What Mariano Rajoy didn’t say

In “breaking news” during a dull ding dong of a debate on Newsnicht on Wednesday evening, we were breathlessly told that Spanish Prime Minister (Prime Minister right, so he must be someone really important) Mariano Rajoy had made an important intervention in the debate about whether Scotland should keep paying for railway lines between London and Birmingham, weapons of mass destruction, and Ian Davidson’s expenses.

We really require a drum roll at this juncture, or possibly a mariachi band – yes I know that’s a Mexican thing but are you telling me BBC Scotland would know the difference? – in a major new development Mariano Rajoy said … what he’s been saying for the past 18 months or so.  Nada nuevo.  Jackie Bird could have done a salsa to it, while Gordon Brewer practised imperious looks in preparation for his tango with Johann Lamont, but it would still have meant “nuhin new”.

What Rajoy said was that new countries would be outside the EU.  He’s been saying this for quite a while now, he regularly trots it out as a threat against Catalan independentistas.  It was of course covered in the Spanish media, although it came way below stories about Rajoy’s unwillingness to explain how he’s been managing his party’s finances after a series of corruption scandals enveloped the Partido Popular.  La Moncloa, the seat of Spain’s government, is not in a happy place.  Not much new there either.

What would have been more interesting, and you know, would have made this news as opposed to a bit of mutual backscratching between anti-independentistas, would have been if Mariano had said “Spain would veto an independent Scotland’s entry into the EU and cancel flights between Prestwick and Malaga.”  Which if nothing else would at least make him popular with people who hate Ryanair.  But he didn’t say that.

Rajoy’s the Spanish PM, he and his cabinet of obsessive centralistas madrileños decide Spain’s foreign policy.  If he wanted to send a clear signal that Scotland would have a tough time getting into the EU, he could have said so.  But he didn’t say that either.

Here’s what he did say, in both the original Spanish and my English translation, as quoted in El Pais newspaper.

“Desconozco lo que dice el libro blanco que se ha presentado ahora, pero lo único que me gustaría es que se presentasen con realismo las consecuencias de esa secesión. Yo respeto todas las decisiones de los británicos, pero tengo muy claro que una región que obtuviera la independencia quedaría fuera de la UE. Es bueno que lo sepan los escoceses.”

“I don’t know what it says in the White Paper which has been presented today, but all I would like is that the consequences of that secession are presented with realism.  I respect all the decisions of the British, but I have made it very clear that a region which obtained independence would be outside of the EU.  It’s good that the Scots may know that.”

The El País article which the quote came from is entitled Rajoy usa Escocia para lanzar un aviso a Cataluña ‘Rajoy uses Scotland to launch a warning to Catalonia’.  Rajoy’s comment was not aimed at Edinburgh, but at Barcelona.  He was reminding them that Madrid has furren pals tae gie it hauners.

What he was doing was sending a wee quid pro quo to Davie Cameron, because Westminster will share the quid with Spain but not Scotland, so Davie would say something helpful in Mariano’s Proyecto Miedo against the Catalans.  Like threatening to slap an extra tax on charter flights to Sitges or reopening El Bulli for Bullington Club reunion dinners.

The Spanish reports which the breathless Scottish media told us constituted a new twist in the debate quite explicitly said that Rajoy was merely restating a position that Madrid has held since it first heard the phrase independencia catalana.  El País even introduced Rajoy’s words with recordó, which means ‘he reminded/recalled’ as in what you do when you’re reminding people of things you’ve already said before.  But that didn’t stop the Scotsman crowing that Alex Salmond’s vision of EU membership after independence was dealt a significant blow tonight.”

The whole thing about it not being new and not being directed at Scotland must have got lost in translation.  There’s a BetterTogether filter on all news reports from Spain, nothing which doesn’t support the scare story du jour gets through.  Besides, “Here’s something someone said nearly two years ago” lacks the sense of urgency which is a vital component of any warning of impending doom.

Despite the bluster, Madrid is not going to issue a statement saying that Spain will veto Scottish membership of the EU.  It’s a bit like the argument over whether an independent Scotland would retain the pound.  You get a lot of “Oooh missus! How very dare you!” from Westminster, but they don’t actually rule it out because Westminster knows that it’s in the interests of the rUK to agree to a currency union after a Yes vote.  Spain knows it’s in Spanish interests to agree to Scottish membership of the EU after a Yes vote.

There are many reasons Spain knows it’s in Spanish interests to welcome Scotland into the EU.  None of which can be voiced before a Yes vote, for reasons of both international and domestic politics.  Rajoy is hardly likely to admit to them before the referendum.

Scotland would be a net contributor to EU funds, which a Madrid with an eye on EU budgets will certainly have considered.  Spain is a net recipient of EU funding, and all those agricultural subsidies and investment in infrastructure for poorer regions depends on a healthy EU balance sheet.  That’s not been doing too well of late, and the bottom line is that people short of dosh don’t deprive themselves of potential creditors.

We also provide access to fishing grounds that provide employment to the culturally and economically important Galician fishing industry, Mariano’s home region.  If you’ve ever seen a fish counter in a Spanish supermarket you’ll know what a very big deal seafood is.  Then there’s a whole trawlerful of other reasons, like our energy resources, the importance of political stability during a time of economic crisis in the eurozone, and enough Realpolitik to satisfy Angela Merkel at her sternest.

Perhaps most importantly, Scotland will not be the permanent obstacle to EU agreement posed by the rUK.  The political geography of the EU is changed, the rUK is no longer a state on the periphery, it will be surrounded by EU members.  That increases the incentive for the rUK to be more collaborative in European initiatives.

And finally there’s the not unimportant consideration that the average Spanish person, doubtless including Mariano Rajoy, does not bear Scotland any ill-will.  Quite the reverse actually, there is a surprising amount of affection for Scotland in Spain.  Even the most fervent opponent of Catalan independence or nationhood will cheerfully point to Scotland as an example of “a nation”.

But the important point in terms of Spanish domestic politics – which is all that interests Rajoy – is that Spain does not need to veto Scottish membership of the EU in order to send a signal to the Catalans.  Neither does it need to do so in order to block Catalan accession to the EU.

Madrid’s case for refusing to recognise an independent Catalonia rests upon grounds which are not applicable to Scotland.  The constant and repeated line from la Moncloa is that Scotland has a constitutional right to hold an independence referendum, Catalonia does not.  Scottish independence will be negotiated and agreed with Westminster, and will be recognised by Westminster.  Members of the Spanish government have said repeatedly that under such circumstances Spain could have no grounds for objection.

In the event of Scottish independence Madrid will recognise Scotland while at the same time stating that its reasons for recognising Scotland are precisely the same reasons why it cannot recognise an independent Catalonia.  They will also protest, without the slightest shred of shame, that they’re not being hypocritical.

La Moncloa already has the only legalist reason it requires to block Catalan independence and international recognition, it doesn’t need to damage its relationship with an independent Scotland in order to prove a rhetorical point it’s not actually making.  That’s Realpolitik in a modern Europe.

Even Rajoy’s statement that an independent Scotland would automatically be outside the EU does not imply that Spain would ensure that Scotland’s negotiations to join the EU would be protracted.  But it’s in the current interests of Madrid to imply that they would be.  There have been no independence referendums yet, so both la Moncloa and Westminster want to make out that Scottish or Catalan accession to the EU is more horrendously complex than assembling flat pack furniture with only three screws, the wrong sized Allen key, and a plastic spoon.

The point of EU negotiations should be easy to understand, even for leader writers in the Scotsman.  Apart from the obvious goal of EU membership, what are EU membership negotiations for?  They are to ensure that applicant countries are in accord with EU standards on a whole raft of issues, from democratic government, human rights, press freedom, the economy, the environment, and a whole lot more besides.  The negotiations are extremely lengthy and complex because it takes time for a country to ensure compliance on environmental protection standards for newts, and regulations on the minimum number of newspapers willing to publish made up stories about EU banana regulations.  This is what takes years to sort out.

Scotland’s already done all that though, having to do it all over again would be like having to surrender your driving licence in order to use public transport.  Scotland already possesses a valid EU driving licence, we don’t suddenly forget how to drive because we’re taking the independence bus.

What Scotland needs therefore, is not to have to take its EU tests all over again, with all the frantic swotting and overdosing on RedBull that would entail, what we need is for our licence to be validated.  That’s a political decision, and one which will only be revealed after a Yes vote has taken place, because in the current political landscape it’s in the interests of both the Moncloa and Westminster to pretend they might do otherwise.

Confronted with the reality of a Yes vote, both will do what is in their national interests under changed circumstances.  And that means Westminster will agree to a sterling union and Moncloa will agree to Scotland in the European Union.

16 comments on “What Mariano Rajoy didn’t say

  1. […] What Mariano Rajoy didn’t say […]

  2. Great article Paul! You know us very well and your analysis is quite exact. Unha aperta, meu amigo.

  3. […] What Mariano Rajoy didn’t say. […]

  4. […] For this is the rub of the matter, Sr Rajoy and the rest of his Spanish Unionist allies are terrified of the prospect of Catalan independence. And just like their Unionist buddies in the UK their only weapon is fear and scaremongering. It is no surprise that Unionists here would grasp at anything that might conceivably stoke this fear factor. I am though just a little surprised at the glee with which so many Scottish Unionists welcome the prospect, however faint, that Scotland would be cast adrift from the EU. Should they not be advocating for Scotland? However it is pleasing to note that the President of France has refused to join in this particular bout of scaremongering. There may yet be life in the Auld Alliance. The Wee ginger Dug has another take on this little non-event which you can read here. […]

  5. […] In “breaking news” during a dull ding dong of a debate on Newsnicht on Wednesday evening, we were breathlessly told that Spanish Prime Minister (Prime Minister right, so he must be someone really important) Mariano Rajoy had made an important intervention in the debate about whether Scotland should keep paying for railway lines between London and Birmingham, weapons of mass destruction, and Ian Davidson’s expenses.  […]

  6. gerry parker says:

    And that means Westminster will agree to a sterling union and Moncloa will agree to Scotland in the European Union.
    Bang on.

  7. iaingrimston says:

    All good but the fundamental point is that Scotland is not going to be a new country. Scotland is an EU country exercising EU compliance through Scots Law and Scottish courts. No change to this is being proposed. What Rajoy refers to is a Region and we are not that. But a great piece WGD!

  8. Wayne says:

    A brilliant de-fusion of the fearbombs that the pro-union press are currently launching relentlessly at the YES campaign. When you combine this blog with the equally impressive article on newsnetscotland by G.A. Ponsonby we have a timely reminder of how the alternative news scene is such a powerful aspect of the referendum debate. Without access to immense resources or the dint of a hefty salary blogs like this exhibit levels of journalistic nouse, writing skills and depth of perception that puts the BBC and the MSM to shame.

    I do have a question though. The current version of what Mr Rajoy said as reported on the BBC website appears to differ from yours, and my suspicion is that the BBC are at it bigtime.

    This is how they report it:

    He said: “I would like that the consequences of that secession be presented with realism to Scots.

    “Citizens have the right to be well informed and particularly when it’s about taking decisions like this one.

    “I respect all the decisions taken by the British, but I know for sure that a region that would separate from a member state of the European Union would remain outside the European Union and that should be known by the Scots and the rest of the European citizens”.

    We will note that any mention of the fact that he has not read the white paper are instantly expunged by BT’s ever willing buddies the BBC. But the other aspect is how they have slipped in the words “to scots” at the end of the sentence which ends in your translation as “presented with realism.”

    Is there another Spanish version which has the specific reference to Scots added in to that sentence or have the BBC just slipped it in themselves to add to the erroneous impression that Rajoy’s comments are directed at the Scots and not the Catalans?

    • weegingerdug says:

      Bugger, that’s annoying. I’d written a reply to you then clicked the wrong button and lost it. So let’s try again.

      I wrote my article late last night, I hadn’t seen the BBC’s version I relied solely on reports in the Spanish media. I don’t know where the BBC translation comes from, although one thing bilingualism teaches you is that newspaper translations and movie subtitles are very rarely literal. The BBC’s version is close enough to the version quoted in El País and it could be argued that the meaning “to Scots” was implicit in what Rajoy said. But that really is putting a spin on his words.

      This is not a big news story in Spain, because everyone in Spain knows Rajoy is saying nothing new. El País was in no doubt that the intended audience for Rajoy’s remarks is in Catalonia as I pointed out in my article. El País is against Catalan Independence, and supports the Spanish opposition party, the PSOE. So for some “balance” a la BBC, here’s what it says in ABC, which is sort of like the Daily Mail with rosary beads, and a firm supporter of Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular.


      ABC doesn’t bother quoting Rajoy directly – because he’s not saying anything new and this is not a big story in Spain because it’s nothing new. But like El País the paper is in no doubt that the intended audience is a Catalan one. Here’s its sole comment:

      Pero el presidente del Gobierno ha aludido también al caso de Escocia, y su posible independencia de Gran Bretaña. De nuevo ha hablado de forma general, por lo que sus palabras bien podían aplicarse también al caso catalán. Rajoy mantiene que deben explicarse a los escoceses todas las consecuencias que tendría su escisión.

      “But the Prime Minister has also alluded to the case of Scotland, and its possible independence from Great Britain. Again he has spoken in general terms, for which reason his words would apply equally well to the Catalan case. Rajoy maintains that they should explain to the Scots all the consequences that their excision would have.”

      The part in bold was in bold in the original version in the ABC newspaper, so it’s pretty obvious that’s what they think the key point is.

      Rajoy went on to say that new states would have to reapply for entry to the EU, and gave the usual stuff about how that’s really really hard. He also said that the membership of new states had to be agreed unanimously. None of this is new, but it is true if we’re talking about a state that’s applying for entry from scratch. However if Scotland votes Yes, there will be 18 months to negotiate Scottish entry from WITHIN the EU, because Scotland won’t become independent on 19 September.

      Spain has its very own version of Project Fear just now. Actually the scare stories the Catalans are getting are even more hysterical than ours. The ABC refers to “Catalan rupturists” which always makes me laugh. I quite like the idea of being a hernia in the side of Project Fear.

      Our very own Project Fear are trying to spin this story into something it is not. It is most categorically NOT a statement from the Spanish government that they would veto, or even hinder, Scottish membership of the EU. Because they’re not going to – after a Yes vote it would not be in Spain’s interests – anyone with a modicum of understanding of Spanish politics knows that. Project Fear wants us to think that foreigners are threatening and scary, and we need Westminster to deal with them for us. And they call us the parochial nationalists eh?

      • Wayne says:

        Thanks for the very detailed reply, I appreciate the time and effort!

        I totally agree with you, the whole incident if we can call it that is faintly ludicrous and only serves to exemplify the feverish paranoia of our opponents, that they will grab on to or spin anything which they feel can give them political traction against Salmond et al, regardless of whether it will later begin to unravel or not or survive even the most cursory scrutiny. You only have to read the article about Sir David Edward’s views in The Guardian to see that this is beginning to happen, which says nothing of the fact that he published an article in the Fordham International Law Journal recently which was broadly in line with the SNP’s views, and was completely ignored by the media. The fact Edward is a committed Unionist makes his views even more useful, the lawyer in him can’t resist the niceties of the legal question regardless of his political views. You have to respect that.

        Like most of the fearbombs it will land with a thud, be covered over and the danger will be forgotten. These things have a short appeal, but blogs like this do a wonderful job of giving a different perspective to those who otherwise would be stuck with the MSM. I have enough degrees and access to resources to keep me right, but for the general public, it is a great shame they get the BBC and The Telegraph and thus never appreciate the full complexities of what is being mis-represented as clear and unequivocal.

        Glad to see this being reposted on Wings.

  9. […] member of the Newsnet Scotland team who also happens to be a fluent Spanish speaker.  On his blog ‘Wee Ginger Dug’, he gives both the original Spanish, as quoted in El Pais newspaper, and the English […]

  10. jmillergnd says:

    Hi Paul

    Didn’t know you had left the NNS team and were doing your own blog until I saw the link today in the NNS article. its common sense articles like this and the ones that Derek Bateman puts out on his blog that need to reach a much wider audience.

    Now that I have found the “dug” I will be checking in regularly to see what he is up to.

    • weegingerdug says:

      I had to leave NNS due to my partner’s health, which hasn’t been too great of late. He’s currently in hospital, but is showing a marked improvement, which is a huge relief, and we hope he can come home very soon. Unfortunately due to his care needs, I am no longer able to commit the time NNS requires.

      This blog is just a wee way for me to vent occasionally and to give me something to think about other than care needs, hospitals, and visits with health professionals. I update it when I can. Glad you’ve found it.

  11. Andrew Morton says:

    Superbly argued article Paul. It’s a shame that journalistic standards at papers like the Scotsman have gone down the toilet. When I think of some of the great journalists they used to have, it makes me weep. It’s a shell now.

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