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The Fragmentation of States: Elite Access to Power in Spain and Britain


States form when people band together to seek mutual protection and to facilitate trade and commerce. The optimal size of any given state is not a constant, depending upon the perceived threat of violence from external actors, access to foreign markets, the imposition of geographies and the costs of friction. Friction arises from differences between populations and the need to transfer power and sovereignty to a central authority for successful state formation; these are mitigated by the benefits received from the relationship as well as the degree to which power and wealth are accessible for sub-national groups. When friction costs outweigh benefits for a sustained period of time, the risk of states fracturing rises.

Analysis of access to national power and governance structures indicates that the United Kingdom and Spain both provide reasonably open access to minority elites in proportion to their representation in the general population. The notable exception in current times is the Catalan minority in Spain, which has consistently been underrepresented in national power sharing over an observation period of 294 years. This article does not examine the causes of this exclusion, which could be deliberate or self-imposed. The continuation of this process tends towards a reinforcement of regionalism and exclusionary self-identification, with a possible parallel developing to the loss of the Anglo-Irish and Gaelic-Irish minorities from the British Empire in the early 20th century.

Note on Terminology

Any discussion of ethnicity, nationality, and self-identification when dealing with people who are citizens of one state but wish to form their own state is always complex and fraught with danger. Having written extensively on Spanish issues and the Catalan “question”, I have been accused by both the pro-union and the pro-independence supporters of having “accepted the terminology” of the other side. In this analysis, I will use what I believe to be standard terminology for sociological studies, using “national group”, “historic people”, “minority people” and “ethno-linguisitic group” somewhat interchangeably. It is an attempt to encapsulate a very difficult question of self-identification, for of course within the population of any given territory – Catalonia for example – there will be people who identify themselves as only Catalans, as only Spanish, as some combination of the two; and some will speak Catalan fluently, some will not. There will also be foreign nationals residing in the territory. When I use the terms “the Spanish state” or “the Catalan people” I am using them as naming conventions only to describe reasonably accepted agglomerations of people or institutions. I wish to make clear that I am not attempting to impose any ideological perspective on these terms.


The European economic recovery has been gathering steam as cheap oil and a weak Euro help exports. Despite worries of a Greek default, the banking system has been sufficiently well ring-fenced that a Grexodus will not have immediate financial impact: whether that holds true of contagion risk is another story. Nevertheless, the prospects for the Old World are looking brighter than they have for a long while. Yet while the economic prospect looks rosy, the political scene is increasingly darkened by the spectre of nationalism.

Two of the countries whose economies have been growing the fastest are the United Kingdom and Spain; yet both nations also show similar signs of stress that threaten to tear them apart.

In the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister David Cameron recently won an acrimonious election dominated by regionalist themes. The Labour Party admittedly had many weaknesses: Ed Milliband’s lack of charisma and a failure to make a convincing case for future growth and competence in government. But arguably Labour’s greatest failure was to position itself as an all-UK party: this resulted in a historic defeat in Scotland to the Scottish Nationalist Party led by Nicola Sturgeon, while south of the River Tweed, both the Tories and UKIP very much positioned themselves as “English” parties. Labour fell into the gap and was crushed, losing 99 seats; though the Liberal Democrats did even worse. An electoral map of the United Kingdom shows a stark electoral fissure along “national” frontiers, with only Wales yet to fully embrace Plaid Cymru’s regionalist message.


In Spain, purely regionalist parties are well entrenched in Catalonia and Euskadi while Galicia[1] and Asturias[2] have “regionalist” parties that are not as powerful or aggressive as the “nationalist” parties in the former two communities. This regionalist dynamic has been on the increase for decades, though the situation has only become acute in Catalonia[3] in the last 5 or 6 years. During the second Zapatero Administration, the Catalan government proposed a revision of its Charter of Autonomy, a reform that would have increased the level of decentralization and control over the community’s finances. This reform was negotiated with the central Socialist government and then ratified by both the Catalan and central governments. The Partido Popular submitted a legal challenge to the charter in Spain’s Constitutional Court and simultaneously spearheaded a nationwide campaign to drum-up popular feeling against it. Unfortunately, the campaign resorted to some very negative tactics that can be summed up in the message “The Catalans are trying to rob us”[4]. Finally in 2010, the Constitutional Court overturned 14 articles of the new Charter and mandated the interpretation of 27 more; unfortunately, the articles that were gutted were precisely the ones the Catalans were most interested in. The Constitutional Court – along with the rest of the Spanish judiciary – does not enjoy a high reputation for independence or impartiality[5] in Spain or in Europe[6]: it is regarded as highly politicized, “packed” by the two main parties for their own benefit. Thus the Catalans felt thoroughly betrayed, having already gone through the arduous process of legislative approval: and whether that feeling was justified or not, it became a toxic factor in relations between Madrid and Barcelona.

In November 2011, the Partido Popular won a landslide victory in the general elections. Spain’s housing bubble had popped in the Great Recession, the economy had tanked and the Socialists – who had not caused the bubble or the crash – thoroughly mismanaged the initial recovery steps[7]. This handed the Populares an easy victory, but more importantly a legislative majority that permitted them to form a government without making a deal with any other party. From the point of view of the Catalan government and also pro-independence Catalans, this was the worst possible outcome. The party that had moved Heaven and Earth to overturn the reformed Catalan charter was now in complete control of the national legislature: any chance of securing a greater degree of autonomy had disappeared.  Almost immediately, additional sources of friction became manifest:

  • The government’s plan to refloat the moribund banking sector required a very substantial amount of money from the European Union, and this bailout came with strings; first and foremost the demand to reduce Spain’s enormous fiscal deficit which was more than 10% of GDP;
  • The Populares were obliged within months of forming a government to raise taxes and cut social services, two actions they had promised not to take, in order to comply with the EU demands. These impacts were passed along to the autonomous communities, who control some 60% of all public spending. The national legislature also passed a law granting the Spanish Treasury the authority to audit the regional financial accounts and in the event of non-compliance with spending and deficit targets, to intervene directly;
  • These measures did not go over well in any of Spain’s regions, even those controlled by the Populares; but in Catalonia, they were particularly grating. The cuts in social services were highly unpopular; and the main regional parties were happy to blame the central government. They argued that in a time of cost cutting, they should not be required to continue funding all the other regions of Spain[8]. Artur Mas, leader of the Catalan government, complained that his government would be perfectly capable of maintaining social service levels while reducing the community’s deficit if only there was a Catalan Tax Authority with full control of the regions financing. This was one of the key provisions eliminated from the Charter reform; it is also a privilege enjoyed by the residents of Euskadi and Navarra. This message resonated very well with his constituents, but was anathema to the Partido Popular;
  • The Populares also announced that they would fulfill one of their key campaign promises and reform the Spanish abortion law. Abortions are permitted in Spain; the Populares promised to tighten the criteria for an abortion very significantly: requiring a medical certificate proving danger to the mother’s life, or in cases of rape. This was highly unpopular in Catalonia, which consistently polls as more liberal than the Spanish mainstream. Although Mariano Rajoy’s government eventually jettisoned the proposed reform, along with the Justice Minister and political rival Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón, the “reputational damage” had been done;
  • Finally, the government’s Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert Ortega, announced that his ministry was working on a sweeping educational reform. Even before any details had been announced, there were persistent rumors circulating that Wert planned to impose Castilian (Spanish) as the primary language of education in Catalonia, which the Catalans viewed as little better than an echo of Franco’s attempts to quash the Catalan language. This was already a heated issue on both sides. Conservatives regularly accused the Catalan government of imposing a Soviet-style “catalanization” regime, including official harassment of anyone daring to use Castilian at school or in their place of business. Meanwhile, many Catalans accused the Populares of being closet fascists, the sons and daughters of Franco´s Falangist bosses, intent on a linguistic and cultural ethnic cleansing of Catalonia that would turn them into “good little Spaniards”.It ought to be obvious from this that passions are high on both sides and much political capital has been made by fanning those sentiments.


The truth or falsehood of these competing claims isn’t particularly important: it is enough that they were believed by partisans of both sides and increasingly by previous moderates. These issues and their repetition took an existing fissure, ripped off the scab, and ground salt into the wound. It has led to a hardening of positions and opinions on both sides. For supporters of Catalan linguistic and cultural exceptionalism, it “became clear” that the Spanish state was no longer simply a trouble to be borne, like an unwelcome guest; but an active enemy. The conclusion they reached was logical from their point of view: if the state is the enemy, the only protection is to form a new state[9].

The governing party, Convergència i Unió (CiU) took a beating in the 2012 regional elections, losing votes to the more pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC). Artur Mas retained his position as President of Catalonia, but he was convinced that CiU needed to regain the lost banner of being the true representatives of Catalans and so he announced that his government would support and organize a referendum on independence within 4 years. After a great deal of acrimony that I won’t go into here, the referendum was finally organized for the November 9th 2014; suspended by the Constitutional Court; held anyway by “civic actors” without overt support from the Generalitat; and subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Court in a unanimous decision. Approximately 2.2 million people turned out to vote in the “consultation” despite it being prohibited and stripped of validity; that turn-out (~45%) is comparable to the other important referendums, like NATO membership, the European Constitutional vote in 2005 and the proposed Charter reform in 2006. Of those, 1.6 million voted in favor of independence[10].

Mr. Mas has subsequently announced that he will bring forward the Catalan regional elections to the 27th of September, 2015. These elections will be a de facto plebiscite for independence: regardless of whether there is a single pro-independence list or whether the parties maintain their individual lists, everyone knows who supports independence and who doesn´t. If the pro-independence parties win a majority in the elections and form a government, this will likely provoke a constitutional crisis. The newly elected Parliament will request formal negotiations with the central government, probably with mass abstention and absence of the pro-union delegates, and will be refused. The government will then either have to vote on a unilateral declaration of independence or dissolve and hold new elections. I believe the former course to be more likely.

Drivers of Fragmentation

Familiarity with the events is important, but they don’t answer the question of why the UK and Spain are suffering from increased regional fragmentation at this particular time. The ethnic, linguistic and historical drivers have always been present; what is now making relations so intolerable? To understand what is driving these states apart, it is useful to review what brings states together in the first place.

States form for two principal reasons: security from invasion and access to markets and resources. In a dangerous world, the direct and indirect costs of subjugation to a distant authority are balanced by the very real benefits of physical security from violent death as well as the wealth generated by a common legal and institutional framework, infrastructure and lingua franca.

Geography is the key conditioning factor: it is not itself a reason for state formation, but it drives where state formation is likely to happen through its distribution of resources, barriers and aids to communication. The Pyrenees separate Catalonia from the Langue d’Oc region of southern France imposing a cost on people and goods crossing them. The Ebro River facilitates communication between the central Iberian plateau and the coast providing a convenient highway for integration and state formation. If neither existed, Catalonia might have become part of France; but since both do, it forms part of Spain. Geography is not the only story: there is no geographic reason for Portugal to be an independent state, for example.


States therefore provide the benefits of mutual protection and access to markets at the cost of loss of independence and sovereignty to a central authority. State organization can take many forms, all of which meet the above criteria; but the form we are most familiar with today is the ethnically and linguistically homogeneous nation-state. The modern nation-state has come to dominate the world system because is it highly efficient at maximizing benefits while minimizing the costs of compliance and subjugation. Central to this efficiency is the concept of friction.

Friction exists in every transaction between individuals and between individuals and other entities, like states or corporations. This friction can be considered a cost of doing business; and to the extent that any individual is capable of doing so, they would prefer to minimize their costs. The costs of frictions are increased by many factors: distance, differences in language, in culture, in religion, in legal frameworks, in currencies. If you have ever travelled in a foreign country you know how trying it can be to make yourself understood or conduct business there. In a multi-ethnic empire, these costs are borne by many of the citizens within the state, implying that the benefits provided by that state must be correspondingly higher to justify the additional costs. When those costs are no longer perceived to be covered, independence movements result.

Just as the costs of union tend to limit the maximum size of states, the costs of military defense and economic viability has tended to limit the minimum size of states. All things being equal, and with God on the size of the bigger battalions, small states are at a disadvantage in the struggle for survival. They are more likely to be invaded and plundered or annexed than large states, and less likely to effectively resist. There are exceptions: small states can exist thanks to the rivalry of proximate big states, whose competition serves as a de facto guarantee of independence. Over long historical periods, however, these guarantees have proven unreliable as the balance of power between rival states is never constant. Belgium learned this to her cost in the First World War, as did the Netherlands in the Second.

The nation-state succeeded the dynastic state and the imperial state simply because it was uniquely successful at creating a semi-homogenous ethno-linguistic polity with a shared national myth, and sometimes with a shared religion. This greatly reduced friction and the costs of unity, allowing the nation-state to dedicate more resources to more productive tasks – like capital formation – rather than the buying off of citizens and elites.

Fragmentation of States

“Optimal” state size is therefore not static. Changing conditions can alter the perceptions of populations by either reducing the benefits of statehood or increasing the costs. In Europe, both have occurred:

  • The end of the Cold War and the formation of the European Union has reduced the probability of military conflict in Western Europe to the point that many citizens consider it to be inconceivable;
  • Participation in a multinational mutual defense organization like NATO means that the benefit of pertaining to a large state is reduced. Small states like Belgium and Denmark are as well-protected, in theory, as large states like Germany and France;
  • The European Union has undermined the case in favor of large national economies. Now, even microstates have unrestricted access to all 450 million consumers in the common market.

In summary, the economic and military benefits of pertaining to a large state have been reduced to the point where many regional groups no longer consider the cost of union to be worth bearing, even if these costs have not themselves increased. And because the organizing principle of the modern nation-state is largely ethno-linguistic[11], these are precisely the fault lines along which fragmentation happens.

A key aspect of this cost-benefit analysis is how states concentrate and provide access to wealth and power. Every population forms elites over time; this is a constant and universal process regardless of the political and economic system in place[12]. To the extent that a state’s population is relatively homogeneous, the group of elites will also be relatively homogeneous: the cost of “buying them off” is reduced. The more diverse a nation is – ethnically, religiously, linguistically, what have you – the more diverse the elites that need to be brought into the system; consequently the higher the cost of assimilation. This is a delicate balancing act: if the cost to pay off elites is too high, governments may face popular revolts. If the cost is lowered by excluding certain minority elites, the state runs the risk of strengthening regional identities and creating independence movements. The minority populations that are most easily excluded are those that are not geographically concentrated: witness the highly successful exclusion of African Americans from a proportional access to power in the United States due to the widespread dispersion of the 13% black population around the country.

There is an additional factor. Not only are African American populations geographically dispersed, they also lack the linguistic difference that would exacerbate friction with other populations in the US. Contrast with the experience of Hispanic immigrants and their children: a minority population that had both ethnic and linguistic differences with the majority Caucasian and was – initially – far more geographically concentrated. It can be argued that the Hispanic population has achieved a degree of political power and access in just 25 years that the African American population has largely failed to achieve in 250 years. Hispanic elites have been coopted to avoid creating friction and regional movements in border states. As geographic dispersion increases over time and English becomes the dominant with each succeeding generation, it is unlikely that Hispanic political power will be maintained as an explicit grouping, any more than there are German or Italian or Irish regional groupings any more.

In Spain and the United Kingdom, the geographic concentration of ethno-linguistic minorities is far higher than in the United States. This is an important reason why regional fragmentation is far greater in Europe than in America today.

Historical Access to Power

One way to measure the degree to which elites have access to power, and the benefits that go with it, is to look at the participation of these elites in the highest level of government. It is not unreasonable to hypothesize that leaders will arise in a similar proportion to that of the population; and that the more open the access to and sharing of power, the more likely that the number of national leaders representing any particular group in a country will approach the proportion of that group in the general population. For example: if a minority population equals 20% of the total population of a state, in an open access system, we would expect the number of national leaders coming from that minority to be close to 20%. If that number of substantially lower – say 1% – then this is an indication that some kind of systematic discrimination exists. The African American population of the United States is approximately 13% of the total population, yet there has been only 1 African American President since the end of the Civil War. That is a proportion of 3.8% of the 26 unique Presidents[13] in office since 1868[14]; which is a clear indication of continued exclusion of this minority from the corridors of power.

Let’s look at the United Kingdom. Historically, there are four ethno-linguistic groups of relevance in that state: the English, the Welsh, the Scots and the Anglo-Irish[15]. The percentage of the population for each of these groups has varied over time:


The Scottish and Anglo-Irish populations have been in long-term decline while the Welsh have maintained their representation. Since 1721, the United Kingdom has had 53 different Prime Ministers[16] Based on these proportions, and assuming that the political system of the United Kingdom was both open and inclusive, we would expect the following outcome:

  • 5 or 6 Scottish Prime Ministers, equivalent to approximately 10% of the total;
  • 2 Welsh Prime Ministers, equivalent to approximately 5% of the total;
  • 2 Anglo-Irish Prime Ministers, equivalent to approximately 5% of the total.

The actual distribution is as follows:


The Scottish population is over-represented in the top office, the Welsh are slightly underrepresented and the Anglo-Irish had the number of Prime Ministers we would expect. These numbers would appear to indicate a well-functioning union.

The temporal distribution also matters. The Scottish Prime Ministers are well distributed over the 294 years of the observation period: one in the 18th century, one in the 19th century, 5 in the 20th century and 2 in the 21st century.  Both Anglo-Irish leaders were in the distant past: William Petty in the 1780’s and Arthur Wellesley in the 1830’s. There has only been one Welsh PM, David Lloyd George (1916), but this deficit is not statistically significant. Nevertheless, it could be said that the Anglo-Scottish union is working the best, with the Welsh and Anglo-Irish slightly underrepresented. The fact that there has been no Anglo-Irish PM after 1834 may be both cause and effect of the troubles suffered by that isle.


In Spain, we would focus on four ethno-linguistic groups: Catalan, Basque, Galician and Castilian. A case could be made for more: the languages spoken in Valencia and the Balearic islands is similar to Catalan, while Andalusia and the whole Cantabrian east of Galicia and west of Euskadi could each claim some degree of ethno-linguistic distinctiveness. However, the Spanish constitution only recognizes four co-official languages and four historical regions, so we will leave it at that. When discussing historical Catalans, I am excluding Valencians and Balearic Islanders; when discussing Basques, I am excluding everything beyond the three provinces of Guipúzkoa, Álava and Vizcaya. The cultural-linguistic borders of Galicia are well-defined, so no special mention is required.

The population distribution of these historical identities is as follows[17]:


Spain has suffered a far higher degree of political instability than has the United Kingdom, so over the same period from 1721, the Spanish state has had 139 unique leaders[18]. Many of these ministers served for less than 6 months or even 1 month before being replaced. Based on the distribution of population and the number of ministers, if we assume an open and inclusive access to power for all groups, we would expect:

  • 14 to 16 Catalan ministers, equivalent to approximately 12% of the total;
  • 5 Basque Prime Ministers, equivalent to approximately 4% of the total;
  • 10 to 12 Galician Prime Ministers, equivalent to approximately 9% of the total.

The actual distribution is as follows:


Catalan and Galician minorities appear significantly underrepresented in the top echelons of power in the Spanish state, while the Basques are “the Scots of Iberia”, punching significantly above their proportional weight.

The temporal distribution of minority governments makes this picture slightly more complicated:


It now looks like the Galicians, though underrepresented over the whole historical period, actually managed to gain substantial political access at the start of the 20th century: every single Galician Prime Minister has been in office since 1910. Basque access to power seems to have fallen sharply after the 1850’s, and then completely after the 1920’s. They might have been “pushed out” by the Galicians; but it is more likely that they no longer fit in as national leaders after the formation of a Spanish nation-state centered around a more aggressively Castilian ethno-linguistic identity in the 1880’s in reaction to the establishment of the First Republic in the preceding decade. One of the two Basque Prime Ministers after 1900 was actually born in the Spanish Philippines (Marcelo Azcárraga Palermo – 1900).

Meanwhile, the underrepresentation of the Catalans at the pinnacle of power in the Spanish nation looks even more extreme when the following factors are considered:

  • There have been no Catalan Prime Ministers in the 142 years since 1873;
  • Of the four Catalan Prime Ministers, only one served for more than a year:
    • Serafín María de Sotto. 19 to 20 October 1849. Total: 1 day
    • Juan Prim i Prats. 18 July 1869 to 27 December 1870. Total: 527 days.
    • Estanislao Figueras. 12 February to 11 June 1873. Total: 118 days.
    • Francisco Pi y Margall. 11 June to 18 July 1873. Total: 37 days.
  • In the 294 years of the observation period, Catalan Prime Ministers have ruled over just under 2 years. That is an average of just under 6 months per tenure in office, whereas the overall mean is just over 25 months.

Is this perspective different at a Cabinet level? The assignment of national ministries is also a key access to the levers of central power: do we see any differences there? The dictatorship of Franco was a period of severe repression of ethno-linguistic minorities and even though Franco himself was a Galician, he did not encourage any regionalism in his community. His was a unitary Spain – holy, unitary and Castilian. It would not therefore be useful to consider the composition of the ministries during the long period of de facto government. What about after the restoration of democracy?

Since 1978, Spain has had 10 legislative sessions and one constituent legislature when the Constitution was written and voted upon. There have been 6 Socialist legislatures, 3 conservative legislatures and 2 mixed “democratic centrist” legislatures at the beginning of the period. The number of Ministries and Ministers has varied within and between legislatures: I have counted the number of unique ministers during any given administrations, regardless of the number of ministries held. This analysis yields the following distribution:


And as a percentage of total ministers:


At the national ministerial level the picture is less lopsided, but still trends in the same direction as the previous analysis:

  • Catalans remain underrepresented, averaging 6.8% of all ministerial positions against a population percentage of 15.9%;
  • Galicians are well represented, with 5.9% of all ministerial positions including one Prime Minister (the current one, Mariano Rajoy Brey) against a population percentage of 6.5%;
  • The Basques are the best represented minority, securing 7.5% of all ministerial positions since the transition to democracy against only 4.7% of the population. This is in line with their historical average in terms of national leadership roles.

One other item stands out, though lack of sample size makes this a hypothesis rather than a conclusion. Ethno-linguistic minorities are better represented under Socialist governments than under Conservative ones:


Partial Conclusion

This analysis is only a partial one: to reach any conclusions, it would be necessary to extend the national ministerial analysis back to the government of Francisco Cea Bermúdez and the creation of the Council of Ministers. It would also be necessary to examine the nationality of the top military posts during this period to include the military as well as the civil power; this is especially important in Spain, where during our observation period the military power quite often overthrew the civil authorities.

Nevertheless, I would venture a partial conclusion: the Spanish state has been relatively successful at providing open access to the central power to its Basque and Galician minorities, but there is something about the Catalans that has caused a significant, long-lasting underrepresentation. It is impossible to determine from this data whether this situation represents a deliberate exclusion of Catalans from national authority by the Spanish state or whether it is the Catalans themselves who have refused to participate, preferring to maintain their regional power and identity rather than seeing it possibly diluted in order to gather a share of the national power. It is likely a bit of both, with one tendency being stronger during some historical periods and then being replaced by the other during subsequent periods.  Catalan participation was probably higher during the First and Second Republic periods, and then deliberately kept low during the conservative reactions that followed these events.

This analysis, partial though it is, suggests that the current tension between Catalans and their countrymen is unlikely to resolve itself naturally. There is a historical dynamic of long-term mutual exclusion at work; additionally the current Spanish constitution and electoral system greatly favors the formation of strong regional parties whose integration into the national power structure is limited and who therefore have a strong incentive to develop the regional identity as an exclusionary one. Unless there are proactive steps taken to change these two dynamics, there is no reason to believe that they will resolve themselves. In the past, the “proactive steps” involved the use of force on a number of occasions to prevent Catalan (and Basque) regionalism from reaching the point of separation.

Nevertheless, if the example of the United Kingdom is any guide, there is a real danger that this time might be different. The long-term exclusion of the Anglo-Irish and Gaelic Irish from national political power led to numerous revolts and, eventually, to secession and the formation of the Irish Republic. This could have been prevented, but the inertia of British elites and the start of the First World War prevented these measures from being introduced in time to prevent a final rupture. The critical support of the United States for the war effort against Germany, and the strong sympathy of Americans for the Irish ensured that the British could not simply quash the Irish rebellion through a full use of force: consequently, the Irish won their independence.

Spain today may find itself in a parallel situation: a disengaged minority without access to national political power and therefore without an interest in maintain national solidarity, and the inability or unwillingness to accommodate the elites of that minority. Certainly, the elites of other sub-groups will not like making special concessions to the Catalans that they have not themselves received. Like the British before them, Spain may find that it has missed the bus on adequate political reforms and that military suppression is unavailable or insufficient at the levels of violence that civil society and international partners would consider tolerable. Nor should Spaniards assume that, because their country is a democracy, they are immune: they are not. Modern nationalism has proven to be a solvent that does not respect ideologies or political systems.


Sources and Notes

[1] The Galician National Party remains electorally insignificant, more comparable to Wales’s Plaid Cymru than to the more aggressive SNP in Scotland or ERC in Catalonia.

[2] Asturian nationalism has had some representation at the national and municipal level, with parties like Partíu Asturianista and Andecha Astur, but it is not a prominent force in the Principality.

[3] The situation in Euskadi ran a similar course to the current events in Catalonia, with a reform of the Basque Charter being approved by regional parliamentary majority only to be rejected, in this case by the national parliament in 2005. The Basque leader, lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe, then attempted to organize a “consultative” referendum on Basque free association with Spain as equals, or independence, which was quashed by the Socialist government. On the other hand, both Euskadi and Navarra have their own peculiar rights as communities which give them a greater degree of control over their own fiscal policy and revenue collection than the rest of Spain.

[4] This message is used on both side of the border, with pro-independence Catalans frequently complaining that “Madrid is robbing us” by not reinvesting funds derived from the community back into it in a proportional manner.

[5] “Global Competitiveness Report 2014 – 2015: Spain”, World Economic Forum

[6] Luís Fernando Rodríguez Guerrero, ”La Justicia española no da la talla en Europa,” Cuarto Poder, 16 March 2015

[7] The Zapatero government spent 2 years denying the existence of the problem and when they finally did act, it was to launch a number of economic reactivation programs that were too small to have an effect on so large an economy. They also failed to address the root of the problem, which was the insolvency of the banking sector and the illiquidity in credit markets that resulted from it. For three years, no one could borrow a dime, so of course the economy collapsed.

[8] Catalonia runs a large net deficit when it comes to (tax contributions to the central treasury) – (funds distributed back from the central treasury). The difference is the transfer payments to Spain’s poorer regions.

[9] This exposition is not an endorsement of this point of view; but understanding the key motivators of regional fragmentation is critical to evaluating the dynamics of the situation.

[10] Fernando Betancor, “Catalonia Update 9N2014”, Common Sense, 09 November 2014

[11] In previous times, there have been other organizing principles and different fault lines: religious (e.g. Catholic vs. Protestant), dynastic (e.g. Habsburg vs. Hohenzollern) or tribal (e.g. Saxon vs. Romano-British).

[12] American political scientist Mancur Olsen has written extensively about elite formation and relationships within states. Unlike Thomas Picketty, Mr. Olsen doesn’t restrict himself to capitalist states; elite formation, government capture and extraction of benefits occur in communist, socialist and feudal systems as well.

[13] I do not count separate Administrations by the same President.

[14] I start counting from the date of the ratification of the 14th Amendment rather than from the end of the war.

[15] This is a difficult issue: the Gaelic Irish had almost no access to positions of power in the British Empire until the beginning of the 20th century and the sitting of Irish MPs in Westminster. Even then it is difficult to distinguish numerically the number of Anglo-Irish from Gaelic Irish members. Then there is the problem of the post Irish Civil War separation of the island into Republic and Northern Ireland. I have, for purposes of this study, looked at the Northern Irish population where provided and the estimated the Anglo-Irish and Scots Irish (i.e. Protestant) populations. There is large margin for error, but given the number and distribution of Irish PM’s, it is probably irrelevant.

[16] I exclude all duplicates, regardless of whether they held office consecutively or during different periods.

[17] Taken from Populstat, based on historical estimates from INE, the National Statistical Institute of Spain.

[18] I have had to combine the offices of the Despacho de Estado (1705 to 1734), the Secretaría de Estado (1734 to 1834) and the Presidencia del Consejo de Ministros (1834 to present)

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