Spanish ambassador stresses the constitutional differences between Scotland and Catalonia

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The Spanish ambassador to the UK, Federico Trillo-Figueroa, has written to the Financial Times to stress the historical and constitutional differences between Scotland and Catalonia. 

Mr Trillo-Figueroa’s letter was published the day after the Conservatives were forced to deny that they had made an agreement with Spain’s ruling party the Partido Popular to maintain a “joint response” to Scottish and Catalan aspirations to independence.

In his letter to the Financial Times, written in response to a recent article in the newspaper comparing Catalan and Scottish independence, the Spanish ambassador insists that the two countries are entirely different, saying: “The historical and constitutional background of both cases do not have that much in common as it may seem at first sight, and it would be neither prudent nor fair to overlook this fact.”

He argued: “Scotland was an independent nation and has been part of the United Kingdom since the Scottish parliament decided freely (sic) to join in the 18th century.  By contrast, Catalonia was part of the wider Kingdom of Aragon and has been an integral part of Spain since its inception, more than five centuries ago.”

The ambassador’s letter apparently supports comments made by Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, who during a meeting in the Basque Country in October said:

“Every country has its own different constitutional order and different history and in [the case of] Scotland, the creation of the United Kingdom, Great Britain, was born as a consequence of the union of two kingdoms, that of Scotland and that of England.”

He added: “The British constitutional order foresees a referendum of this type, something which does not occur in any other country of the European Union.”  

Newsnet Scotland was the only Scottish media outlet to report the Spanish Foreign Minister’s comments, which weakened the Scottish Unionist position by leaving the door open to Spanish recognition of Scotland as a successor state to the UK.

However the Spanish government is apparently pursuing two contradictory paths in its attempts to forestall Catalan independence.

While the Foreign Minister and the Spanish ambassador to the UK stress the constitutional and legal differences between Scottish and Catalan independence, the ruling Partido Popular makes no secret of its attempts to build a European-wide alliance of parties opposed to independence movements within EU states and to give a “joint response” to all such movements.

Mr Trillo-Figueroa’s letter to the Financial Times came the day after British Conservatives were forced to deny that they had reached an agreement with the Partido Popular to combat Scottish and Catalan aspirations to independence, and to ensure that a future independent Scotland or Catalonia would be expelled from the EU.  A spokesperson for the Conservatives said that there was no pact and insisted that the party had no plans to enter any such pact at any time in the future.

However, despite the Conservatives’ denials, the party admitted that Scottish leader Ruth Davidson had held secret talks with a delegation led by the Partido Popular’s Esteban González Pons during the Conservatives’ recent conference in Birmingham.

In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Mr González Pons claimed that he had reached an agreement with British Conservatives to give a “joint response” to the Catalan and Scottish independence movements.  It was also reported in the Spanish media that Mr González Pons, the PP’s Vice-Secretary for Studies and Programmes, would be holding additional meetings with Conservative and Labour figures in Scotland this December.

Newsnet Scotland has contacted the Conservative and Labour parties to ask for clarification of the purpose of these meetings and the topics to be discussed – we await answers to our questions.

The Spanish ambassador Federico Trillo-Figueroa was previously the Minister of Defence in the Partido Popular government of José María Aznar.

He achieved notoriety thoroughout the Spanish speaking world in 2003 on a foreign visit to El Salvador.  Reviewing an honour guard of El Salvadorean troops, Mr Trillo-Figueroa became the object of widespread ridicule after he mistakenly called upon the El Salvadorean forces to cheer ¡Viva Honduras! – Honduras is El Salvador’s neighbour and the border between the countries is disputed.  The two fought a brief war in 1969.

More serious accusations were levelled at Mr Trillo-Figueroa after the YAK-42 incident in 2003.  A YAK-42 airplane chartered by the Spanish Ministry of Defence was carrying Spanish troops returning from Afghanistan when it crashed into a mountain in eastern Turkey during heavy fog.  All 74 people on board died, 62 passengers from the Spanish military and 12 Ukrainian and Belorusian crew members.  Mr Trillo-Figueroa repeatedly refused to accept any responsibility for the botched investigation into the accident, although three of his subordinates were sentenced to prison terms for falsifying the identification of 30 of the bodies.

The former Defence Minister was appointed as Spanish ambassador to the UK in March 2012.  The appointment proved controversial.  Mr Trillo-Figueroa does not speak English, and his appointment came despite previous assurances from the Spanish Foreign Ministry that ambassadorial appointments would only be offered to career diplomats and would not be politically motivated.  

Mr Trillo-Figueroa remains close to the Partido Popular leadership and his letter to the Financial Times is likely to reflect the thinking of the Spanish government at the highest levels.