SCOTLAND used to be seen as a school for Europe's nationalists.
Now, in Madrid at least, it is also seen as the place to learn how to beat them.
Senior figures in Spain's conservative government have launched a massive exercise to find out exactly what it is that is making their unionist allies in London and Edinburgh so successful.
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The Partido Popular of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has watched support for independence in Catalunya surge over the last year despite - or perhaps because of - stern warnings that there will be no Scottish-style referendum.
Britain's unionists, meanwhile, have accepted the principle of an indyref. Yet - reading the same polls as everybody else - they are pretty confident they are going to win it. Rajoy's Conservatives want to know how.
Their fact-finding emerged last week.
First newspapers revealed that Rajoy had ordered his officials to compile reports on all kinds of legal aspects of Scottish independence, including opinions on membership of international organisations such as the European Union, Nato and the World Trade Organisation.
Then it emerged senior officials from his party and its Catalan branch had held talks with Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, and UK government communications chiefs. Were they trying to find out the secrets of Better Together spin?
Bluntly, they could use the help. Madrid has suffered a series of PR disasters in Catalunya. PP politicians - to Catalan ears and, frankly, mine too - can sound horribly like representatives of the thuggish old Franco regime.
The Mayor or Zaragoza, for example, recently called on Catalan devolution to be reversed if the Barcelona government tried to hold a referendum. Imagine London's Boris Johnson saying Holyrood should be shut because Alex Salmond wanted an Indy vote?
So what can Spanish unionists learn from meeting their British counterparts? A guide to cuddly togetherness? The recipe for Project Fear scare stories?
"The aim was to take note of the campaign designed by unionists to convince Scots of the advantage of staying together," a report in Barcelona's La Vanguardia said of the UK-Spanish unionist summit in Manchester, citing sources in the PPC, the Catalan wing of Spanish conservatism.
It then went on to reveal that Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, the PPC leader, had called for "a union of parties at a national level" similar to Britain's Better Together. She had just met Ms Davidson.
The PP may be learning to love its UK counterparts. But so too, as I have blogged before, have Catalan nationalists. Why? Because they can use what they see as British democratic fair play as a stick to beat the PP. Mr Cameron, the logic goes, "let" Scots vote.
That idea doesn't go down well with Alex Salmond. The First Minister told a crew from Catalunya's TV3 at the recent Indy Rally in Edinburgh that getting the indyref deal hadn't been easy. "We had to negotiate that agreement," he said in an interview some Catalans say they found patronising. "You have to do the same thing. It's up to you to formulate the process by which you can express your national identity. I can't do it for you."
Eventually - and maybe looking just a bit irritated - he dismissed the premise that referendum was gift of the Tories. "But the idea that this was something given to us by Westminster," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "This had to be won."
For what it is worth, the Indy Rally didn't impress in Spain. Scots, after all, aren't very "flaggy" compared with Catalans, who can put hundreds of thousands in to the streets of Barcelona with little difficulty.
"We outsiders are struck by the lack of nationalist enthusiasm on the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh," wrote journalist Carlos Fresneda of Madrid's El Mundo after last month's rally. "A meeting of 10,000 demonstrators - something that would be considered a success in Scotland - would be an absolute fiasco in Catalunya."
Fresneda was interviewing a Scottish historian, Dauvit Broun. "Scots tend not to be especially demonstrative," the Yes-minded Glasgow University academic responded. "We can be at the football or the rugby, but not in politics. The rise of the SNP has been relatively quiet."
So Spanish unionists are learning from British counterparts. Can Scottish nationalists learn from their Catalan comrades?
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