The wealthy Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto are to hold referendums on October 22 to demand more control of their own affairs
the majority of the Scots again brought the independence issue to the fore. However, the Scottish National Party suffered a setback in this year’s Westminster elections with a drop in votes.
Despite this decline in votes, Nicola Sturgeon’s party remains the most popular in Scotland by a wide margin, and support for independence remains consistent at around 45pc in the polls.
“Most people don’t think this is the moment to go for another independence referendum, but the issue is still around,” says Professor Keating.
It is still also early days as far as Brexit is concerned. If the UK’s departure from the EU in 2019 leads to a sharp economic downturn, there could be renewed demands for independence.
It remains to be seen if the trouble in Catalonia spills over into the Basque country, for long Spain’s main centre for separatist activity.
The separatist group ETA, which killed 800 people in a long terror campaign to seek independence, has condemned Spain’s opposition to the referendum.“The Spanish state is a prison for the people, and this is shown by denying the national identity of the Catalan countries,” said the group, which gave up violence in 2011.
While a hankering for complete independence remains among a minority of Basques, a large section of the population is satisfied that the territory has a much higher degree of autonomy than other regions in Spain. It collects and spends its own taxes, while compensating Spain for services such as defence and foreign relations.
Some commentators believe the driving force of the Catalan discontent and demands for greater autonomy in many other regions in Europe is the financial burden placed on them by central government.
In a recent interview for US National Public Radio, economics professor Elisenda Paluzie said Catalan residents represent about 16pc of Spain’s population. Yet these same residents contribute 20pc of Spain’s taxes, and then receive only 14pc back in public spending.
According to Prof Paluzie, Catalonia suffered the sharpest budget cuts during the last economic crash. Calls by its government to allow it to raise its own taxes have fallen on deaf ears.
Taxpayers in northern regions of Italy have also expressed anger that they have pay the bills for other less prosperous regions, and this has led them to seek greater autonomy. The wealthy Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto are to hold referendums on October 22 to demand more control of their own affairs and less power in Rome.
Both regions are ruled by the anti-migrant Eurosceptic Northern League, which has long complained that taxes raised in the wealthy industrial north of Italy help to prop up underperforming southern regions.
There would be nothing new in Venice, capital of Veneto, going out on its own if it decides to take that course in the future.
The Most Serene Republic of Venice, to give it its old title, was a powerful force across the Mediterranean during its 1,000-year history until the 18th century.
In many regions of the EU, calls for independence have ebbed and flowed, and governments have occasionally succeeded in killing home rule with kindness.
There may have been strong campaigns for separation, but when it came to the crunch, as in Scotland, voters stepped back from the brink.
Tony Connelly, RTÉ’s Europe editor and author of a new book Brexit & Ireland, has lived in Belgium for over a decade and has seen the growth of a Flemish independence movement.
Created in 1830 as an independent state to act as a buffer between France and Germany, Belgium is an occasionally unhappy mix of a Flemish-speaking, conservative north and a French, left-leaning south.
With nationalist sentiment more powerful than ever in Flanders, the separatist New Flemish Alliance has emerged as the biggest party in the country and an important partner in the coalition government.
It aims for the eventual creation of a Flemish republic.
“There has been growing pressure for independence,” says Connelly. “What I have seen in my time here is a trend towards secession, but then it subsides and retreats a bit. People push so far, and then they are confronted with the reality of what it means to secede, and they have second thoughts.”
Instead of granting independence, European governments have tended to given regions much greater autonomy.
“In Belgium so much power has been delegated to the regions that it is hard to get things done,” says Connelly.
“We even had a scenario where a region of Belgium, Wallonia, was able to delay the trade deal between the EU and Canada.”
In the short term, Flemish secession seems unlikely, but if it were to happen it would cast doubt on the future of Brussels as a European capital.
Of course, from an Irish point of view, the most important question is whether Northern Ireland breaks away from the United Kingdom, and we see a united Ireland in the coming decades.
As far as Ireland is concerned, it is Brexit rather than the Catalan crisis that has changed the situation radically, and some commentators believe it has made a united Ireland more likely in the long term.
Connelly explores the future of the island in his new book. He says the pledge by the EU to allow Northern Ireland back into the European Union if it votes for a united Ireland has been hugely significant.
“It has introduced a completely new component in the debate. People who want unity can say that if you hate Brexit — its effect on farm incomes or whatever — the one way to overturn that would be a united Ireland.”
While the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia fragmented in the 1990s creating independent states across Eastern Europe, the borders of Western Europe have remained remarkably stable since World War II.
It remains to be seen if the unrest in Catalonia and the blundering Spanish response fires the starting gun for other separatist movements.
Some, such as Scotland, might be tempted to go it alone, and seek to shelter under the umbrella of the EU. Others will create a big fuss and assert their national identity, but stop short of a complete break. In the words of the children’s poem, they may be inclined “keep ahold of nurse for fear of finding something worse”.
Solidarity: Barcelona players in the colours of the Catalan flag on Sunday