There was a wee segment on Catalonia on Scotland 2014 last night, so I watched the programme for a change, at least that part of it. And it has to be said that the piece was not as unbalanced as I feared it might have been. Mind you, that didn’t stop Sarah Smith saying that opinion in Catalonia was divided on independence like it is in Scotland. Which isn’t actually true when you look at Catalan opinion polls, which show a large majority in favour of independence. The reason the Spanish government is so determined to prevent a Catalan referendum taking place is because everyone already knows what the result will be.
In the hoary tradition of BBC neutrality, the segment featured very short sound bites from Alfred Bosch of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a left wing pro-independence party, Muriel Casals of the pro-independence pressure group Omnium, for the opposition we got Juan Mocoso of the PSOE, who got all of 10 seconds, and then the centre piece interview with the big bad Spanish politico who was going to tell us we’re eurobanned.
It had been touted beforehand with BBC Scotland saying that they’d been speaking to Spanish politicians who might make it difficult for Scotland gain EU membership, and a part of me was hoping it would be Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roco, who is the Spanish political version of one of those Hollywood blockbusters that consists of piss poor dialogue but lots of CGI spectaculars of a city being wiped out by alien monsters. Fun to watch the fireworks, but you know the movie’s crap and is of no significance. Vidal-Quadras left the PP in a huff earlier this year, then failed to get re-elected to the European Parliament when he stood for the Spanish version of swivel eyed UKIPPERs. PPescadores, possibly.
So instead of the Spanish version of Nicholas Fairbairn, because some of us are old enough to remember when Scottish Tories managed a spot of eccentric colour along with their raving lunacies, the centrepiece of the segment was an interview with a very boring party drone of the Partido Popular who refused to be drawn on questions. Far more interesting was that it was prefaced with a statement from the presenter that the Spanish Foreign Ministry had refused their request for an interview.
The Spanish government will not go on public record making any official pronouncement about the Scottish referendum for a number of reasons. Reason number one being that they have no intention of vetoing Scottish membership of the EU, and reason number two being that any attempts to hinder or put obstacles in the way of Scottish membership will cause the Partido Popular and the Spanish government enormous domestic problems. Like they don’t have enough of those as it is. So they’re not about to say ¡Iros a la mierda! to Scotland, which is one of those phrases they don’t teach you in conversational Spanish classes at the community centre. But there’s already plenty of voters in Spain saying it to the PP.
So instead, BBC Scotland interviewed someone called José Ramón García Hernández. And I said: “¿Quién?” Which is Spanish for “Who?” So I asked a Galician friend with whom I was chatting online at the time, and who is very clued up on Iberian politics. Tell me about José Ramón García Hernández, I asked. And she said: “Quen?” Which is Galician for “Who?”
Then I asked that trusty Spanish speaking friend, Google.es. Bring me the head of José Ramón García, I said. And it told me that José Ramón García is a Venezuelan baseball player and to stop making smart arsed references to low budget Westerns. In a normal universe, you can immediately rule out the notion that BBC Scotland is interviewing the Venezuelan Michael Jordan* in the mistaken belief that he’s really the Spanish Foreign Minister. But this is Referendumland, where we get Daliesque surrealism from the No Grasp on Reality Campaign on a daily basis.
But thankfully for the rapidly diminishing credibility of BBC Scotland referendum coverage, he wasn’t a Venezuelan baseball player, he was really a Spanish Partido Popular politician after all, albeit of the low-budget Paella Western variety. Phew. Mind you, I say “rapidly diminishing credibility,” but that needs to be understood in the same sense that Attila the Hun has a rapidly diminishing credibility as a roving UN Peace Ambassador, or that John Reid has a rapidly diminishing chance of being thought of as a lovely man.
So let’s try and put this into some sort of UK context, in order to give you a standard of comparison. Have you ever heard of the Rt Hon Sir Richard Ottaway? Chances are you haven’t, it’s not like he’s a household name or that anyone in Scotland is especially interested in his opinions. Richard Ottaway is the veteran Tory MP for Croydon South and is chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. He’s actually got some influence on UK foreign policy. Not a huge amount, but he’s got influence. The kind of influence Scotland could do without, but then we can vote on that sort of thing on 18 September.
José Ramón García Hernández is far less consequential than Richard Ottaway. He was only put forward as the BBC interviewee because everyone else in the PP is mired in corruption allegations. He’s the newly appointed backbencher for Marginalseatshire, a list member for Madrid who was bottom of the Partido Popular list, and was only appointed to take the place of a departing PP parliamentarian in April this year. He’s the Partido Popular’s party secretary on international affairs, an internal party position, not a Spanish Government position. He has about as much influence on Spanish foreign policy as the BBC interviewer who was trying to pin him down on an answer to the question – will you veto or put obstacles in the way of Scottish membership of the EU.
Even a minor PP functionary didn’t want to commit himself to anything specific. Partly the reason was doubtless a peculiarly right wing Spanish version of Schadenfreude, Schadenfreude in Spanish is regodeo, in case you were wondering. Amongst Spanish right wing circles regodeo directed at el Reino Unido is usually expressed as “Ha Ha. It serves you right for Gibraltar.” Contrary to what No I Still Can’t Believe It’s a No Campaign would have you believe, there is in fact considerable support for Scottish independence, even amongst the Spanish Partido Popular, and it’s only partly due to the regodeo thing. It’s hard to express to Scots whose experience of furren pairts is limited to two weeks on the beach just how insanely popular our wee country is amongst those who’ve actually heard of us. Which to be honest, isn’t everyone.
But a more substantive reason can be found in the fish counters of Spanish supermarkets. Consumers in Spain consume vast quantities of seafood, a not insubstantial percentage of which comes from Scottish waters. Much of the catch is brought in by the Galician fishing fleet. The fishing industry is the largest single part of the Galician economy, and Galicia is a stronghold of the Partido Popular. The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is a Galician PP representative – can you guess who is the largest single contributor to his local and regional party funds? Oh yeah, that would be the Galician fishing industry. Mariano only has his job because of Scottish fish.
Delaying or putting obstacles in the way of Scottish EU membership puts the access of the Galician fishing fleet to Scottish waters at risk. It further puts at risk their access to Norwegian waters, as access to these waters depends on an agreement for reciprocal Norwegian access to EU waters – and the only EU waters that interest the Norwegians are the Scottish ones. Rajoy’s not going to risk pissing off the PPescadores.
But there’s another reason, which was alluded to by Patrick Harvie who commented on the piece afterwards. He made some very good points in his usual calm and reasonable way. Patrick said that if Spain attempted to put obstacles in the way of Scottish membership of the EU, there would be outrage in Spain. And there would be. But more specifically, there would be outrage of a Catalan sort.
The essence of the dispute between Catalonia and the Spanish government is that Spain insists that the Spanish constitution does not give Catalonia the right to self-determination. The Spanish constitution contains a clause saying that Spain is indivisible. Spain says it recognises that the UK constitution recognises the right of Scotland to self-determination, and so Spain has no objections. This is the argument Madrid uses to counter objections from Catalonia that Madrid undemocratically rejects the right to self-determination.
However if Madrid was seen to be punishing Scots for daring to exercise their constitutional and legal right to self-determination, they destroy their own argument against Catalonia. And the Catalans know that too. Madrid would be showing that it was after all, merely opposed to the democratic right to self-determination. Catalonia would press ahead with a referendum in the teeth of Mariano Rajoy’s objections, and dare him to challenge them.
This is precisely the kind of event which the Catalans would use in order to internationalise the Catalan referendum question, and go to the European courts for a ruling. Of course there is no guarantee that Catalonia would win its case. But there’s no guarantee that Madrid would win either. And Spain could potentially find itself in the humiliating position of being told by the European Court of Human Rights that it’s in breach of the fundamental terms of its own EU membership. Which is not a good position to be in when your budget depends on net transfers from the EU.
So you can see why Spain is very keen not to say anything too specific, but is extremely keen on adding to the “Oh it will be cataclysmic if you vote yes” mood music.
If Scotland votes Yes in September, Spain’s interests will lie in ensuring that the entire question of Scottish membership is done and dusted as quickly as possible. That way they can continue to assert to Catalonia that they do so recognise the legal right to self-determination, and to continue saying that Catalans don’t have it. Meanwhile Mariano Rajoy will rest assured that funding from the Galician fishing industry will continue to fill his local party coffers.
* Yes, I know that Michael Jordan is a basketball player and not a baseball player. But I don’t know the names of any baseball players because I know and care as much about American sports as BBC Scotland knows and cares about Spanish politics. There’s Babe Ruth I suppose, a name which some in the Tory party were fondly hoping might become a popular nickname for Ruth Davidson, only we all started calling her the Action Krankie instead.