Basque Government views Scottish referendum as a model for progress

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   By a Newsnet reporter

Iñigo Urkullu Renteria, the lehendakari (First Minister) of the Basque Government, has said in an interview this week that he considers the Scottish referendum process as a “reference point” for the Basque Country in its attempts to seek independence or greater autonomy from Spain.

Mr Urkullu is seeking a bilateral agreement with the Spanish Government similar to the Edinburgh Agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments in order to reach a settlement on the future status of Euskadi and to reach a “normalised relationship” with the neighbouring province of Navarre.

In an interview with Radio Euskadi, Mr Urkullu said he sought an agreement with Madrid on the future of self government in Euskadi, but admitted that there was currently a “lack of dialogue” with the Partido Popular government of Mariano Rajoy.  Mr Urkullu added that the Catalan Prime Minister, Artur Mas, “is also in search of such a dialogue and is working on that basis for a consensus”.

Mr Urkullu said that “the Scottish model is a reference model, not only because of what it means for the reality of Scotland,” but also because of “the agreement between the Scottish and British Governments on the exercise of the right to decide”. 

He added:  “This is what the Basques did in 1979, when we approved the Statute of Autonomy in a referendum which had been agreed by the parliamentary assembly and which had also been agreed in the Spanish Parliament.” 

Mr Urkullu asserted that should the Basque Parliament and politicians reach an agreement on a revision of the Euskadi’s status, “neither should there be problems in order to have an agreement in the Congress of Deputies (the Spanish Parliament)”.

The Basque Government, which administers only the provinces of Gipuzkoa, Araba and Bizkaia, is keen that any future independence referendum for the Basque Country should also encompass Navarre.

Although Navarre is a part of the traditional Basque Country, the province does not form a part of Euskadi, the self-governing Basque region within the Spanish state.  Basque nationalists claim Navarre (Basque name Nafarroa) as part of any future independent Basque Country (Basque name Euskal Herria), but the province is politically dominated by parties opposed to Basque independence who also refuse to unite the province with the other three Basque provinces – Bizkaia, Araba, and Gipuzkoa – which together form the autonomous region of Euskadi.  

The territory of Euskadi was incorporated into Castile early in the mediaeval period – long before the mainly Spanish speaking Kingdom of Castile and the mainly Catalan speaking Kingdom of Aragon united in 1479 to form modern Spain.  However Navarre maintained a precarious independence until it was incorporated into Spain in 1515, although unlike the other Basque provinces it retained a measure of autonomy. 

Also unlike the other Basque provinces, the Basque language was lost early from much of Navarre, retreating into a mountainous strip of territory to the north of the Navarrese capital Pamplona (Basque name Iruñea) by the 1400s.  Many Navarrese regard Basque nationalism, which focusses on language issues to a far greater extent than Scottish nationalism, with suspicion.

When the Basque Country was granted autonomy in 1979, following the restoration of democracy to Spain, Navarre declined to join the other Basque provinces and insisted on becoming an autonomous community in its own right.  However the Navarrese Statute of Autonomy states that the province may join the other Basque lands in the future should its citizens so decide.

With the Madrid government vehemently denying that Catalonia has the right to hold a referendum on independence, and claiming that it would not not recognise a Catalan state, it remains unlikely that Spain would agree to an independence referendum in the Basque country, and would be unsympathetic to demands to include Navarre in the process.

With opinion polls showing that Basques are less supportive of independence than the Catalans, most observers believe that the Basque Government is playing a waiting game to see what the outcome of the Catalan and Scottish referendums produces.  Catalan and Scottish independence would certainly provoke renewed demands in Euskadi for a Basque independence referendum.