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The Catalan Crisis is a story of incompetence and arrogance on both sides. The Catalan Assembly acted petulantly and rashly in holding an un-sanctioned referendum whilst the Spanish government exacerbated the situation by using force to prevent people from voting. The situation now has appeared to have stabilised in a large part because the crisis exhausted its peak media attention and the world has started to look away, such is the cynicism of the global attention span.
The nitty gritty details of who held the moral high ground, who threw the first punch, who acted more inappropriately are unimportant. The crisis, in my view, is only a glimmer of what is to come across Europe and across the world: globalism through localism.
Photo credits: Emilio Morenatti/AP
The British Isles, whether we like it or not, is slowly fracturing. All it takes is one major event that the Scots disagree with and Scottish Independence is back on the table. The Catholic population of Northern Ireland is slowly increasing at a rate faster than the Protestant population, many experts think when Catholics outnumber Protestants they will vote for Union with Ireland. And then what? Will Northern Ireland seamlessly integrate into the republic or will it retain a significant individual identity?
The list of secessionist and autonomist movements that exist across Europe is staggering, admittedly they operate with varying degrees of support but there is clearly a disposition towards local politics that is present. Those who don’t support independence movements often cite reasons of political expedience - it is better to be part of a strong, large state than to be negotiating all by yourself. What if this were not the case? What if all of Europe could unite under an economic system that worked for everyone? (All those reading who think I am going to explain an economic system that works for everyone across a whole continent can think again.)
My argument is essentially that large states with long borders and huge populations lead to unwarranted pride in the ‘culture’ and shared memories of a nation. This pride then facilitates unhelpful cooperation with neighbouring nations as all large states like to flex their muscles and show how large they are. The most baffling thing is that when we look internally at these nations we observe distinct, regional cultures that are far stronger than the superficial national culture and are based on natural affinities.
I have a vision of a Europe of small, similarly sized regions, all very conscious of their relatively small size and therefore very much enthusiastic to cooperate with their neighbours to maximise the economic benefit of all. Furthermore, the beauty of this arrangement is the likelihood for much more extensive cooperation. For example, a Frenchman from Alsace is much closer culturally to a German, than to a Frenchman living in the Basque country. Focusing on localism makes cultural differences less exaggerated.
In the UK there seem to be national rivalries between Scotland and England, ‘the Scots hate the English’, as the saying goes- nonetheless this is a generalising statement, and not the case for all Scottish people. What if the British Isles was suddenly just a collection of regions- would all Scottish regions dislike all the English regions? England is divided into the so-called North-South divide; yet do the Scottish regions feel sympathetic towards their Northern neighbours? Perhaps. Would those regions in the Highlands even concern themselves with a rejection for things that took place down south? Potentially. Moreover, in the south there is a clear cultural divide between the rural countryside and the city of London. Is the Scottish anger directed at the countryside or at the city? (For the two are in fact, very different). Indeed, the region of Cornwall may join the Scottish regions in disliking the English (which English we aren’t quite sure) and create a cultural affinity between them. Where do the Welsh fit in in all this? The point is, the hugeness of current states exacerbates cultural differences both regionally and nationally.
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If we refer to Benjamin Constant’s ideas on ancient and modern liberty we can see how increased localism will create a situation where people are able to express themselves culturally and politically both with ease and enthusiasm. Smaller, more local political spheres that deal with social issues will engage the local public and allow them to express their ancient liberty in a body politic. Economic issues would be managed by a governing body within a huge federation of European regions with the aim of ensuring prosperity for all.
Returning to the Catalan crisis. My hopes of independence for Catalonia are quickly fading, but I sincerely hope that it happens. Not just because of my optimistic vision of a European federation of regions, but also because I believe all people have a right to self-determination. Catalan independence might encourage Basque independence and who knows what could happen after that.
By: Finn William Grant