The disuniting states of Europe
There is also a worse danger in nationalism than simple selfishness. Blame-shifting becomes truly toxic by finding scapegoats in vulnerable groups, especially immigrants. These attitudes are rampant in some secessionist groups, especially in Flanders and Padania.
Such dangers should not, however, lead us to stigmatise all the “new” nationalisms as backward and reactionary. Very often they are motivated by a frustrated desire for respect for language and culture.
But does each language and culture need its own state? Wales has preserved its language better than Scotland has yet shows much less desire for independence.
But in many cases the refusal of self-determination may fuel the demand for independence. Europe’s big states might well find that, if they had the good manners to offer their small constituent nations a choice about their future, most of them would opt to stay put.
Catalonia: Plebiscite on independence
Tomorrow’s parliamentary elections in the Catalan autonomous region of Spain have become a plebiscite on whether to hold a referendum on independence. The economic crisis set off a wave of pro-independence sentiment.
A pro-independence parliamentary majority is likely, but the CiU party might then row back and settle for full powers over taxation. Madrid’s conservative government, and the Spanish establishment, oppose a referendum and would veto Catalan EU membership.
Basque Country: Watching Catalonia
Recent parliamentary elections in the Basque Autonomous Community gave 60 per cent of the vote to Basque nationalists, split 7:5 between moderates (PNV) and resurgent pro-independence radicals (EH Bildu). Both parties will be watching Catalonia.
Galicia: The poor relations
Its nationalist movement has always been the poor relation of its Basque and Catalan counterparts, but October’s autonomous elections showed that Galician nationalism remains a significant force.
Brittany: autonomy, not independence
With a distinct language and culture, Brittany was a natural part of the patchwork of left-wing nationalism that extended from Ireland to Corsica across late-1960s Europe.
The Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB) seeks regional autonomy, uniting Brittany with its historical partner, Pays de La Loire, rather than independence. Paris, fiercely centralist since the revolution, resists even this demand. The UDB is now closely associated with green politics, with about 10 per cent of the local vote.
Flanders: Paralysis seems permanent
The northern, Flemish-speaking region of Belgium has long had fractious relations with southern, French-speaking Wallonia. Repeated extensions of devolution and federalisation have not eased linguistic, political and economic tension.
In 2010 the pro-independence New Flemish Alliance became Belgium’s largest party, but still appeals to only a minority. The country seems condemned to party paralysis. Terminal disintegration is likely to be extremely slow.
Venice: World’s richest country?
Indipendenza Veneta collected 20,000 signatures for secession in October. The party claims that, if cut free from Rome’s austerity programme, the Veneto could be the richest country in the world. European democracy, the nation state and capitalism all have deep roots in the Italian city republic.
Scotland: Power for Edinburgh
The Belfast Agreement established the helpful principle of multiple identities here: a citizen can be British, Irish, Northern Irish or all three. Scottish independence could complicate things, as many Northern loyalists feel a strong sense of connection to a Scotland that is essentially “British”.