Welcome to Tabarnia. You may not have heard of the place but, if you are Scottish, it is going to feel pretty familiar.

That is because this wouldbe breakaway region of Catalonia - invented by Spanish unionists as an internet wheeze - has all the credibility of an independent republic of Lewis.

Tarbarnia was dreamed up as a joke a couple of years ago. Essentially it is Barcelona, its suburbs and the industrial port of Tarragona where those oppose to Catalan independence think they can garner a clear majority.

But the fake region over Christmas became an internet sensation.

More than 20,000 people signed a petition calling for Tabarnia to split from the rest of the Catalonia, the often Catalan-speaking hinterland where independence is most popular.

The move had clear echoes of a call for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland to have their own vote on independence if Scotland had voted Yes to leave the UK in 2014.

Those behind Tabarnia, like Shetland separatists, were essentially mocking the language of Catalan independence supporters.

Mocked-up Internet Campaign for Tabarnia, copying Catalan response to October crackdown

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Madrid’s increasingly unionist press quickly picked up the story. El País - in its English edition as well as its Spanish - repeated the satire

“Freedom for Tabarnia,” the paper said. “Catalonia robs Tabarnia. Catalonia has never done anything to win Tabarnia over. The corruption of Catalan politicians has left Tabarnia in misery.

“That’s why the citizens of Tabarnia have the right to decide their future. The people of Tabarnia just want to vote. Tabarnia is not pro-independence, Tabarnia is pro-democracy. If Tabarnia declared itself independent, it would be assured its place in the European Union.”

Back in 2014 very few people signed up for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles to have a vote on independence. Though the islands did at least have the advantage over Tabarnia of actually existing - and having long-standing particularist sentiment.

Plenty of people in Scotland’s islands saw the constitutional debate as a chance to discuss the country’s local government and the potential of greater devolution.

But the Tabarnia joke in Catalonia underlined one of the great differences between the British and the Spanish states - and the parallel independence campaigns they both face.

In the UK, most people agree that Scotland is a “country”. They just argue about whether it should be an independent sovereign state or not.

There is no consensus in Iberia about Catalan nationhood. Many people refer to the Catalan country or countries. But Spain constitutionally and politically thinks of itself as a nation state, not a British-style entity that can, for many people, be both a family of nations and a country in itself.

The logic of not recognising Catalonia as a country is that as a region it has no right to decide. Or, as internet wags prefer, that Catalonia’s right to self-determination is no greater than made-up Tabarnia.

El Pais puts Tabarnia on its front page

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David Alandete in El País wrote: “[Tabarnia’s] plausibility is all thanks to the separatists themselves – all the above soundbites have been used to bombard the people of Catalonia for years – just substitute the name Tabarnia for Catalonia.”

This will irritate Catalan independentistes whose biggest gripe is often the reluctance of Castillian-speaking Spaniards to even acknowledge their “country” as more than a region.

The Tabarnia meme surged over Christmas as Catalan and Spanish politicians silently mulled over the results of last week’s elections to the Catalan parliament. All sides tried to claim victory. The three main pro-independence slates won a majority of seats but just 48 per cent of the vote. Their dominance of the areas outside fictional Tabarnia - primarily the provinces of Girona and Lleida - gives them an electoral advantage.

A lone Barcelona flag - the St George's Cross - in a sea of pro-independence Catalan flags

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The biggest single party, however, was the staunchly anti-independence Ciutadans. Its Spain-wide leader was quick to quip on Twitter about Tabarnia. “If the nationalists claim an inexistent right to split,” said Albert Rivera, “anyone can.”

Mr Rivera’s party may have done well. But unionists - a term borrowed from British politics - also had little to celebrate. They got fewer seats and votes than pro-independence groups. That is because a slate of anti-establishment parties, largely ambivalent or neutral on independence, took seven and a half per cent of the vote.

Will Tabarnia make them laugh? The jailing of those behind October’s and a violent police crackdown on voters did not please the neutrals.

It may be a joke, but the Tabarnia meme serves as a powerful reminder of how little common ground there in the Catalan question.

Global journalists - as for Scotland - often call supporters of independence “separatists”, a term many find offensive. But they also often refer to Catalonia as a “region” rather than a country. Tabarnia, however, is neither. It does, however, have its own flag, one more than familiar to Scottish nationalists: it includes the simple red cross on a white field of St George.

La Razon also puts Tabarnia on its front page

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