John McTernan, in case you’re lucky enough never to have heard of him, which makes this your unlucky day, was once employed as Tony Blair’s spin doctor. He then went off to Australia to perform the same job for Julia Gillard, before her own party got so fed up with her and John’s spin, smear, and slurring that they stabbed her in the back and removed her from office – putting John out of a job was just a fortunate by-product. John left Australia leaving lots of enemies behind, and now he’s back in Scotland pissing rank urine all over the independence debate.
John’s just gone on his holidays, and last week he used his column in the Scotsman to tell us all about his wee trip to Catalonia. A weekend in Barcelona has made him an expert in Catalan politics, and now he wants to tell us why the Catalans are really not keen on this independence malarky after all. Because John knows best, just like he knows that the Iraq War really was a good idea, he knows that Tony Blair is honest, upright and true, and he knows that he represents all that the Labour party really stands for. That last one being the only one that’s objectively true – and if that doesn’t make you realise just how low Labour has fallen, nothing else is going to.
I can’t help but wondering why John McTernan goes abroad. He could just install a sunbed in a Better Together office and achieve the same effect. Or maybe he didn’t go abroad, he went on a virtual reality tour of Barcelona while plugged into a No Thanks holographic projector, which carefully filtered out anything that might contradict John’s – can someone please tell me a polite word for delusional – take on the prospects for independence in Catalonia. Nope, I’m still stuck on delusional.
For anyone who has actually spent any time in Catalonia, some of his impressions just don’t ring true at all. For example he said the signs in the airport were only in Spanish and Catalan, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’re in English as well. He also said that his halting Spanish was met with replies in Catalan. But Catalans are well aware that when they are presented with a foreign touristy person with a limited grasp of Spanish that the person is unlikely to speak Catalan either. Friendly and polite foreign touristy persons in this situation are met with kindness and replies in Spanish, and if you’re a very friendly and very polite foreign touristy person they even will attempt some limited English. Use just a couple of words in Catalan, and you’ll be invited home to meet the family for a wee copa or three. That’s Catalan for swally.
Which means there are only four possible explanations for John’s report that he was answered in Catalan. 1. His limited fame as a No campaigner and apologist for warmongers had spread before him, and the Catalans just wanted to piss him off. Or 2. he’s just rude and arrogant and they responded in Catalan precisely because they knew he wouldn’t understand and they wanted to piss him off. Or 3. they were in fact replying in Spanish but their Catalan accents hopelessly confused John and his limited Spanish because he wasn’t really paying attention so they ended up wanting to piss him off . Or 4. They were replying to him in Catalan accented English, and when they realised he still couldn’t understand they decided he was an eejit they wanted to piss off.
We’ve already seen that John isn’t good at recognising English even when it’s written down for him, so my money’s on four. This may or may not be related to the listening skills he acquired while working as Tony Blair’s spin doctor. Your guess is as good as mine. Mind you, si fos jo a Catalunya, Joan, et respondría al Català també, i el parlo molt mal.
He couldn’t resist a wee pop at his own culture though, being a ProudScot ™, and made a disparaging remark contrasting the real language of Catalan with “synthetic Scots”. Synthetic Scots? That’s a wee jibe at attempts to create a variety of Scots that suitable for official use, a Scots which is urgently needed to ensure that the language stays alive. The Scots he contrasts with the Catalan he sees on the airport signs as he’s fumbling through his Spanish phrase book and not noticing signage in English.
But John doesn’t believe in looking beyond the surface of things. He’s all about the image and the spin. John’s interest in words begins and ends with constructing a sentence which is not technically untrue even though it’s fiction. That’s the easiest linguistic trick of all. That’s the low rent end of the wordsmith’s trade. And that’s where John belongs. Oh the things we could say about you John, no word of a lie.
Which makes you wonder, where exactly does John think that the standard Catalan suitable for official use comes from? The language goddess created it by the miraculous transformation of a Spanish phrase book? Is that what makes Catalan a proper language but Scots is not? Was Catalan waved into existence by mysterious and unseen forces beyond the ken of humanity? We already know it was beyond the ken of John.
Modern standard Catalan was created in the 19th century on the basis of Catalan orthography during the Golden Age of Catalan literature in the Middle Ages. It’s a form of Catalan that was self-consciously purged of Castilianisms and loanwords from Spanish. Spellings were standardised and the new written language consciously sought to distinguish itself from its close relatives. New vocabulary was created in order to make it fit for use as the language of a Catalan state. Catalan people did this quite consciously, and in the act of creating a national language they reaffirmed that Catalonia is a nation. Since all the other institutions of Catalan nationhood had been abolished by the centralising Spanish state, Catalans invested their nationhood in their language in a way that Scots didn’t have to.
Linguistic misconceptions aside, the main impression John took from his holidays was the notion that Catalans are going off the idea of independence. It’s a form of wishful thinking exactly the same as his wishful thinking that few in Scotland are seriously attracted to the idea of independence either. And it’s equally wide of the mark.
John believes that Spain’s economic crisis is making the Catalans think again about independence. He couldn’t be more wrong if he’d tried. The Spanish economic crisis is the driving force of the Catalan independence movement. It’s the years of mismanagement, corruption, self-interest and lack of accountability from Madrid which has turned many Catalans who were previously lukewarm about the idea of a Catalan state into strong supporters of independence. It’s what’s happened in Scotland too.
John thinks that Scotland and Catalonia are better together with the people who caused the problems in the first place, the people who brought ruin, who destroyed the economy, destroyed hope of a better future, and who still sit in power collecting brown envelopes and fattening their bank accounts. But John talked at some Proud Catalans ™ on his holidays, and he knows better.
The most recent opinion poll in Catalonia, held at the end of June – when John was trying to negotiate his way through Barcelona airport – showed that 50.9% plan to vote yes if an independence referendum is held in November this year, as planned by the Catalan Parliament. Only 30.1% plan to vote no, the remaining 19% are don’t knows. If don’t knows are removed, this would produce a result of 62.8% in favour of independence. So aye John, the Catalans are really going off the idea …
Some of us don’t just speak halting Castilian John, we speak it pretty well, and we speak Catalan too. And when you talk to proud Catalans you find that they’re overwhelmingly in favour of independence. Funny how our media publishes such one sided accounts of Catalan affairs as well as Scottish ones. You’d almost imagine they were trying to put us off the idea of independence.
Visca Catalunya, visca Escòcia, visca la independència.