• Independence talk in Spain, this time it's Scottish
  • By Jake Threadgould

    Madrid, Mar 29 (efe-epa).- Tune into the chatter in a Madrid bar and the chances are you will hear the word Brexit several times.

    Filter out the Spanish and then the English voices and you stand a real chance of listening to Scottish voices braiding the word into another discussion - independence.

    The possibility of Scots rethinking their place within the United Kingdom, an option they thought was put to bed in 2014 when the nation rejected the offer 55-45 in a referendum, was jolted back to life just two years later when the UK as a whole voted in favor of leaving the European Union by an even tighter margin of 51.9 to 48.1.

    In Scotland, around 62 percent of voters chose to stay in the bloc.

    "About two out of every three Scots voted to stay in Europe when the Brexit referendum came up, I think on the whole - not in every case - we feel very European, similar to countries like Ireland," said English teacher Kieran McIvor, 35, originally from Glasgow.

    It took First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, head of Scotland's regional government and leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), just a couple of hours after the Brexit result on Jun. 24, 2016, to say: "the option of a second referendum must be on the table, and it is on the table."

    It is a line the party has stuck to since then, although it is pushing for a second Brexit vote first and foremost.

    "The main reason people said no to vote Yes at that point was this idea that we might have to reapply for Europe and that we would be better off staying in Europe with the rest of Britain, we've now lost that," McIvor, who voted Yes the first time round, said.

    "Should the vote come again I'd be much more unequivocal and I'd go for independence without a doubt," he added.

    Others, however, were not forthright.

    "I would be dithering," said Susan Jeffrey, a 62-year-old English teacher at a Madrid university, when asked how she would vote in a new independence referendum.

    "I would have definitely voted No in 2014, but the events of the last three years or so may have changed my mind, I would be deciding which way to go," she said.

    Jeffrey is no longer permitted to vote in the UK, having fallen off the Electoral Register after living more than 15 years away from her country.

    Scotland's tendency to identify with Europe and the EU's common project has come to underpin the revitalized pro-independence voices.

    Ahead of the 2014 vote, the erstwhile conservative prime minister David Cameron - who later called the Brexit referendum - told voters in Scotland that only by rejecting independence would they safeguard EU membership.

    The debate has since been turned on its head.

    "When the Brexit result was known, I was completely astonished and felt more strongly than ever that Scotland would be better off independent," said Fiona Stewart, a 36-year-old web designer. "Since then, my views on Scottish independence have again wavered all over the place."

    All nine Scots epa-efe spoke to in Madrid regretted Brexit.

    But there was an added significance to the Scottish independence debate in Spain.

    At the time of the 2014 Scottish independence vote, Spain was one of the EU nations most clearly threatening to veto Scotland's accession to the bloc should it abandon the UK so as not to fuel growing demands for a similar vote in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia.

    The simmering Catalan crisis erupted when on Oct. 1, 2017 Catalan authorities pushed ahead with a referendum deemed illegal by the Spanish judiciary.

    12 of the main Catalan politicians and activists accused of orchestrating the vote were on trial at Spain's Supreme Court, some facing charges of rebellion and sedition.

    Tensions are still high but Spain's stance on Scottish independence has softened since Brexit.

    "The Spanish government has repeatedly confirmed they would not oppose an independent Scotland rejoining the EU," an SNP spokesperson told epa-efe.

    "Let's not forget there's no way an independent Scotland would have been able to stay in the EU - countries such as Spain made that abundantly clear," the anti-independence Scottish Conservative Party, said.

    As things stand, the question of Scottish independence is hypothetical but the debate surrounding it, both in the upper echelons of politics and among potential voters, is very real.

    The real litmus test will be conducted after we know what kind of Brexit to expect.

    It had been due to take place on Mar. 29, exactly two years after May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the mechanism to initiate the process.

    EU leaders last week agreed to extend talks either until May 22, if May finds a parliamentary majority, or until Apr. 12, if she does not.

    In this period of limbo, perhaps one of the only things guaranteed in Spain are the topics of conversations in Madrid's taverns so beloved by the bewildered expat community.