Que viva España, really?

Pilar Fernández, a Galician friend who is married to a Scot and is a big supporter of both Scottish and Galician sovereignty, has written a great wee article (in English) about Better Together’s unconditional support for just about every statement issuing from the mouths of members of the Spanish government and the Partido Popular.  It’s well worth a read.


Labour supporters in particular need to be challenged when they approve of statements from the Partido Popular.  It’s unlikely that they know just what kind of a party the Partido Popular is.  Getting into bed with the British Tories is bad enough, but the Partido Popular …  Pilar explains why Better Together shames Scotland in the eyes of many in Europe.

Better Together talks a lot about the supposed ‘clout’ that being part of the UK gives to Scotland.  I’ve already explained why that’s a laughable myth and a bit of a joke.  But Pilar’s blog post illustrates a very real way in which Scotland does have influence throughout Europe.  By having this debate about the future of our country, we are giving hope that there might be a way to challenge our continent’s unrepresentative elites – that we can find a way to hold to account those who cannot be held to account.  And we’ve become an inspiration.

We really are punching above our weight, just not the way that Better Together have in mind.

Project Fear’s Christmas miracle

How Catalonia is reported in Scotland tells us far more about the Scottish media than it does about what’s going on in Catalonia.  At least Catalonia rates the occasional mention in the Scottish media, if only because it’s produced some new blow or other to Scottish independence.  Judging by the Scottish media, Catalonia’s main export is reasons against Scottish independence.   It’s just produced another one, in the form of the risible notion that the leader of the Catalan Government Artur Mas has miraculously agreed to the Spanish Government’s view on Catalan independence and EU membership.

I covered Artur Mas’s interview with La Reppublica in the previous post, but naturally the usual suspects have leapt all over Mas’s comments as misrepresented in the UK media and misrepresented them a bit more for good measure.

The musings of the Catalan president on strategies to achieve a Catalan state that’s an independent member of the EU, in the teeth of opposition from a Spanish government which refuses to recognise Catalonia’s right to self-determination, have magically transformed themselves into Artur Mas and Mariano Rajoy singing in EU harmony like carol singers.  That’s the wonder of Better Together fairy dust, children.  It’s a Christmas miracle and we do believe in Santa.  Or at least a privatised UK Santa, who’ll give you a zero hours contract with a call centre and a voucher for a food bank.

Fresh from her panto performance at Kelvinside abseiling club, Action Krankie Ruth Davidson said: “Alex Salmond has found himself completely isolated on Europe. Now even the nationalist president of Catalonia, who is leading his own drive for independence, says that leaving Spain means leaving the EU.

“Alex Salmond cannot keep saying everyone else is wrong and he is right. These realistic assessments are in stark contrast to Alex Salmond’s record of misleading Scots voters on the EU issue. If only Alex Salmond was as honest as his Catalan counterpart.”

Ruth obviously wasn’t paying much attention when she had those meetings with Esteban Gonzalez Pons of the Partido Popular to discuss, but not agree on because that would be wrong, common strategies for putting spokes in the wheels of Scottish and Catalan independence.  If she had been paying attention she’d have realised that Madrid refuses to allow Catalonia to hold an independence referendum and has repeatedly stated it won’t recognise or accept a yes vote if a ballot is held.  She’d also have realised that describing Artur Mas as honest won’t go down well with the Partido Popular, who are basing their entire anti-independence strategy on persuading Catalans that Mas is a liar and a criminal.  Although they’ve not had much success in that department recently.

Just like Alex Salmond, Artur Mas believes it is perfectly possible, indeed reasonable, for a country within an EU member state which votes for independence to negotiate its membership of the EU in the period between the yes vote and the formal declaration of independence.  In fact that’s precisely the scenario Mas described in his interview with La Reppublica, when he spoke about Catalonia only making a formal declaration of independence once EU membership, and implicitly recognition by Madrid, have been achieved.

Mas was discussing ways in which Catalonia could remain within the EU while its formal accession is negotiated.  Even in the absolute worst case scenario, Catalonia may be formally outwith the EU in the sense that it had no representation in the European Commission or in the European Parliament, but it would remain integrated within the EU while negotiations were held for it to rejoin – existing EU laws and regulations would remain in force, Catalonia would continue to use the euro, it would remain a part of the Schengen free travel area.

This is most certainly not a recognition from Mas that Rajoy has been right all along.  Mas’s comments were about seeking ways for Catalonia to remain a part of the EU, which is very far indeed from agreeing with the Spanish Prime Minster that independence means automatic explusion.

As Mas stated, it may be necessary to find some sort of transitional regime between a yes vote and the formal declaration of independence in order to ensure that Catalonia can remain integrated within the EU after a yes vote.  This transitional regime would be in place before Catalonia becomes independent.  That’s the bit that the Scottish media gloss over and don’t want you to notice.

And of course as I pointed out in the previous post, all of this is only necessary because the Spanish Government has repeatedly said it will not recognise the result of any Catalan ballot on independence.

Scotland, as Ruth ought to know because her boss agreed to it, will be holding a legal referendum whose result Westminster has pledged to uphold.

However Alistair Carmichael’s comments take the proverbial carquinyoli. (A Catalan almond flavoured biscuit.  It’s much tastier than Alistair Carmichael, but it still sticks in your teeth and can only be stomached in small doses.)

Carmichael said: “I welcome the thoughtful position of Catalan president Artur Mas that if Catalonia were to leave Spain it would be out of the EU and have to re-apply for membership. That reflects the EU position and it reflects our legal advice.

“Surely now is the time for the First Minister to take his fingers out of his ears and listen to what Mas is saying, what Rajoy is saying, what Van Rompuy is saying and what Barroso is saying.”

Alistair Carmichael’s comments are jaw dropping in their ignorance.  Mas is most certainly not saying the same thing as Rajoy.  And Rajoy is not saying the same thing as EU.  Rajoy rarely shuts up on the subject.  The EU is keeping diplomatically schtum despite the frantic Unionist spin placed on comments made by Barroso after Madrid leaned on him, and the politically motivated personal comments of Van Rompuy.  Is Alistair Carmichael actually participating in the same independence debate as everyone else?

The only way that Koalamichael can welcome Mas’s position is if he doesn’t have the foggiest idea what Mas’s position actually is, because Mas’s position is not in fact any different from that of the Scottish Government.  Mas believes that a country like Scotland or Catalonia can perfectly well negotiate its entry into the EU in the period between a yes vote in an independence referendum and the formal declaration of independence, and that the process need not be overly problematic when the EU state it is becoming independent from recognises the legitimacy of the vote.

Catalonia’s problem is that la Moncloa says it won’t recognise the vote.  But Scotland doesn’t have that problem with Westminster, doesn’t it Alistair?  And that is the crucial difference.

But if Alistair Carmichael agrees with Artur Mas, and Artur Mas agrees with Alex Salmond, does that mean that Carmichael agrees with Salmond now?  It’s all very confusing, but it’s doubtless safe to assume that the confusion rests entirely with Alistair.  Let’s be kind, because it’s Christmas, and assume that Alistair is just a bit of a thicko, because the alternative is that he knows he’s talking bollocks and is doing it deliberately to mislead us.  And that would make him a very naughty little boy.

The presents still haven’t been delivered in Spain or Catalonia.  Prezzie day is 6 January, when the Three Kings come.  Los Reyes Magos – who have the official seasonal gift delivery contract in Iberia and Latin America, having put in a lower bid than Santa or ATOS because they don’t need to employ elfs or people in call centres in Mumbai – bring naughty children who don’t tell the truth a lump of coal instead of a present.  Or at least they would bring Alistair Carmichael a lump of coal, only the Tories he’s in power with shut down all the mines.

Whatever the cause of Alistair Carmichael’s confusion, his job is to spread it to the Scottish public.  We’ll be seeing a lot more confusion from him in the months ahead.

Forest fire in Narnia, a major blow to Scottish independence

Some in the Unionist press have a compulsive urge to present absolutely any international news as a major blow to Scottish independence.  They’re a bit like those people on Obsessive Compulsive House Cleaners, who visit a therapist weekly to talk about how a traumatic childhood encounter with a Scottie dog sparked off all their problems.  There haven’t been any forest fires in Narnia recently, in case you were worried about any imaginary forest friends, but if there were some Unionist news outlet somewhere would explain why it’s terribly bad news for Alex Salmond.

And so it is with the Commentator, which reported this week on an interview which Artur Mas, president of the Catalan government, gave to the Italian newspaper La Reppublica.  It’s terribly bad news for those separatists, allegedly.

Mind you, in the article they did describe Holyrood as “Scotland’s devolved regional government”, like Strathclyde but with trams and a castle, where they presumably meet to discuss important devolved regional things like bus timetables and road signage and decide how to spend the pocket money London kindly sends.  So we can’t say we’ve not been warned we’re dealing with the Daily Mail end of the Unionist scare story spectrum and a reporter whose knowledge of Scottish and Catalan politics is probably exceeded by his or her knowledge of arson attacks in Narnia.

Naturally Mas’s interview was given extensive coverage in the Catalan and Spanish language media.  La Vanguardia published an article in Spanish, while there was an article in Catalan from Vilaweb.

La Vanguardia didn’t focus primarily on the EU issue, its main thrust was that the interview contained a statement from Mas that early elections to the Catalan Parliament could be an alternative if, as seems likely, Madrid blocks other means of holding a referendum.

Meanwhile Vilaweb says that Mas used the interview to state his certainty that there would be a yes vote in the referendum, and that it would be held on 9 November.

Asked about the possible position of Europe, Mas said that he understood that Scotland and Catalonia present a problem for the current member states, but he was sure that a way of resolving the institutional issues could be found without consequences for European citizens.

So far, there’s absolutely nothing here which could in any way be characterised as a “blow” to Scottish independence.  But let’s plough on.  Oh this must be it, in the Spanish version given by La Vanguardia.

“Las presiones son fuertes. Los Estados soberanos no quieren problemas si los pueden evitar. Habrá el precedente de Escocia, que votará antes que nosotros. Después vendrá Catalunya. También he considerado que en un momento inicial, entre el referéndum y la proclamación de la independencia, podríamos quedarnos fuera de Europa. No del euro, de la Unión”, comenta.

“Sería una lástima, porque nosotros queremos seguir en la UE. Sería necesario encontrar un régimen transitorio para evitar la expulsión de la UE. De todos modos, solicitaremos un reingreso. Nosotros queremos estar en el euro, en la Unión, en (el área de libre circulación sin fronteras) Schengen y en la OTAN”, añade.


“The pressures [from Madrid] are strong.  The sovereign states don’t want problems if they can avoid them.  There will be the precedent of Scotland, which will vote before us.  Afterwards will come Catalonia.  I have also considered that at the initial moment, between the referendum and the proclamation of independence, that we could be left outside of Europe.  Not outside the euro, outside of the Union,” he comments.

“It would be a pity, because we want to remain in the EU.  It would be necessary to find a transitional regime in order to avoid expulsion from the EU.  In any case, we will apply to re-enter.  We want to be in the euro, in the Union, in (the area of free movement without borders) Schengen, and in NATO,” he adds.

translation ends

I must confess I’m still struggling to see the major blow to Scottish independence here.  It can’t be that the topic of Scottish independence is one that European states find problematic and really don’t wish to discuss just now.  We know that already because one of those states is the UK.

It must be what Mas said about leaving the EU.

The key part here, which means this is very far from being a blow to Scottish independence, is the phrase immediately before the suitably scary looking “that we could be left outside of Europe”.  That’s “between the referendum and the proclamation of independence”.   Mas is talking about what might occur in the aftermath of a yes vote in a referendum whose legitimacy is denied by Madrid, and that Catalonia might find itself excluded from the EU by Madrid after Catalonia has voted for independence.

However Mas is also saying that Catalonia would not make a formal declaration of independence until Barcelona, Madrid, and Brussels had negotiated a settlement, but that in the meantime some sort of transitional arrangement is going to be required.  It’s under this arrangement that Catalonia may find itself temporarily outside the EU in the sense that Catalonia would have no representation as an EU member.  However Mas clearly expects the use of the euro as the currency and the free movement of goods and people to continue throughout this transitional period.

This is all up for discussion because Madrid refuses to recognise Catalonia’s right to a referendum.  It all depends upon how intransigent la Moncloa is going to be after the Catalans have voted, by one means or another, in favour of independence.  It could well be that after a yes vote, the Spanish government will have a period of sulking followed by elections where the victor recognises that the Catalan gemme’s a bogey.  Catalans realise that it might take a couple of years, but la Moncloa will give in eventually.  This is the worst case scenario, however the message from Mas is the whatever the difficulties and obstacles placed in Catalonia’s way, one day it will be independent and a member of the EU.

In Scotland, we’re in a different ball game.  Scotland’s referendum is legally recognised and constitutional.  No one expects Scotland to be excluded from the EU the day after a yes vote in the referendum.  The framework for what happens after a yes vote in Scotland is already in place.  Even with a massive majority in favour of independence, on 19 September 2014 Scotland will still be a part of the United Kingdom and still a part of the EU.  Scotland will not become independent until 24 March 2016, by which time negotiations will have taken place between Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels.

Mas is also keenly aware of that fact, which is what he meant by the precedent of Scotland.  Catalonia is proposing to hold its vote on 9 November 2014, if there has been a yes vote in Scotland, negotiations between Holyrood and Brussels will already be taking place.  Catalonia will have a model to point to.

So this news is nothing at all like a blow to Scottish independence.  Instead it’s an instance of Scottish independence giving a boost to Catalan independence, but that’s something the Unionist media in Scotland would prefer we don’t hear about.  Perhaps that will also change on 19 September 2014.

Scotland and the EU: The plot sickens

Thanks to a friend in Galicia who is far more organised with such things than I am (check out her great blog A Ponte Entre Galiza e Escocia – The Bridge Between Galicia and Scotland), I’ve been able to get a copy of El Periódico from 5 November 2012.  This was when the newspaper published a report which claimed that the Partido Popular and the UK Tories had reached an agreement to assert that any country which became independent from an EU member would be expelled from the EU.

The article is no longer online, which is a great pity as it has become even more relevant given the news in the Sunday Herald that Downing St had sent a representative to Madrid to meet with the Partido Popular to discuss Scottish independence.  But here is the article in full, in the original Spanish, followed by my translation.  I’ve gone for as literal a translation as possible, at the expense of elegance.  In instances such as this, it’s the information which is crucial, not the literary style.

My comments are at the end of the translation.

Original Spanish

El PP busca apoyos

Los populares intentan coordinarse con otros partidos europeos para expulsar de la UE a cualquier territorio que se independice

A pesar de que el PP considera que la situación de Escocia y Catalunya no tiene parangón, se ha coordinado con el partido conservador británico para dar la misma respuesta ante una posible secesión de estos territorios: si uno de ellos se escinde, quedará fuera de la Unión Europea (UE) y para adherirse deberá hacer frente a la negociación correspondiente y someterse a la votación de los socios y lograr la unanimidad.

El vicesecretario de Estudios y Programas del PP, Esteban González Pons, ha negociado la firma de un acuerdo de colaboración política con los conservadores británicos, que se pondrá negro sobre blanco en diciembre en Madrid.

“Catalunya y Escocia son regiones distintas y tienen problemas distintos, pero la respuesta tiene que ser conjunta,” asegura González Pons.

El dirigente conservador participó en Birmingham en la convención de los conservadores británicos, donde se reunió con los principales líderes para fijar posición.

“Escocia y Catalunya tienen problemas diferentes y sus historias son diferentes. Escocia fue independiente hasta 1707 y Catalunya siempre ha sido una parte de España. Es tan España como Andalucía o Extremadura,” defiende.

Gobiernos conservadores

La tesis de que una Catalunya o una Escocia independientes quedarían automáticamente fuera de la UE – que no está sustentada sobre ningún dictamen de la Comisión Europea – es la que se va a imponer, según fuentes del PP, porque es la que sostiene el Partido Popular Europeo, del que forman parte la mayoría de gobiernos conservadores del continente en estos momentos.

Así lo pudo comprobar hace dos semanas en Bucarest (Rumanía), donde el PPE celebró un congreso y en el que el PP planteó este asunto ante sus socios en su intento de lograr apoyos a su causa.

“La UE va a cerrar filas en defensa de los grandes estados,” asegura Pons, que recuerda el riesgo de división de Bélgica, las “situaciones” de Córcega y el País Vasco Francés en Francia, de Serdeña en Italia y las de los lands del este en Alemania.

El vicesecretario de Estudios del PP, que tiene previsto viajar en diciembre a Escocia para entrevistarse con conservadores y laboristas, lamenta que CiU haya emprendido el camino de la “política mágica” en este momento de grave inestabilidad económica.


The PP seeks support

The Populares attempt to coordinate with other European parties so that any territory which becomes independent is expelled from the EU.

Despite the fact that the PP considers that the situations of Scotland and Catalonia have no parallel, it has coordinated itself with the British Conservative party in order to give the same response in the face of a possible secession of these territories: if one of them splits off, it will be left outside the European Union and in order to become a member it will have to deal with the corresponding negotiation and submit itself to the vote of existing members and achieve a unanimous vote.

The vice-secretary of Studies and Programme of the PP, Esteban González Pons, has negotiated the signing of an agreement of political collaboration with the British Conservative, which will be put in black and white in December [2012] in Madrid.

“Catalonia and Scotland are distinct regions and have distinct problems, but the response has to be a joint one,” stated González Pons.

The conservative leader particpated in the British Conservative party conference in Birmingham [in early October 2012], where he met with the principal leaders in order to establish position. [ie, to agree a common stance]

“Scotland and Catalonia have different problems and their histories are different.  Scotland was independent until 1707 and Catalonia has always been a part of Spain.  It is as much Spain as Andalusia or Extremadura,” he asserted.

Conservative governments

The thesis that an independent Catalonia or Scotland would be automatically out of the EU – which is not sustained in any ruling from the European Commission – is the one that is going to be imposed, according to sources from the Partido Popular, because it is the one that the European Popular Party upholds, the grouping to which the majority of conservative governments on the continent currently belong.

So it was confirmed two weeks ago in Bucharest (Romania), where the European Popular Party proposed this subject to its members in their intent to achieve support for their cause.

“The EU is going to close ranks in defence of the big states,” asserted Pons, who recalled the risk of division in Belgium, the “situations” in Corsica and the French Basque Country in France, of Sardinia in Italy and the Länder of the east of Germany.

The PP vicesecretary of studies, who has a journey to Scotland planned in December [2012] to meet with Conservatives and the Labour party, regretted that the CiU [the main party in the pro-sovereignty coalition in government in Catalonia] had set off on the path of “political magic” in this moment of serious economic instability.

End of translation 

This week’s news that there have been further meetings between the Partido Popular and the Tories, with the express intention of discussing Scottish independence, is further confirmation of the EU stitch up which the Tories and the Partido Popular are jointly planning for Scotland and Catalonia.

The European Popular Party mentioned in the article from el Periódico is a grouping of right wing and centre right wing parties in the European Parliament.  Despite the similarity in the names the Spanish Partido Popular (Popular Party) is a different organisation, although it is a member of the European Popular Party grouping.

The British Conservatives are not currently members, they left during one of the Tories’ regular bouts of Eurohuffing, but they retain close links with other European centre right parties.

As I recalled in the previous post, when Newsnet Scotland asked the Labour party and the Conservatives for their comments on González Pons’ claims, they did not return the calls.  The Tories did however strongly deny that there had been any agreement with the Partido Popular, although they did not deny that they had met with their Spanish conservative counterparts in order to discuss the situations in Scotland and Catalonia.

Now we know that they are continuing to meet and to discuss Scottish independence, although apparently without agreeing on anything.  It must just be a weird coincidence then that both the UK and the Spanish governments continue to assert that Scotland and Catalonia would be out on their ears if they vote for independence, and both assert that this is what the EU treaties say – despite the fact that the EU treaties do not mention anything at all about what happens when there’s a successful independence referendum within part of an EU member state.

There is no EU ruling, both Spain and the UK refuse to ask the EU Commission for one.  Yet we constantly hear that it is a “fact” that Scotland would leave the EU automatically.

But it’s not a fact at all, it’s just political spin.  It’s a line thought up by right wing politicians in private meetings, a naked attempt to create a fact by stating it repeatedly and in concert in Madrid and London – and by other members of the right wing European political club, like Herman van Rompuy of the Belgian CDV, which is also aligned to the European Popular Party.

It’s not an agreement.  Oh no.  It’s serendipity, it’s a pleasing coincidence of mutual usefulness for the Tories and the Partido Popular.  That’s why they keep having meetings, so they can have a wee marvel at the unexplained synchronicity of it all.  “Oh you know Estabán, I said the exact same thing about the EU – like word for word!  Isn’t that weird?  OMG!”

There’s either been an eerie sequence of convenient coincidences sufficient to fill a very poorly plotted novel, or the Conservatives, the Partido Popular, and other right wing European unionist parties have arrived at an understanding – but not an agreement – to provide one another with an EU alibi to use against their respective independentistas.  Whichever is the case, it is still not a fact that an independent Scotland would immediately exit the EU.

But don’t hold your breath for an explanation from the Scottish Tories about why they’re meeting with the Partido Popular to discuss Scottish independence, it’s only supporters of independence who have questions to answer … that’s doubtless something else that they thought up in their late night meetings.

Tory plots, PP plans, and EU stitch ups

The Sunday Herald has picked up on the story of collaboration between the UK Government and the Spanish Government to gang up better together against those pesky separatists.  According to the Herald, Downing Street’s Scottish adviser (They have a Scottish adviser? Who knew?) flew out to Madrid last week to meet with Partido Popular representatives to discuss the Scottish independence referendum.

This has led Alex Salmond to accuse the two right wing unionist parties of “plotting hand in glove” and attempting a “stitch up”, because it’s highly unlikely that the Tories and the PP were meeting in order to have a relaxing wee social chat with wine and nibbles.  It’s not difficult to imagine what the UK Government might have to discuss with the Spanish Government about the Scottish referendum, and none of it is good for Scottish democracy.

The Tories and Better Together have dismissed Eck’s claims as paranoia.  Really, accusing them of plotting with a foreign power to undermine the democratic will if a legal vote doesn’t go according to their liking … isn’t that the definition of a crime that people used to be hung drawn and quartered for?  How could anyone even think they’d stoop so low.

But the Tories have previous for this.  Newsnet Scotland covered a very similar story over a year ago, when it reported that Ruth Davidson and other senior Conservatives had met with Esteban González Pons of the Partido Popular to discuss the creation of a European alliance of right wing unionists.

In November 2012, the Spanish newspaper el Periódico reported the following:

El vicesecretario de Estudios y Programas del PP, Esteban González Pons, ha negociado la firma de un acuerdo de colaboración política con los conservadores británicos, que se pondrá negro sobre blanco en diciembre en Madrid. “Catalunya y Escocia son regiones distintas y tienen problemas distintos, pero la respuesta tiene que ser conjunta”, asegura González Pons.

The Partido Popular’s vice-secretary of Studies and Programmes, Estebán González Pons, has negotiated the signing of an agreement of political collaboration with the British Conservatives, which will be put in black and white in December [2012] in Madrid.  “Catalonia and Scotland are distinct regions and have distinct problems, but the response has to be a joint one,” stated González Pons.

The paper also reported that González Pons was due to meet with Conservatives and Labour in Edinburgh that December.  The original Catalan language article has now gone behind a paywall and is only available to subscribers, but the relevant passages are translated in the Newsnet article.  It’s not a bad translation, because it was me who translated them.

The Partido Popular guy was pretty definite, he had met with the Tories, including Ruth Davidson, at the previous Tory party conference.  There wasn’t just an agreement, it was going to be signed and sealed the following month, quite possibly over wine, cheese, and nibbles.  González Pons also had meetings with right wing parties in Romania, who want to discourage Romania’s large Hungarian minority from seeking greater autonomy.  His wee master plan for a European wide alliance to quash local democracy was proceeding apace.

The Scottish Tories responded instantly to the Newsnet article. They vehemently denied there had been any agreement between themselves and the PP, because conspiring with a foreign government to screw your own country if a democratic vote doesn’t go the way you want isn’t a vote winner if the news gets out.

Despite the denial, the Tories refused to answer any questions about meetings with the Partido Popular.  Labour also refused to answer any enquiries about the meeting González Pons said he’d be having in Edinburgh in December last year.

It’s a safe bet there is no formal agreement written down on paper.  What there most certainly is however is a series of winks and nods which allows “plausible deniability”.  The UK and the Spanish governments have quite coincidentally and entirely independently arrived at the opinion that that “new states” will be expelled from the EU simply by becoming independent.  This not a legal opinion nor a fact, despite the claims of Mariano Rajoy.  It is a political opinion.

Both London and Madrid refuse to acknowledge the reality that any part of any EU state which votes yes in an independence referendum will not become independent immediately, and therefore will still be a part of the EU.  They don’t want to acknowledge the possibility that a country can negotiate EU membership from within the EU prior to its formal declaration of independence.  London and Madrid are ensuring that they make a joint political response to independence demands, because then each can present the declarations of the other to its own electorate as “a blow to independence”.

Herman van Rompuy, the president of the EU council, is a member of the Belgian CDV, another right wing anti-independence party.  He has also made similar statements to Cameron and Rajoy.  Van Rompuy’s intervention was denounced by Flemish nationalists as nakedly political.

Flemish MEP Mark Demesmaeker said earlier this week that van Rompuy’s claim has “no legal basis” and is purely political.  Demesmaeker states that EU lawyers, including a former judge in the European Court of Justice, had told his party that “such threats are baseless”.  Demesmaeker accused van Rompuy of following a “political-oriented agenda” that makes him tell “lies” that seem “truths”.

Only wait, aren’t Scotland, Flanders, and Catalonia totally and utterly different cases?  How can the Spanish and UK governments have lots of friendly chats about situations that they keep telling us have nothing to do with one another.  Unless we’re not so totally and utterly different after all, I’m sure that the Catalans and Flemings will have taken note.

And so should we.  If the UK government is internationalising Scotland’s independence debate, then we must internationalise it too.  Our struggle is not taking place in a vacuum.  All across Europe there are growing movements seeking to restore national or regional autonomy or demanding independence.  It’s not just in Scotland that people feel the existing political systems do not listen to their demands or respond to their needs.  Change is in the air.

Pro-sovereignty movements in different parts of Spain have recently started to recognise the need for co-ordinated action in order to achieve their goals of national sovereignty.  The Galician newspaper Sermos Galiza reported that representatives of the ERC of Catalonia, EH Bildu from the Basque Country, and the BNG of Galicia met in Bilbao last week and agreed to work together to  find effective means of collaboration between their three nations in order to achieve the right to independence referendums and to argue for a new social model within the heart of the European debate.

The debate in Scotland has centred on whether or not the European Union will allow us membership, and if so how long with the application take and under what conditions.  But there is a wider argument, what sort of European Union do we want to achieve.   That’s the debate that the Catalans, Basques and Galicians are beginning to have.

It’s certainly not the same Europe that Cameron and Rajoy want.  Cameron may very well end up taking the UK out of the EU entirely, in order to better chase the Conservative wet dream of abolishing the benefits safety net, and putting what remains of public services into the hands of ATOS and Serco.  Rajoy wants an EU that speaks for the ruling elites, and which defends the status quo.

Neither of them want an EU that is more accountable.  Cameron and Rajoy see the EU as a means of freezing Europe’s current geopolitical landscape, not as a framework within which issues of independence or national minorities can be settled peacefully and democratically.

The only way we can change this is by voting yes in September next year and ensuring that Scotland has its own voice at EU level.  In the meantime Scottish organisations and political parties should strengthen their ties to other movements within the EU seeking self-determination for their own unrecognised nations.  Europe belongs to us too, it’s not the property of Cameron, Rajoy and van Rompuy, let’s take it back from them.

What Project Fear is really afraid of

Poor Better Together, earlier this week Alistair Carmichael claimed that businesses and the media are too scared to speak up about the negative consequences of independence in case indy supporters give them such a nasty look.

Indy supporters have vicious tongues, and mock those good people at Project Fear who are only asking questions – questions which can’t be answered because the UK government won’t supply the necessary information, questions for which there is no possible answer, and questions which have already been answered repeatedly.  It’s unfair to point that out.

Alistair wants us to refrain from mocking the inaccuracies, lies and outright idiocies when Project Fear releases its latest scare story.  Westminster has a right to be stupid and self-serving, and we’re treading all over the Mother of Parliament’s democratic right to self-expression by laughing at it.  It’s the democratic right of a Unionist political party to trade in misinformation, lies and outright idiocies, and if they can’t do that then what’s the point in their existence?  That’s a question which answers itself.

The most ridiculous of his claims is that the media is intimidated by the independence debate, and is constrained against letting loose its full barrage of fear bombs because they’re afraid of the yes campaign.  Does Alistair actually read the papers?

Perhaps they’re not negative enough for him, but if this is them “constrained” then only the gods know what they’d be telling us if they were let off the leash.  When they’re not belittling Scotland with supposed satirical cartoons or asking readers for funny names for a new Scottish currency, they’ve threatened us with everything up to and including partition, penury and the plague.

If your only source of information is the UK media you are left in no doubt that absolutely nothing good can come of independence.  Even the SNP’s proposals to scrap UK Government benefits changes like the Bedroom Tax were reported in Thursday’s Express as “Salmond accused of being soft on the workshy“.

Amongst the sea of pro-Union reportage there’s occasionally a comment piece expressing support for independence,  this must be the bias that upsets Alistair.  It doesn’t give the Union a fair crack of the whip.  It’s only Westminster which is supposed to crack whips, most commonly on people who claim benefits, the low paid, immigrants, and more recently supporters of Scottish independence.

Alistair and the UK Government have more or less admitted that the case for the Union is so weak that it cannot stand scrutiny, never mind criticism.   What he’s telling us is that the case for the Union can only be heard in absolute and reverent silence, followed immediately by mass applause and a choreographed display of placards in a sports stadium making a huge image of Her Maj and the House of Lords.  Alistair’s complaint is that of a man who sees himself losing the argument, badly.  Hence his new catchphrase, “Help me Rona.”

And this is why Project Fear, bankrolled by Tory millionaires and backed to the hilt by the UK Government and all the resources it can muster, is now trying to portray itself as the little guy up against the big scary monster of the massed forces of the Scottish Government and ordinary punters with internet connections and keyboards.   They’re going for the sympathy vote.  It’s a bit like the combined might of the US, Russian and Chinese armies complaining that they’re out-gunned by the Sandyhills Boy Scouts with their peashooters and catapults.

If the Scottish Government really is that influential and powerful just now, when it must operate under the restrictions imposed upon it by Westminster, then with independence it presumably will have supernatural powers, like the ability to transmute base matter into gold.  But independence is unlikely to turn Alistair Carmichael into a political heavyweight, even alchemy has its limitations.

Better Together’s real beef is that Scottish deference to our political masters died a long time ago.  British democracy is in terminal decline.  A report published earlier this year by Democratic Audit found that the UK was moving ever further away from two of the key foundation stones of democracy, control over political decision-making, and how fairly the system reflects the population it represents.  The decline was described as “catastrophic”.

In Scotland we have no control over Westminster decision making.  Due to the massive preponderance of population south of the Border,  we get the government elected by voters in England.  But even if we do vote out politicians whose performance has not been to our liking, their pals only bump them up to the House of Lords where they continue to make our laws and influence policy making.  When the Labour party was first formed over 100 years ago, one of its key policies was the abolition of the House of Lords.  Here we are in 2013, we’re still waiting.

One of the most alarming findings of the report was the “unprecedented growth” in corporate power and influence over government in the UK.  The report warned that unless this was addressed it “threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision making”.  But Westminster has no plans to address it, neither the Tories, the Lib Dems or Labour have any plans or policies to restore full democratic responsibility and accountability.  That’s the last thing they want.  It would threaten comfortable career paths leading to well paid directorships and a seat in the Lords.

Since the political parties and the Westminster Parliament are unwilling to reform there is only one option left, we have to give them no choice.  In most countries that would require a revolution, but Scotland has another option, a peaceful and democratic option – we can vote for independence.  The independence referendum is a vote that will lead to a written Scottish constitution and can restore our political system to democractic accountability.  That’s what Alistair Carmichael is so afraid of.

Updates to this blog will be a bit erratic over the next week or so, because it’s the holidays and because Santa came early and gave the Dug a Hornby train set, big wean that he is.

Freddy Krueger and Spain’s EU veto threat

Spain’s supposed threat to veto Scottish membership of the EU is like one of those serial killers on a student campus in a slash ‘n gore movie.  No matter how many times the evil maniac is stabbed, hit over the head with bricks, shot, drowned, or baked in a kiln with the pottery class homework, he’s still stalking the heroine in the final scene.  Today Spain’s EU veto threat received yet another fatal blow.  I make that at least a dozen now.

Speaking to the Spanish press on Tuesday, José Manuel García-Margallo, the Spanish foreign minister, confirmed something which some of us have been arguing all along.  Spain will not veto Scottish membership of the EU if Scottish independence is recognised by Westminster.   Since there is every expectation that Westminster will recognise an independent Scotland if there is a yes vote in September, García-Margallo doesn’t think it’s likely that any difficulties will arise.

Here’s what he said, as reported in La Vanguardia.

“España no trabaja sobre hipótesis. Lo que sí le digo es que sería determinante a la hora de decidir nuestro voto cuál fuese la actitud del Reino Unido.”

“Spain does not work on hypotheses.  What I do say is that the attitude of the United Kingdom would be the determining factor at the time of deciding our vote.”

He added that the decision of the United Kingdom would be “key”, although he highlighted that it is a situation which he neither believes nor expects will arise.  He’s hoping it won’t arise as he hopes Scotland will vote no, but even if Scotland votes yes García-Margallo still neither believes nor expects the question of a Spanish veto to arise.

He went on to speak about Kosovo, which Spain will not recognise as an independent state.  The Serbian constitution prohibits Kosovan independence, and Serbia still refuses to recognise the independence of its former Autonomous Province.  García-Margallo said that the key factor in Spain’s non-recognition of Kosovan independence was the attitude of Serbia.

He added:

“Lo importante es que el derecho a decidir o cualquier otro derecho debe entenderse siempre en el marco de la Constitución y las leyes.”

“The important thing is that the right to decide or any other right ought always to be understood within the framework of the constitution and the laws.”

As our very own Naw Ye Cannae campaign ought to be aware, because the UK Government signed up to it, the Edinburgh Agreement between Holyrood and Westminster binds each party to accept the result of September’s referendum.   The Agreement provides the legal and constitutional framework within which Scotland’s referendum is taking place.  That means that if Scotland votes yes then Westminster will accept and recognise the result.

What García-Margallo was saying was that if Westminster  recognises Scottish independence, Spain has absolutely no reason not to recognise Scotland either, and he even went on to say that he does not believe the situation will arise.  He also knows about the Edinburgh Agreement, and he knows that Scotland’s independence referendum is entirely constitutional.

It shouldn’t need to be pointed out that he has said all this before.  Unfortunately it still needs to be pointed out, because the Unionist parties and media were not listening.  It is a very simple proposition, yet it’s one that seems far too complex and convoluted for the tiny minds behind the Better Together campaign to wrap their wee brains around.

Will this statement from the Spanish foreign minister finally put to rest the repeated claims in the UK media and by UK politicians that Spain might veto Scottish membership of the EU?  Probably not.   Alistair Carmichael will only argue that García-Margallo was just too intimidated by the yes campaign to say anything else, and the Freddy Krueger of scare stories will stalk the land again.

But the next time some Unionist politician raises the non-question of a Spanish veto, the response ought to be to ask them whether Westminster intends to abide by the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, or whether they intend to take a leaf out of General Franco’s playbook.

Because the answer to the question “Will Spain veto Scottish membership of the EU?” is “Not if UK politicians are democrats.”  It’s not Spain we need to worry about.  It’s the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.

And you thought Scottish opinion polls were peculiar

The Scottish opinion polls leave me scratching my head.  Apparently Scotland is full of people who are firmly opposed to independence, but most people I know seem to be either yes voters, unsure, or are still too interested in the results of Strictly to have given it much thought.

I figure that it’s best not to worry too much about polls and concentrate on badgering my friends and relatives, and telling them that if they promise to vote yes, I will stop nipping their heids about the subject.  On the whole it’s proven quite a successful tactic so far.

But opinion polls in Spain are even weirder.  The latest polls on Catalan independence, published in the Spanish language media, show that in the space of the past couple of weeks there has apparently been a catastrophic decline in the percentage of yes supporters, and a corresponding surge in the percentage of no voters.

According to these polls, published by the anti-independence papers La Razón and El Mundo, independence now enjoys less support than remaining a part of Spain.  Only 35% want independence, with 39% opposed.

Previous polls showed a large majority in favour of independence, which certainly chimes with the sense I get from talking to Catalans.  These polls all showed support for independence to be over 50%, a pattern confirmed in the most recent poll done on behalf of the Catalan government in November.  I wrote about these polls in a previous post.

The CEO polls carried out on behalf of the Catalan government are widely accepted as the most reliable.  They are carried out with a relatively large sample, on a monthly basis using the same methodology, and the full results and data are published.

The most recent polls were carried out by private companies.  One had a sample size of just over 860, compared to the 2500 of the government poll.  The raw polling data and details of the weighting methods do not appear to be publicly available.

If these new polls are to be believed, in the space of the past few weeks hundreds of thousands of Catalans have decided that this independence malarky really isn’t such a good idea after all, while also coming to the conclusion that Mr Rajoy probably isn’t such a bad chap.

It just doesn’t seem believable.  Nothing has happened in Catalonia over the past couple of weeks which could have caused such a huge fall in support for independence.  Nothing has happened in Spain which might give Catalans hope that their future will be better with la Moncloa.  Such a dramatic shift in public opinion must surely have an equally dramatic and obvious cause.  Yet I’m struggling to think of any.

The most significant development has been the announcement of the referendum question, a two part question which asks: Do you want Catalonia to become a state?  If so, do you want that state to be independent?

And here we are, just a few days later and the Spanish polls are saying there has been a massive drop in support for independence.  Which all seems terribly convenient.  I know that polling experts tell us how you frame a question makes a difference to the answer, but can it really turn overwhelming support for independence into majority support against?  It doesn’t seem likely.

But what do I know?  I’m not a polling expert.  Unlike José Ignacio Wert, he’s an expert on opinion polling in Spain and founded the polling company Demoscopia.  He’s also the Education Minister in Mariano Rajoy’s government.  I should add, just for clarification, that Wert has no connection with the recent polls claiming there is a drop in support for Catalan independence.   But he does illustrate the point that the line between political polling and political campaigning is one that is crossed more often in Spain than in the UK, and we all know that’s a blurry line to begin with.

José Ignacio Wert wrote a scholarly article, in English, all about the history of polling in Spain and Portugal, for the Fulbright International Conference on Elections and Democracy held in Lisbon in 2002. You can read here if you’re interested.  I only skim read it, because I have a real life, but it definitely doesn’t mention how polling in Spain is regulated.  There doesn’t appear to be any Spanish version of the British Polling Council, at least none I can discover.

José Ignacio Wert knows a lot about polls.  He recently figured in one as the least popular minister in Mariano Rajoy’s government.  Which is like saying someone is the least likeable person out of a bunch of misanthropes with terrible BO who’d turned up uninvited to use your bathroom after they’d fallen into a vat of syrup of figs.  José Ignacio excels at unpopularity, so he is actually very good at at least one thing.

As Rajoy’s Education Minister Wert is threatening to impose a new system of education on Catalonia which would destroy the immersion language model which has proven so successful in ensuring that schoolchildren in Catalonia gain fluency in both Catalan and Spanish.  Wert even said that the goal of a public education should be to “hispanicise” children.

Wert’s threat to Catalan education hasn’t gone away, and neither have Spain’s financial crisis and political corruption troubles, but the polls show a collapse in Catalan support for independence and a massive boost in support for the political system which caused the crisis and benefited from the corruption.

It must be one of those unexplained mysteries, like crop circles.  Nothing to do with men with planks treading things down to produce the desired pattern at all.  Oh no.  It’s really cosmic woo.

There’s only one vote that counts, that would be the one that José Ignacio Wert and his political allies don’t want the Catalans to have.  But they’re going to have it anyway. We’re all best served by ignoring opinion polls and concentrating on persuading our friends, relatives and acquaintances to vote for independence in the only vote that counts.

At least in Scotland we have certainty about the date of our vote.  What Catalonia teaches Scotland is that votes like ours do not come easily, and they do not come often.  We need to persuade our friends, relatives and acquaintances to make the most of our historic opportunity to change our country’s future.   And my New Year’s resolution is going to be to ignore opinion polls.

2014 is going to be an interesting year.  Let’s make it one to celebrate.  Here’s to the only vote that counts.

Lying liars and the lies that lie

This week’s shameless spin from Better Together about supermarket prices didn’t last long, but there’s bound to be another scare along shortly.

It’s still not clear whether the journalists from the Financial Times  decided to approach certain supermarket executives entirely off their own bat, or because someone suggested to them that there might be a story in it for them if they did.  But it’s probably a safe bet that the journalists didn’t just call the supermarkets at random, like they were conducting a telephone poll on whether your preferred brand of mayonnaise made you more or less likely to vote for independence.

Whatever precise chain of cause and effect took place, the execs obliged the journos with some quotes about hypothetical situations, and we were into the magic kingdom of the conditional.  The government of an independent Scotland could raise fuel duty by 10 billion percent and outlaw the use of barcodes – this would make it much more expensive for supermarkets to operate in Scotland causing prices to rise.  Another scare story for Project Fear to add to its shopping trolley.

The only surprise is that the Record didn’t headline it “Salmond-Hell a threat to supermarkets”.  They really are losing their touch, as well as their readership.

It’s all could and would.  It’s possible, but not at all probable.  It cannot be denied that the government of any independent state does have the legal powers to raise fuel duty by 10 billion percent and to outlaw barcodes, and an independent Scottish government could go collectively insane and do it.  That doesn’t mean it’s ever going to happen, it’s ridiculously improbable.  But it’s still theoretically possible.

Of course a 10 billion percent rise in fuel duty and legislation against the barcode menace could also happen if we vote no.  The Westminster Parliament could also go collectively insane, and there’s many who believe it already has.  The difference is that if we have an insane Scottish government we can vote it out.  We’re lumbered with the one in Westminster.

Spin finds its natural home between possibility and probability.  The truth is that just about anything you can imagine is possible.  It is possible that after Scottish independence the atoms making up Wullie Rennie could spontaneously rearrange themselves into a blancmange.  It’s just possible that people would notice.

There’s even a theory beloved of those who are too stoned to make it to the all night shop for munchies that there is an infinite number of universes.  And if that were the case then logically anything you can imagine has actually occurred in one of them.  Which means that in at least one universe Wullie Rennie really has turned into a blancmange.  But I still don’t think there’s any universe anywhere where anyone would notice.

However in this universe, the one where there’s a Scottish independence campaign, it would mean that scientists are profoundly wrong about the basic properties of matter.  That’s vanishingly unlikely, but it’s still possible.  Even if it were the case, the probability of Wullie Rennie turning into an actual as opposed to a metaphorical blancmange would be one in some number several orders of magnitude greater than the number of atoms in the universe.  It’s theoretically possible, even though to all practical intents and purposes it’s impossible.

So I can say that Scottish independence will cause Wullie Rennie to mutate into a blancmange, and people wouldn’t notice.  And it’s possible it’s not a lie.

But it’s not possibility which is important.  It’s probability.  I know that it’s highly improbable that Wullie Rennie will turn into a blancmange.  Trying to make out that a highly improbable possibility is actually quite likely to happen is what makes the statement a lie.

The ability to assess probability in any set of circumstances depends upon the amount and quality of the information you possess.  When there’s a shortage of information, you can’t assess probability.  That means there is no way of telling whether a possibility is probable or not.  Project Fear’s campaign relies above all on raising possibilities in the knowledge that most people don’t have enough information to tell how probable they are.

It irritates me greatly that almost 2 years after the Spanish Foreign Minister stated baldly that Spain has no intention of vetoing Scottish membership of the EU that the Scottish media continues to suggest that Spain would do just that.  They continue to do it even after the Spanish Prime Minister refused three times in a row to say yes, Spain would veto Scotland.

This rant of a blog post was inspired by the fact that today, I was again asked by a Scottish person what I thought about “Spain’s threat to veto an independent Scotland”.  The threat Spanish politicians have never made, the threat which the Spanish foreign minister has explicitly said Spain would not make.

Project Fear’s Spanish scare story dominates the Scottish media, unfortunately few in Scotland know enough about Spanish politics to put Better Together’s scare story into perspective.  Scots cannot judge the probability of the scare, so Unionist politicians and the Scottish media continue to repeat it.  They know they are not giving enough information to enable the public to reach a considered opinion.  That’s what makes them liars.

The only reason ever put forward for this possible Spanish veto is that Spain wants to discourage the Catalans from seeking independence.  However if you accept the point of view of the Spanish government that constitutionally and legally Scotland and Catalonia cannot be compared, then the question of Spain vetoing Scottish membership of the EU becomes nonsensical.  They have no reason to do so, vetoing Scotland does nothing to assist their case against Catalonia.

Spain vetoing Scotland would in fact damage the argument of the Spanish government against Catalan independence.  If there is a yes vote in September, Scotland will achieve independence via a legal and constitutional route.  Independence will be negotiated and agreed with Westminster.  Westminster will pass an Act recognising Scottish independence.

The Spanish government argues (wrongly in my opinion) that Catalonia does not have a right to independence.  The Spanish government claims that independence can only be recognised internationally if it is achieved legally and constitutionally, and is recognised by the state whose former territory achieves independence.  Spain can then argue that its position vis a vis Catalonia is legitimate and legal.

Spain can argue that it is not merely being intransigent, as it does recognise situations in which independence can be legitimately achieved.  If Spain were to veto Scotland on the grounds of our audacity to vote for independence, it destroys its own argument against Catalonia.  Far from discouraging Catalan aspirations to independence, it would in fact give the Catalans evidence that Spain merely refuses to recognise the right to self-determination, and therefore is in breach of the UN Charter and who knows how many other international laws and treaties.

I enjoy discussing politics, because I’m weird that way.  One of the things I liked about living in Spain was that people were quite happy to talk politics with you once they got to know you.  Naturally the topic of Scottish independence came up frequently.

I used to live in a Partido Popular stronghold.  In the more than 15 years I lived there, I never once encountered a single Spanish person who suggested that Spain might veto Scottish membership of the EU if we became independent – not even Partido Popular supporters.  Not a single Spanish person ever raised the possibility, they only discussed the subject with me when I had raised it with them after reading about it in the UK media.   The usual response was a puzzled look.  It had never occurred to them that Spain might have any reason to veto Scotland.

In fact the PP supporters I knew had no problems at all with Scottish independence.  They were in fact quite keen on it.  They regard Scotland as the example that – in their eyes – “proves” that Catalonia can’t become independent.  Scotland was once a state, they say, Catalonia never was.  They recognise that Scotland is a nation, and claim Scotland is a nation because it was once a state.

The constant and repeated theme is that Scotland and Catalonia are not comparable cases.  This is precisely the line taken by the Partido Popular government of Rajoy.

The idea that Spain might veto Scotland does not come from Spain.  It originates much closer to home, from Better Together and the Westminster political parties.  They know Scottish people have little or no information about the intricacies of Iberian politics, and they rely upon that lack of knowledge to raise possibilities that are not probable at all.

They know their scares are highly improbable.  That’s what makes them liars.  And that’s what I told the person who asked me about Spain’s non-existent “EU veto threat”.

What happens next in Catalonia?

The Catalan government has now announced that the independence referendum will be held on 9 November 2014.   The question will be in two parts, the first part asking whether Catalans agree that Catalonia should form a state, the second asking whether this state should be independent.

Madrid has vowed that it will not permit the referendum, citing article 2 of the Spanish constitution which states that Spain is one indissoluble nation.

So what happens next?

The first step is for the Catalan government to make a formal request to the central government in Madrid for the legal authority to hold a referendum, as in el caso escocés ‘the Scottish case’.  The Catalan Parliament can achieve it through two possible routes.  The first is for representatives of catalanista parties in the Spanish Parliament, the Cortes, to table a debate on a law allowing the referendum to happen.  The second is by making a formal request to the government of Mariano Rajoy that his government transfer the legal competence to the Catalan Parliament to give it the authority to hold the referendum.

Neither of these routes is going to succeed.  Both the ruling Partido Popular and the main opposition PSOE have said that they would refuse any requests.  The Cortes will refuse to give time to any proposed law, and Rajoy has repeatedly said he would not give permission.  There will be no Spanish version of the Edinburgh Agreement between Westminster and Holyrood.

This leaves the Catalan Parliament a number of other options.  The Catalan pro-sovereignty parties have agreed to bring forward a law in the Catalan Parliament which would give the Parliament the right to hold a consultative ballot on Catalan independence.  This new law would be based upon article 122 of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy, which gives the Catalan government the authority to hold consultative votes on matters relating to Catalonia.

The vote would not be legally binding, but it would provide the Catalan Parliament with a strong political mandate to negotiate Catalan statehood with la Moncloa.

However there are a number of practical problems with this route.  The Partido Popular and the Spanish Government have already stated their intention to proceed with court action to overturn the Catalan ballot law.  It is quite likely that the Spanish Supreme Court would rule that the question of Catalan independence is not a matter relating solely to Catalonia and strike the law down.

Catalans ask quite reasonably how can it be illegal in a democracy to ask people for their opinion, all the more so since Madrid constantly says that the referendum has no legal validity.  If it has no legal validity, then what exactly is the problem?  Measures from Madrid to block the referendum will only create deeper disquiet, and further alienate an already alienated Catalan public opinion.

Another possible strategy discussed in the Spanish media would be for a series of municipal consultations.  Each local authority within Catalonia would simultaneously hold a referendum on the same day and with the same questions.  However some local authorities, although not a majority, are politically controlled by non-sovereignty parties such as the PP or the PRC (the Catalan branch of the PSOE).  These local authorities are unlikely to give their backing to local votes, meaning this type of referendum would lose legitimacy as not all Catalans could participate.  It’s unlikely that this is a serious option.

The Catalan Parliament could press on with its consultation plans irrespective of court rulings from Madrid.  This opens the door to legal sanctions against members of the Catalan Parliament.

Threats have already been made by some powerful Partido Popular representatives to arrest Artur Mas and other leading Catalan politicians on charges of violating the constitution.  Last month, former Prime Minister J0sé María Aznar reminded the Catalans that when he was in power his government approved a law outlawing independence referendums.  The law was overturned by the succeeding government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the PSOE and was not reintroduced when the Partido Popular returned to power under Mariano Rajoy.  According to this law, Artur Mas would be liable to a prison sentence of 5 years, a fact which Aznar took care to point out.

The Catalan government responded to Aznar’s comments by saying that Aznar’s type of discourse was representative of “another epoch”.  Which is Spanish political code for “fascist and Francoist.”

The arrest of most members of the Catalan Parliament would have gravely serious political consequences.  It would do nothing to quash Catalan aspirations to independence, instead it would create political martyrs and risk driving the campaign out onto the streets in the form of a mass campaign of civil disobedience.  With the 1.6 million attendance at the recent Via Catalana, the Catalan independence movement has already demonstrated its capacity for public mobilisation.

A civil disobedience campaign would create immense political instability and cause massive economic damage, and not just to Catalonia.  It would put the fragile Eurozone recovery at great risk.  Angela Merkel would not be best pleased.  It’s in the interests of all parties to avoid it.

Artur Mas and the CiU have always made a point of stating that they must operate within the laws and the Spanish Constitution.  Although the ERC and CUP would likely support going ahead with the ballot despite a legal prohibition from Madrid, the CiU is more reluctant.  Tensions between these different wings of the pro-independence movement have already become evident, with signs that the ERC is losing patience with CiU caution.  Without CiU support, an “illegal consultation” is unlikely to get the go-ahead.  However the CiU is also aware of growing public support for the ERC and its insistence on a vote on independence as soon as possible.  This gives Mas less room for political movement.

The next option is to hold a plebiscite election.  In this scenario, the Catalan government dissolves itself, and calls an election.  In the election the pro-independence parties stand on an platform of the referendum question.  Voting for these parties is then taken as an explicit indication of the voters’ support for the proposition of independence.

Since it’s an obligation of the Spanish Constitution that elections must be held for the parliaments of autonomous communities, the central government could not prevent these elections from taking place.  The new Catalan Goverment would then have a direct mandate from the Catalan people to negotiate independence with Madrid, or even to make a unilateral declaration of independence.  Plebiscite elections would not give the Catalan Parliament a legal mandate for independence recognised by the Spanish constitution, but like a consultative referendum it would grant a powerful political mandate.

Prior to this week’s agreement on the question and date for the ballot, Artur Mas had argued in favour of plebiscite elections in 2016 – when Catalonia is due to hold its next Parliamentary elections.  Faced with the numerous political obstacles the Spanish Government and opposition parties are putting up to other routes to any ballot, the dissolution of the Catalan Government followed by plebiscite elections in November 2014 are probably the most likely outcome.

Whatever events transpire, Madrid will refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the ballot or its outcome.  Despite this, a referendum or a plebiscite election will have immense political significance in Catalonia, and further afield in the European Union.  Madrid will come under enormous international pressure to find a rapid and peaceful resolution to the problem.

What is quite certain, is that if the vote is held then there will be a huge majority in favour of Catalan independence.  Madrid knows this, which is why it is desperately trying to hold the line against any vote ever taking place.