There’s some welcome news in today’s The National, the final confirmation of the death of the Spanish veto myth. A letter from the Spanish Consul General in Scotland has confirmed that Spain would not veto Scottish membership of the EU, and confirmed that in the opinion of the Spanish government there is no membership queue that Scotland would have to get to the back of behind Turkey or Albania.
For years, this blog was ploughing a lonely furrow, pointing out that there was no such Spanish veto and there never would be, only to be ignored by the Scottish media. It was always obvious to anyone with even a modicum of understanding of Spanish politics that Spain would never countenance vetoing the EU membership of an independent Scotland which had achieved independence constitutionally and legally as has always been proposed. The reason is simple, and flows inexorably from Spain’s well known opposition to Catalan independence, the same reason cited constantly by a Scottish media which neither understood nor cared to understand what’s really going on in Spain.
Spanish opposition to Catalan independence rests upon a clause in the Spanish constitution. Clause 2 of the Spanish constitution states:
La Constitución se fundamenta en la indisoluble unidad de la Nación española, patria común e indivisible de todos los españoles, y reconoce y garantiza el derecho a la autonomía de las nacionalidades y regiones que la integran y la solidaridad entre todas ellas.
“The Constitution is based upon the unbreakable unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible fatherland of all Spaniards, and recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions which compose it and the solidarity between all of them.”
The Spanish constitution is clear that independence for the various parts of the Spanish state is not an option. Madrid therefore maintains that the only possible route to independence for Catalonia would be for Catalonia to unilaterally declare independence, a declaration which would be directly contrary to the Spanish constitution and illegal under Spanish law. This is the basis upon which successive Madrid governments have always said that they would refuse to recognise an independent Catalonia, would refuse to negotiate with it, and would veto its entry into international organisations.
The Catalans for their part assert that Madrid simply refuses to recognise the international right to self-determination. Madrid disagrees, claiming that independence can only be recognised if it is achieved constitutionally and legally. The Spanish constitution offers Catalonia no such route.
The situation in Scotland however is very different. There is no constitutional bar on Scottish independence within the UK. There is no constitutional prohibition on a Scottish independence referendum. Scottish independence when it comes about will be legal, constitutional, and the outcome of a process of negotiation with Westminster. So if Spain was then to say, “Oh we’re going to veto Scotland anyway and refuse to recognise it” even though Westminster itself had recognised Scottish independence, all that would do would be to prove to Catalonia that Madrid’s opposition to Catalan independence was indeed founded on a refusal to accept the right to self-determination and had nothing to do with constitutionality or legality at all.
Far from “discouraging Catalonia”, as opponents of Scottish independence loved pointing out, a Spanish veto of Scottish membership of the EU would destroy Madrid’s strongest argument against Catalan independence. It would give the government in Barcelona the evidence it required to internationalise its dispute with Madrid. It would fundamentally undermine Madrid’s case against Catalan independence.
During the midst of the Scottish independence referendum campaign in 2014, the then Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave an extensive interview to El Pais newspaper. He was asked three times during that interview whether Spain would veto Scottish membership of the EU if Scotland voted for independence. Three times he refused to answer, saying that he would not be drawn into discussing hypothetical situations.
Rajoy didn’t want to say anything that might encourage Scottish independence, but equally he knew that he couldn’t say he’d veto Scotland because that would damage his own government’s arguments against Catalan independence. Yet if Spain really had intended to veto Scottish membership of the EU as Better Together and the Scottish media were claiming, there’s no reason the Spanish Prime Minister wouldn’t have said so clearly. But he didn’t. He didn’t because it wasn’t true.
That didn’t stop the Scottish media repeating the scare story at every available opportunity for years and years, and indeed it invented opportunities to repeat it even if no Spanish government official was currently being obliging. We’d get headline reports in the Scotsman from marginal and reviled figures like Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roja, asserting that Spain would never recognise Scottish independence under any circumstances. Vidal-Quadras was a Partido Popular MEP on the far right of that party who at the time of the Scotsman report had fallen out with everyone in the Partido Popular and shortly afterwards left to found an extreme right wing party that was slaughtered at the ballot box.
Vidal-Quadras is hardly a household name in Scotland. He’s hardly a household name in Spain either. But no one in the Scottish media was willing to put him into context for a Scottish readership. Instead they just leapt upon a statement from a minor and marginal Spanish politician on the extreme right who conveniently bolstered their own prejudices and the lies of Better Together.
Despite the fact that I lived in Spain for 15 years, am fluent in Spanish, am able to read and comprehend Catalan, and have an understanding and knowledge of Spanish and Catalan politics far in excess of anyone else who publishes in the Scottish media, digital or otherwise, not once in the past four years has the BBC, STV, or any of the traditional press with the exception of The National, has ever asked my opinion on developments in Spain or Catalonia.
Lesley Riddoch even told me that she had suggested my name to the BBC when they asked her to comment on a development in Catalan politics, pointing out that I actually speak the language. No one ever contacted me. This is not about complaining about my own personal lack of media exposure. I’m not really in the business of providing the BBC with free airtime. What it means is that the Scottish media didn’t want to hear from anyone who was in a position to contradict one of Better Together’s favourite lies. They’d prefer to run with the lie.
There are myriad other examples of the refusal of the Scottish media to examine the assertions of the Better Together campaign. One of the most egregious was the claim that Scotland would not be allowed to join NATO if it insisted that the UK must remove its nuclear weapons from the Clyde. During the independence campaign we had figures like Labour’s George “Scotland has no language or culture” Robertson assert that an independent Scotland would not be allowed into NATO if it got rid of Trident and that it was simply unthinkable that any country could do this. This claim was repeated widely in the Scottish media as though it was a simple fact.
Yet, just like the Spanish veto myth, it wasn’t true. And again it’s an understanding of Spain that provides the evidence. Spain once hosted US nuclear submarines and missiles in the US base at Rota near Cadiz. The base was established during the Franco dictatorship and was massively unpopular with the Spanish people, especially after a US aircraft carrying nuclear warheads crashed into the sea off Cadiz on its approach to the base. Getting rid of the American nukes was one of the first items on the agenda of the newly democratic Spanish state after the death of Franco. Negotiations to get rid of the nukes began in 1976, and within a couple of years the missiles were gone. Spain joined NATO a couple of years later.
So there was an example of a country doing exactly what Scotland was being told was impossible, and not once did anyone in the Scottish media think to mention it during the independence referendum campaign – except for this blog, which was of course ignored by the newspapers and the broadcast media. It’s not as though the information is difficult to access. It’s even in Wikipedia. There’s no excuse for this blatant failure of basic journalism, except that the Scottish media didn’t want to report it, because it undermined and contradicted one of Better Together’s favourite scare stories.
What the Spanish examples prove is that with the exception of our sole independence supporting newspaper, the Scottish media is not prepared to cast a critical eye on the claims of opponents of independence, far less to deconstruct them, and god forbid to demolish them. Rather it sees its role as being to amplify, promote, and propagate those claims, even when – as we’ve seen with Spain – they are baseless.
Over the course of the years since the indepedence referendum we have seen one anti-independence assertion after another bite the dust. None of this has been thanks to the overwhelmingly pro-British media in Scotland. The assertions of the Better Together campaign have been destroyed by the actions of the British state and the Westminster Parliament, and when they do fall apart, the British media in Scotland does its utmost to minimise, diminish, or distract.
It was a core commitment of the Better Together campaign that Scotland could only retain its EU membership as a part of the UK. That’s been shown to be a lie, and the Scottish media is happy to report Conservative leadership refusals to countenance another independence referendum as though that were the end of the matter. We were told that the permanence of the Scottish parliament was to be enshrined in law, and when the UK government went to the Supreme Court to establish that the provision in the Scotland Act making that assertion had no legal standing, the Scottish media meekly reported it as a fact of life instead of a democratic outrage. We were told that no changes would ever be made to the devolution settlement without the express consent on the Scottish Parliament, yet when the British government did exactly that it was reported in the Scottish media as some minor tinkering with food labelling and agricultural standards and nothing to get worked up about.
Given this history, it’s reasonable to ask what other scare stories, assertions, and claims of opponents of independence are not being critically examined by a British media in Scotland which is zealous in its criticisms of the claims of independence supporters. The British government does its utmost to ensure that there are no accurate or meaningful figures about the Scottish economy, relying instead upon the partial statistics of the GERS figures. It allows the British media in Scotland an annual opportunity to tell Scotland how poor it is. They never question the figures, the methodology, or the political purpose behind them. They rarely admit the obvious, that the GERS figures only tell us about the spending and revenue decisions of the British state, whereas the entire point of independence is to make different and better choices.
The “too poor” scare story is the granddaddy of them all, the holy cow of British nationalism in Scotland. Yet even it is cracking under the critical eye of Scottish digital activism. Those cracks still don’t get much of an airing in the traditional press though.
We’re in a much stronger position now than we were in 2014. We have a flourishing digital media, which is experienced, diverse, and active. It was only in its infancy back in 2014. We have a proper newspaper which is able to promote pro-independence news and debunk the assertions of British nationalism on the same footing as other traditional press outlets. But we can’t let up. We still have work to do, as we’re up against entrenched and powerful – and extremely well-funded – opposition. So we have to support the media that we do have, and give it the support it needs to flourish and develop. We don’t have access to Tory dark money. We don’t have, ahem, independent think tanks funded by billionaires. We have to do this for ourselves.
The key lesson for the Scottish independence movement is that the role of the media is supposed to be to speak truth unto power. Except for viewers in Scotland where it’s to speak power unto truth. But the rise of the independence movement proves that the people of Scotland are becoming a power in our own right.
Finally, I’d like to say a few words about Natalie McGarry’s conviction and sentencing. Today Natalie was sentenced to 18 months for stealing £25,000 from Yes organisations. Natalie was my MP. I campaigned for her election in the 2015 General Election. I met her socially a couple of times. She was always pleasant and charming. Like many of us in the East End of Glasgow, I thought she was a breath of fresh air and a change from the corrupt machine politics of the Labour party which had dominated working class Scottish communities until then. I know I speak for many in the wider Yes movement in the East End of Glasgow to say that we were devastated when the charges against her came to light. However it is worth pointing out that it was independence supporters and organisations themselves who first called out Natalie and reported her to the police. It proves that in the Scotland we strive for no one is above the law.
The discovery that she had stolen money intended for a food bank, and embezzled from organisations which were set up to make Scotland a better place, came as a deep shock and an immense personal betrayal to those of us who campaigned for her on the promise to the people of the East End that she represented something better. It is saddening, infuriating, and upsetting in equal measure.
Natalie has destroyed her own reputation. She’s damaged her own family. But she’s also undone a lot of the hard work that so many of us in the East End of Glasgow had achieved in the face of such opposition and apathy in order to demonstrate to our neighbours, friends, and relatives, that independence represented something new, something better, and something different. In a community such as ours, people are cynical and disengaged because they’ve always been let down by the political class. Natalie’s criminal actions have made it even more difficult for us to counteract that perception. For many in the East End of Glasgow, that’s her real crime.
I bear no malice towards her, and hope that Natalie can learn to find peace within herself, but most of all I hope that the independence movement in the East End of Glasgow can redouble its efforts and remember that the sins of an individual do not diminish the aspirations of a people, because there is still a better and more hopeful Scotland within our grasp. We must not allow the personal failures of a single and flawed person to destroy the possibility of hope for an entire community, an entire city, a whole country. A better future is still within our grasp. We only need the confidence to reach for it. And reach for it we shall.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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