Date of Completion


Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors


Political Science

First Advisor

Peter Vondoepp


Catalan Secession, Catalonia, Secession, Nationalism, Spain, Scotland


The 2017 Catalan independence crisis left us with more questions than answers. What could drive a prosperous, 1st world region to attempt secession? Why would Catalan politicians organize a referendum that the Spanish constitution and their own public opinion polls assured them would end in failure, and likely imprisonment? This paper reviews the history of Catalonia, Catalan nationalism, and the more modern Catalan secessionism to answer these questions. It analyzes the driving trends behind the most recent crisis using the lens of social movement theory, and finally compares Catalonia to Scotland. Scotland’s similarities in regional history and traits but radical differences in their referendum’s outcome help to pinpoint what went so wrong for Catalan secessionists. Evidence such as statements by politicians from the two regions and data from the World Values Survey indicate that nationalist sentiment in broader Spain is higher than in the UK, and differences in their electoral systems incentivize extremism in Spanish politics. In Catalonia, pressure from the 2008 financial crisis and a confrontational national government pushed leaders toward secession despite unfavorable circumstances. The conservative Spanish nationalists of the Partido Popular had no reason to cooperate with Catalan secessionists, forcing them to choose between backing down and being ousted by their own partisan base or following through and being ousted by national courts and legislation.