Can Scotland recognise Catalonia as an independent state?

Published: 3rd Nov 2017

In brief


Scotland doesn’t have the power to recognise countries.


Correct, foreign affairs are a reserved matter.

“I understand why members of my own party have signed that motion, but perhaps they don't know that, as a Scottish Government, we don’t have the powers to recognise anything internationally.”

Jeane Freeman MSP, 2 November 2017

This is correct.

On 30 October a number of MSPs supported a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling on the international community to “recognise the vote of the Catalan Parliament for an Independent Republic of Catalonia”.

Motions in the Scottish Parliament can be used by MSPs to start a debate or “propose a course of action” on a topic.

As a devolved country within the UK the Scottish government and Parliament have powers in a range of different areas. These include things like agriculture, housing and education.

Other powers are “reserved” meaning that only the UK government can legally use them. Any official dealings with countries outside of the UK are included in these reserved powers. So the Scottish government wouldn’t be able to officially recognise Catalonia.

The Scottish Parliament also can’t make any laws about reserved matters and Scottish government ministers can’t act in those areas either.

On 27 October Catalonia declared independence from Spain, the Spanish government then put in place direct rule over the region, dismissed the Catalan government and its Parliament.  

In response the Scottish government said “We understand and respect the position of the Catalan Government. While Spain has the right to oppose independence, the people of Catalonia must have the ability to determine their own future.” She also said the EU had a responsibility to encourage dialogue to resolve the situation.

The UK government has said it will not recognise the Catalan declaration of independence and that it was based on an illegal vote.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.

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