EIGHT years since the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and five years since the Catalan 2017 referendum, how similar is the Catalan independence movement to the Scottish one? A good person to shed some light on this is William Thomson, who co-produces the Scotonomics podcast, which advocates alternative economics for an independent Scotland.

Thomson is from Scotland, but he has lived in Barcelona since 2016. He was there in George Square on the eve of the 2014 indyref, and he was helping to defend the ballot boxes at his local polling station in the Catalan ‘1-O’ referendum. Thomson’s memory of the two votes is very different.

“I remember sitting in George Square and being surrounded by flags and there being a carnival atmosphere. Being in the Yes camp, we might not have felt like we were going to win, but we weren’t scared. And that’s the difference with 2017,” he told The National.

“In the polling station near my home in Barcelona, there was a heavily pregnant woman standing in the queue waiting to vote, and I remember thinking how incredibly brave she was because, by that time, the news of Spanish police violence at voting booths was everywhere. It was a surreal thing thinking: ‘How is this happening in a democracy?’ “It was an environment of fear and repression, so it was very different from Scotland in 2014.”

READ MORE: Catalonia gears up to mark five years since independence vote that rocked Spain

The aftermath of the two referendums has seen both independence movements grappling with difficult questions over tactics and strategies for independence, but Thomson feels that the Catalan movement is, in some ways, better equipped to address these dilemmas due to its strength at the level of grassroots movement building.

“I went into the Catalan National Assembly’s (ANC) office and met them,” he says. “They’ve got a great building, it’s really professional, it’s around a million per year to run the organisation, and it’s all paid from membership subscriptions. That’s doable in Scotland, but it’s never happened. There are many things the movements can learn from each other, but I think the biggest thing Scotland can learn from Catalonia is the movement infrastructure which exists here.”

The ANC is politically and financially independent enough to take critical stances in relation to the Catalan pro-independence parties. That can mean a fractious relationship at times, but ANC president Dolors Feliu tells the National she thinks that’s a necessary and natural process for the movement to work out “a way to move forward”.

“Because if not, there is just demobilisation, and at that point, people begin to look for another path away from independence,” she says.

Criticisms of the ERC, the leading pro-independence party in the Catalan government, led to it boycotting the ANC’s mobilisation on La Diada, Catalan’s national day, on September 11, the first time the party had not joined the demonstration in over 20 years. Catalan president Pere Aragones said he couldn’t join a march led by an organisation so explicitly against his party’s line – to seek an agreed referendum with Madrid and count out other paths to independence.

Despite the snub, Catalans turned out in big numbers for ANC’s La Diada mobilisation, with over 750,000 in attendance, an increase on last year’s turnout. The protest showed that parties are not the only leaders of Catalan’s independence movement.

Despite these strengths, Thomson also sees weaknesses in the Catalan movement, one of which is its unwillingness to develop a coherent and compelling programme for what an independent Catalonia could look like.

“If you are going to say you want to be independent, you need to explicitly offer the people something different,” he says. “I don’t think that’s happening in Catalonia.”

READ MORE: Catalan independence rally draws tens of thousands of supporters

One of the most obvious similarities that can be drawn between the current Catalan and Scottish situations is both nations have pro-independence governments that want an independence referendum and face intransigent opposition from the Spanish and UK state, respectively.

While Thomson agrees that this raises common challenges, he believes the Catalan movement faces a steeper hurdle.

“There’s a constitution here which says Spain is indivisible,” he says. “And that is incredibly difficult to overcome.”

In the Sunday National tomorrow, I’ll bring you a longer reflection on what I’ve discovered in Barcelona and a report direct from today’s referendum anniversary demonstrations in the Catalan capital.