No sooner had Catalan president Artur Mas guided his nationalist coalition to victory at Catalonia’s plebiscitary elections on Sunday night than a court in Madrid announced that Mas would face formal charges relating to civil disobedience and the ‘usurpation’ of Spanish constitutional powers.

The complaints were filed against Mas before Sunday’s vote and refer to his involvement in an unofficial – and, in all likelihood, illegal – independence referendum staged by the Catalan government on 9 November last year.

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In July 2011, two months after the SNP secured majority control of the Holyrood parliament, I interviewed Neal Ascherson, the Edinburgh-born political writer, in London. For Ascherson’s convenience, we met at the Euston Hilton, a short walk from where he works – somewhat incongruously – as an Honorary Fellow at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology.

Our conversation centred on the brewing row between the Scottish and UK governments over independence. ‘The Salmond strategy is to bear down on the whole devolution structure in such a way that it can be shown not to work and a situation arises in which Westminster continuously blocks Scottish demands,’ Ascherson told me. ‘But now things have moved so fast that his plan may be to just spin things out until devolution breaks down of its own inadequacy.’

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Barcelona is a city draped in flags. Only a handful of windows surrounding my rented apartment in El Born – a fashionably ramshackle district close to the harbour – are flag-free. From the rest hang esteladas, the distinctive blue-and-white-starred symbol of Catalan national sovereignty.

Catalonia has become increasingly polarised in recent years as requests for enhanced autonomy – consistently rejected by Madrid – have hardened into demands for outright independence from Spain. Polls suggest as many as 45 per cent of Catalans support secession, while 25 per cent favour federalism and a further 20 per cent support the constitutional status quo.

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