of the excellent SMEs that form the very backbone of that economy and which have faced so much uncertainty these past few years.

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In Catalonia, a majority of businesses support independence because it’s in their interests to be part of Catalonia’s success and prosperity. Why not in Scotland too? 

Finally, we need a good dose of the Catalan confidence and pragmatic determination to succeed in achieving their goal of independence.

We need to pick the right fights and win them; we need to act like we mean business and flick that massive chip off our shoulders.

The Catalans have been through far worse than us in recent years, but their spirit survives. It’s time for Scotland to refocus from the grassroots up.