I mentioned in the previous post that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had only made his comments about Scottish membership of the EU as a quid pro quo for Davie Cameron returning the favour and making a similar comment which Mariano could use to pour ice cold gazpacho over Catalan aspirations to independence.
And lo verily it has come to pass. Within a couple of days Cameron sort of said something which Rajoy could use to slap down Barcelona with a smug grin on his beardie face. It wasn’t much of a statement on Cameron’s part, but with the serial crises Spain and the Partido Popular are facing Mariano doesn’t get to look smug very often and has to work with the limited material he has to hand.
On Friday evening the unionista media in Spain (which like the media in the UK is pretty much most of it) El Mundo was crowing that Rajoy y Cameron advierten a Escocia y Cataluña de su expulsión de la UE si se independizan ‘Rajoy and Cameron warn Scotland and Catalonia of their expulsion from the EU if they become independent’. Meanwhile El País gushed that Rajoy y Cameron coordinan la respuesta al independentismo de Cataluña y Escocia ‘Rajoy and Cameron coordinate the response to Catalonia and Scotland’s independence campaigns’.
El Mundo’s report is as good as any. El Mundo is yer typical right wing Spanish newspaper, like the Daily Express but without the fixation on Princess Di. It tells us that Cameron and Rajoy took advantage of the European summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to have a conversation, during which Cameron agreed with Rajoy that new countries aren’t a part of the EU.
It wasn’t exactly a formal meeting of the forces of anti-independence resulting in the issue of a joint communiqué, it was more a wee chat for a couple of minutes over the coffee machine. Mediated by interpreters of course, because Cameron speaks no Spanish and Rajoy’s English is atrocious. If you’ve ever dealt with interpreters, or worked as one, that cuts conversation time down by about a half because everything has to be said twice. So it was a wee chat for half of a couple of minutes over the coffee machine.
Cameron issued no statement, we only have Rajoy’s words on the matter, and they were hedged about with the caveat that himself and Cammie were speaking in general terms, not about any recalcitrant rupturistas in particular.
It’s hardly surprising Cameron made no direct mention of Catalonia. He’s not keen on getting involved in independence debates in case he gets mauled by Nicola Sturgeon. He spends most of his time trying to make out that the Scottish independence debate has nothing to do with him, so at least he’s being consistent for once.
But it was enough to give Rajoy what he needed in order to present Madrid’s obstinate refusal to recognise the Catalans’ right to self-determination as a European consensus. In an eerie mirror image of Scottish coverage of Rajoy’s non-news earlier this week, Cameron’s non-statement was sprayed all over the Spanish media like Cameron had said something new, while it scarcely figured in the Scottish news at all. Because everyone in Scotland knows that Cameron has been spouting the same guff for quite a while.
It should be clear by now to anyone following the debate that Cameron and Rajoy are blindly applying the existing rules for external candidate states, which are already independent, to a state which is applying for EU membership from within the EU and already in full compliance with EU membership criteria – prior to its formal declaration of independence.
This is an entirely novel set of circumstances which the EU has never faced before, and in the absence of a formal ruling from the EU on the subject Cameron and Rajoy are merely expressing a fond wish on their own part. That would be the wish that the campaigns for Scottish and Catalan independence would just shut up and go away.
Of course, Cameron or Rajoy could get the EU to make a formal ruling which would leave the answer in no doubt, but both refuse to do this. Governments of existing EU member states are the only bodies able to make a formal request to the EU for such a ruling. If they’re so confident of their position, why don’t they get it formally confirmed?
In fact Spanish Unionists are so eager to avoid any discussion of Scottish or Catalan independence at an EU level that the Spanish opposition party the PSOE blocked a debate in the European Parliament on Scottish membership. The debate had been proposed by Scottish Labour MEP David Martin who was hoping that it might produce some soundbites helpful to the Better Together cause.
Spain however, fears that any such debate might reveal the degree of support which exists in Europe for Scottish membership, which is not inconsiderable, and that would not help to discourage the Catalans. Likewise both Cameron and Rajoy fear that if they were to ask the EU for a formal ruling on Scottish or Catalan entry, the answer would most likely be along the lines of We can work it out, life is very short and there’s no tiiiiiime for fussing and fighting my friend.
The Partido Popular make no secret of their desire to forge a European wide alliance of right wing groups opposed to autonomy or independence campaigns, and have had a number of meetings with the British Conservatives in pursuit of this goal. They do this as they repeatedly claim that the cases of Scotland and Catalonia cannot be compared and are not remotely similar – except when it comes to plotting to stop them acheiving independence. Spanish for hypocrisy is hipocresía, in case you were wondering.
There have been a series of talks between representatives of the Partido Popular and the British Conservatives to develop a “common response” to independence movements. Talks between the parties have been held on a number of occasions. Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson was reportedly an attendee. Following a meeting in 2012, the Partido Popular’s Esteban González Pons announced to the Spanish press that his party had reached an agreement with the Conservatives to present a joint response to Scotland and Catalonia.
González Pons also claimed that in December 2012 he was meeting in Edinburgh with leading members of the Scottish Conservatives and the Labour party in order to pursue collaboration further. No answers on this meeting were ever forthcoming.
The Conservatives vehemently denied that they made any agreements with the Partido Popular to work jointly against Scottish and Catalan independence. Despite this they continue to meet with González Pons and the Partido Popular, most recently at the Conservative party conference this year.
The Scottish Tories could not possibly admit to the existence of an agreement between themselves and the Partido Popular to prevent an independent Scotland acceding to the EU. It’s because there’s a word for secretly conspiring with a foreign political party to damage your own national interest if a democratic vote doesn’t go according to your liking.
If news of such agreement got out, it would spell the death of the No campaign. For that reason alone, I believe the protestations of the Tories that there is no formal agreement.
What there probably is however, is an informal understanding that the Conservatives and the Partido Popular will collaborate in ways which do not damage their domestic positions. And that means making vague statements on generalities at suitable times in each other’s version of Project Fear, like just after the launch of the Scottish White Paper on Independence.
But it’s all smoke and mirrors, vested interests pretending to be neutral voices of authority in someone else’s debate, repeating old scare stories like they were news.
The Catalans will treat Cameron’s comments with the disdain Rajoy’s received in Scotland.