Catalonia, Scotland and Europe
29th October 2017
- The Catalan parliament was established in 1980, its predecessor had been abolished by the Fascist Franco in 1938, many members were killed and the Catalan language was banned.
- The new Scottish parlie picked up in 1999 from where it had left off in 1707.
The Scottish Indy process is not the same as the Catalan one:
- the sovereignty of the Scottish people was asserted in the Claim Of Right in 1989 as a political act (lead by Labour and the Lib Dems and boycotted by the SNP). The road to independence was the Edinburgh agreement signed between the Scottish and Westminster governments in 2012. Political parties on both sides of the question participated — as did their voters.
- the Catalan government mounted a disputed referendum after the Spanish government consistently refused to accept that any referendum should be held — the Spanish government used legal threats and physical police action to try and prevent it happening — and confiscated ballot boxes. Only political parties supporting independence participated, those opposing it boycotted it, as did their voters.
The Westminster government couldn’t act like Madrid even if it wanted to:
- Madrid has an armed police force, the Guardia Civila, in Catalonia — the Catalonian government has its own, the Mossos d’Esquadra — this is by design — there is a takeover option short of military occupation.
- the Westminster government has no state agents in Scotland with the exception of the British Nuclear Police — English policemen have no legal status north of the border — a Catalan-style crisis here would be military government or bust — and after a long civil war in Northern Ireland there is no appetite for that in any Westminster party (nor the SNP neither).
The EU doesn’t have any locus on Catalonia, it is a weak organisation of states:
- it cannot just ‘jump in’ to the Catalan situation — it cannot ‘have an opinion’ on Catalonia — it doesn’t move fast, it can’t move fast. It only has an opinion on the treatment of individuals in the state — if the Civil Guards start beating people up, or Madrid starts jailing people willy-nilly, or holds rigged elections, then, and only then will the EU have an opinion — not on the outcome — but on the process, rules and legal modalities. It can offer to mediate between Barcelona and Madrid but it won’t take sides.
- if you think it should intervene — then ask yourself this, how should it intervene in Northern Ireland? What steps should it take to restore Stormont — a suspended devolved parliament? How should the EU intervene to protect the democratic votes of Northern Ireland and Scotland against Brexit?
The legality of otherwise of the Catalan referendum is irrelevant — this is a political not a legal crisis:
- there was no legal basis for De Gaulle’s collapse of the French 4th Republic and creation of the 5th.
- when the Irish Taoiseach John Costello declared he would repeal the External Relations Act of 1936, leave the Commonwealth and become a Republic it was not legal.
- the Derry Civil Rights March of 5th October 1968 where NI Labour MP Gerry Fitt was batoned by the RUC on television was illegal.
So what is the answer to the Catalan crisis? A legal vote, agreed by both parties, Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid won’t agree to one, and Barcelona won’t wait is the nub of this crisis.
At its heart is the 2006 Statute of Autonomy in Catalonia. This was passed by the Catalan Parliament, ratified by the Spanish one and put to the Catalan people in a referendum — which it passed 78% to 22%.
This reflected the majority belief that Catalonia is a nation — with a minority believing in an independent republic, a larger group believing in national-Catalonia-in-Spain and a smaller group of Spanish ultras.
The government in Madrid changed from the PSOE — the socialists — to the PP — the party of Spanish ultras — and they referred the statute to the Constitutional Court — a court appointed by Madrid. It took 4 years to come to a ruling — and declared that the sections declaring Catalonia a nation “have no legal effect”.
This is the heart of the conflict. The people of Catalonia voted in a free and fair referendum that Catalonia is a nation-in-Spain — and the Spanish courts overturned that. A long dance towards a ‘legal’ vote on independence began — there was majority support in Catalonia for holding the vote, and minority support for independence.
That dance came to and end in the courts — and then the ‘illegal’ vote dance began and here we are — an unsatisfactory referendum and a democratic parliament and administration suspended.
So what now? I have no idea.
When the British Army went into the ‘access denied areas’ in Northern Ireland in ‘72 the Cabinet gave instructions that the turrets on the armoured vehicle used should be reversed ‘because of the pictures from Czechoslovakia in ‘68’.
That same pressure pertains today, on Spain. This is not 1936, even if it rhymes in part. Spain’s reputation has taken a kicking.
This crisis will be protracted, and hopefully peaceful.
At the heart of this crisis is the (quite deliberate) contradictions in International Law.
Article 1, Clause 2 of the UN charter states that the UN supports the principle of self-determination:
To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace
and Article 2, Clause 7 says that it doesn’t interfere in existing states business:
Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII
Containment and not escalation was the guiding principle in 1944. The key political relationship through which this will be resolved will be Barcelona-Madrid, not Madrid-Brussels, or Scotland-Barcelona.
Am I ‘biased’? do I support one side and not the other? Yes I am, yes I do — but a peaceful political process, with international public opinion on both parties to resolve their differences face to face and to allow the Catalan people to exercise their right to self-determination is the right way — however long it takes.
My thanks to Rachel McCormack for reading this article and putting me right.
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