In just ten days time, the government of Catalonia is determined to hold an independence referendum that the government of Spain is equally determined to prevent. What’s happening in Spain is heading towards the logical conclusion of what you get when the loyalist defenders of the central state refuse to countenance that a country within that state has a right to self-determination. The situation in Catalonia is growing fraught, it’s getting dangerous.
The Catalan independence movement shares an important and highly praiseworthy feature in common with the Scottish independence movement. Apart from the activities of a tiny fringe group during the 1980s called Terra Lliure ‘Free Land’, the Catalan movement, like its Scottish counterpart, is dedicated to peaceful and legal protest, and to achieving its aims by persuasion and through the ballot box. Like members of the Scottish independence campaign, the Catalans believe that the kind of independent state you achieve is determined by the kind of campaign you run in order to win your independence. A violent campaign with no respect for democracy and the rule of law creates a new state born in blood, one in which democratic rights cannot be assured. That’s not the kind of Catalonia that anyone wants. That’s not the kind of Scotland that anyone wants either.
Earlier this week Madrid took effective control of the pursestrings of the Catalan government. They haven’t suspended the Catalan administration, although Clause 155 of the Spanish constitution does permit such a step, but they have taken control of the finances of the Catalan government. Senior government officials have been arrested, and 700 pro-independence mayors have been threatened with legal action if they dare to facilitate the referendum. Even Catalan newspapers which are not pro-independence are describing this as a coup d’etat against the government in Barcelona. Catalonia is standing on the edge of an abyss, staring into the darkness of the days of the Francoist dictatorship. It has been driven to this point by a government in Madrid which is the political heir of Franco in democratic drag.
Today the Spanish newspaper El País, which is roughly equivalent to the Guardian in terms of its politics, is reporting that the Spanish Government together with the main Spanish opposition party the PSOE, are offering to negotiate with the Catalan government “within the constitution and the law”, on condition that Catalonia drops the referendum. It’s hard to see how this offer can be in any way attractive to Catalonia, as “within the constitution and the law” is code for “without any mention or possibility of independence”. The Madrid government and parties have made it clear that they’re only prepared to talk about Catalonia’s funding. They’ve made it equally clear that they’re going to maintain the same constrictions on Catalan democratic expression.
Meanwhile the central state continues its pressure. The Spanish Supreme Court has ordered that the members of the Catalan Electoral Commission are to be fined €12,000 a day each. The Spanish Treasury, the Ministerio de la Hacienda, has frozen the bank accounts of the Catalan government. Today (Thursday) in Barcelona there’s a demonstration of thousands of citizens in front of the Catalan Supreme Court, calling for the release of the government officials arrested last week. Hundreds of red and white carnations, the symbol of the independence movement, have been left outside the court office which ordered the detentions. Neither side seems likely to budge. Catalonia stands on the verge of serious civil disorder, and it’s the central government in Madrid which is largely to blame because it refuses to concede the legality of the democratic will of the people.
A group of SNP MSPs has written to the President of the EU Commission Donald Tusk, requesting that he intervene. The cross party grouping on Catalonia in the House of Lords has also written in support of the right of Catalonia to self-determination and to request that the Spanish government allows the vote to go ahead.
The Catalan public service broadcaster has been warned by the courts that it faces legal action if it continues to report on events or actions that could lead to the referendum being held. Scotland’s own public service broadcaster doesn’t need any legal threats to stop it covering events in Catalonia. It’s far more interested in the fitba. As far as BBC Scotland is concerned, there’s absolutely parallels between Scotland and Catalonia that anyone in Scotland might be interested in. Our so-called national broadcaster remains as resolutely parochial as the status to which the UK wishes to consign Scotland. The Spanish Supreme Court and Mariano Rajoy would be so proud of a broadcaster which fell over itself to give huge prominence to the musings of even minor Spanish Unionists during Scotland’s independence debate, but which seemingly prefers to place events in Catalonia in the same category of Scottish public interest as local government elections in Mongolia.
The central state nationalist intransigence on display in Spain is present here in Scotland too. Ruth Davidson, whoever it is that’s going to end up leading Labour’s Scottish accounting unit, and Wullie Rennie, refuse to recognise the mandate that the Scottish government possesses to hold another independence referendum. Ruth Davidson is on record as stating that there is no mandate for another independence referendum in Scotland even if more than 50% of the voters opt for the SNP in an election. Kezia Dugdale said something very similar. When a majority of voters choose a particular path, but the leader of a minority party not only claims there is no mandate, but is able to block that mandate due to support she receives from within the state, but outside the country in question, democracy is a sham. Ruth should be ashamed of the statement she made and should disavow it.
The lesson for Scotland from Catalonia is a lesson in democracy that Scotland’s British nationalists must pay heed to. This is what happens when so called Unionists refuse to respect the legitimate mandate of a democratically elected devolved government. It creates the risk of civil disobedience. It creates the risk of bringing the rule of law into disrepute. It creates risk of confrontation between the people and the police. It creates the risk of social disturbances. Ruth Davidson preaches against division, but it takes two to create a divide, and Ruth has her own role in its creation. In Scotland, we do not want the kind of brinkmanship and confrontation that the Spanish nationalist establishment has created in Catalonia.
The lesson to learn is that the will of the people as it is democratically expressed through the ballot box must always be respected. Democracy isn’t a one off event. Democracy in Scotland did not stop when the country voted No in 2014. The result of that referendum is being respected. Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom, that’s what respecting the result of the referendum means. But that doesn’t mean that Scotland surrendered the right to revisit the question of independence at a time of Scotland’s choosing. It doesn’t mean that Scotland has no right to reconsider the matter when circumstances have changed. When democracy is frozen at one point in time, democracy dies. There is a mandate for another referendum, one that was democratically and peacefully achieved. Scotland will have another referendum and we must support the right of our brothers and sisters in Catalonia to hold theirs.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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