13D – This is what Democracy Looks Like

“Now I am not so convinced that we need the permission of three minority Unionist parties to hold an independence referendum in Scotland. If civic society chooses, Scotland could have its referendum next year on its own terms.

Grant Thoms writes  on the Catalan inspiration .

It is Sunday 13 December 2009. History is being made and I am bearing witness as an international observer for the SNP at the Catalan independence referendums – the largest citizen initiative in Europe by far. Thousands of volunteers, the vast majority of no political persuasion, have organised a referendum in over 160 villages, towns and cities across Catalonia. Over 700,000 people are eligible to vote, including many non-Spanish nationals who are debarred from parliamentary voting but are included in this plebiscite to determine whether Catalonia should be independent within the European Union.

My participation actually started the night before at a seminar on ‘Self Determiniation in Europe’, organised by the left-wing independence party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC).  Representatives from Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales, ARALAR (Basque non-violence independence party) and Corsican National Party, joined with the ERC leader, Joan Puigcercos at the College of Advocates in Girona. The debate highlighted the common cause that the independence movements of stateless nations within Europe have, despite their differing aspirations as to what self-determination means. See more here and Catalonia blog here.

The Catalan independence referendums has been organised by civic society under an umbrella organisation called 13D. By far the activists of 13D are ordinary people with democracy in their hearts and minds. The mantra of 13D is that it is the right of the people to choose, not for politicians to decide. The similarities to the Yes campaign of 1997 in Scotland is strong, but the difference is that 13D does not advocate a YES, NO or DONT KNOW vote, it merely believes that the people have a right to decide.

The Spanish Government refused to let the Catalan Parliament or local government in Catalonia to organise it. There are no electoral administrators, just volunteers with a simple internet-based computer system to verify that each voter has not used their identity card to vote anywhere else in their municipality.
Personally, I have never seen the sovereign will of the people demonstrated in such an effective manner. From a visit to Ripoll, the town which is the cradle of the Catalan nation (and resting place of Guifre, Count of Barcelona and a comparative Robert the Bruce if ever there was), to the end of the day in the city of Vic, it has been an eye-opener. Catalan and Spanish media commentators are fascinated by the minority SNP government in Edinburgh and its plans for a referendum, but the reality is Catalonia is beating us to it by discarding the state apparatus which, until this moment,  is assumed as essential for any referendum to have credence.

Now I am not so convinced that we need the permission of three minority Unionist parties to hold an independence referendum in Scotland. If civic society chooses, Scotland could have its referendum next year on its own terms. No wonder the British media’s reporting of this has been so woeful. Could you imagine these ideas catching on in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland or even the Falkland Islands.
I asked one volunteer polling station administrator why she was giving her day over to helping 13D and she put it simply: “I want to feel part of democracy. I do not trust the [political] parties. This way we can tell politicians what we want.”
Our international party, under the political banner of the European Free Alliance, comprised of Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru’s MEP, Frieda Brepoels, an MEP representing the New-Flemish Alliance, Francois Alfonsi, MEP for the Corsican National Party, and Inaki Irazabalbeitia of the Basque independence party – ARALAR.
The renowned Catalan historian and the current MEP on a shared party list between ERC,  ARALAR and the Galician Nationalist Bloc, Oriol Junqueras i Vries, was our host ably assisted by ERC’s international politics secretary, Marta Rovira i Verges. Senor Junqueras is a congenial host but could have stopped short at his story of a retreating French army (having failed to take Girona castle), being caught by the Catalan army in the Pyrenees and having each soldier gouge their eyes out with a spoon. I suspect there are other medieval atrocities in history but this was one I didn’t need to hear about on a full stomach.
The day ended as it had begun in a biting cold civic square, this time in Vic, the capital of the Osana region. The backdrop to the local results was a huge Catalan flag flying electronically against the wall of the Cathedral. The chair of Osana Co-ordinating Committee, Alfons Lopez Tena, proudly read out the results. A resounding 97.2% said ‘SI’ to Independence on a turnout of 41%.
As more results piled in from the 160 municipalities, it was clear average turnout was around 30% of registered municipal residents and that the Yes vote was a clear 95%.
The turnout figure was immediately jumped on by referendum opponents including the Spanish Socialists and Popular Partido. However, if the immigrant and non-nationals vote of 17% is stripped out, the actual turnout by electors eligible to vote in a state-organised referendum would climb closer to 40%. In embracing new Catalans to have a say in the constitutional future, it actually diluted the impact of the parliamentary electoral roll which had voted. The real ‘No’ vote discouraged participation: stay at home is saying ‘No’. Echoes of the Scottish Assembly referendum of 1979 come to mind.
Finally, does this have a bearing on events in Scotland? One analogy might be that should the Unionist parties unite to reject the Scottish Referendum Bill in 2010, civic society could take up the cudgels and organise its own referendum a la Catalonia. It’s not as if Scotland hasn’t taken on a large-scale citizens’ initiative before. The National Covenant of the 1940s and early 50s was years ahead of its time in expressing popular sentiment on the National question.
Alfons Lopez Tena concluded his results declaration, stating “Catalonia will be independent or it will not be.” What say Caledonia?
See also Joan MacAlpine here: Go Lassie Go.

Tags:

Comments (0)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Dave McG says:

    Great article. I’d like to see the independence movement develop this idea as a Plan B if the unionist parties try and block a referendum. It could be a rallying point for the left to describe a grassroots civil disobedience campaign that was about transforming politics not just repliacting the failed British model.

  2. Excellent article Grant. Our Catalan sisters and brothers have shown what can be done if there is a will. Veeska Catalunya! Alba gu Brath!

  3. Pingback: Vote Bella! «
  4. Sorry I was too late to vote but if you have anything else you’d like some Cornish input on in the future then please do let me know.

    Oll an gwella

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      We’ll keep you in mind – have added you to links as well, in solidarity Bella.

  5. Dave Coull says:

    I’ve been to Catalonia a couple of times. The last time was for my daughter’s wedding. She was living and working in Barcelona at the time. I like Catalonia, but I think there are problems with too close a comparison of Catalonia and Scotland. Although there are some similarities, there are also some significant differences. One difference is that, while Scotland has very well defined boundaries, with no claims to any territory outside of those boundaries, that is not so true of Catalonia. To the north, the French town of Perpignan was at one time considered the second city of Barcelona. Catalan is spoken on Majorca and Minorca to the east, in Valencia to the south, and in Andorra to the west. The exact boundaries of Catalonia are debatable in every direction, and some extreme Catalan Nationalists do dispute them. This makes both Spain and France particularly wary of Catalan nationalism. Also, Scotland has far more of a continuous LEGAL existence than Catalonia. Even during the high tide of Britishness, Scottish Law remained distinct; and, of course, we didn’t have forty years of military dictatorship during which attempts were made to totally obliterate any separate identity, as happened to Catalonia under General Franco.

    “The turnout figure was immediately jumped on by referendum opponents including the Spanish Socialists and Popular Partido. However, if the immigrant and non-nationals vote of 17% is stripped out, the actual turnout by electors eligible to vote in a state-organised referendum would climb closer to 40%”

    I’m uneasy about this idea of discounting “immigrants and non-nationals”. Who decides who fits into these categories? If the immigrants are long-term residents, and not just seasonal migrants, why should they be discounted?

    “In embracing new Catalans to have a say in the constitutional future, it actually diluted the impact of the parliamentary electoral roll which had voted.”

    Does that mean folk who were not on the electoral roll were being counted and they shouldn’t have been?

    “The real ‘No’ vote discouraged participation: stay at home is saying ‘No’. Echoes of the Scottish Assembly referendum of 1979 come to mind.”

    Unfortunately, an “unofficial” referendum would be particularly open to belittling by counting the non-voters as voting against

    “Finally, does this have a bearing on events in Scotland? One analogy might be that should the Unionist parties unite to reject the Scottish Referendum Bill in 2010, civic society could take up the cudgels and organise its own referendum a la Catalonia.”

    In that circumstance, I certainly do agree about the need to “take up the cudgels” and mobilise popular rejection of any such rejection. But I’m sceptical of the idea that “civic society” should “organise its own referendum a la Catalonia”. This would be far too open to being dismissed as proving nothing, and, in any case, I think there could be some extremely effective alternative ways of organising an emphatic rejection of any such rejection.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      I just noticed a mistake in what I wrote above. I said the French city of Perpignan was at one time considered the second city of Barcelona, what I meant of course was that Perpignan was at one time considered the second city of Catalonia.

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks for the comment Dave. I dont think the author meant that the political situations in Catalonia were identical. You write: ‘I think there could be some extremely effective alternative ways of organising an emphatic rejection of any such rejection.’ What did you mean?

  6. Dave Coull says:

    While agreeing that, if there is a rejection of a referendum, we must “take up the cudgels” and organise a rejection of that rejection, I’m sceptical of what would, in practice, amount to an “unofficial” referendum. Remember the multi-millionaire Brian Souter’s attempt to organise a referendum on Section 28? Even with millions of pounds to spend, an unofficial referendum is a bad idea. As for local authorities spending public money on organising one, get real. In a situation where public spending is being severely cut back to pay for the bankers’ recession, no council is going to do that. Any councillor who even suggested it would be taking a big risk. Moving on, Bella Caledonia wrote “You write: ‘I think there could be some extremely effective alternative ways of organising an emphatic rejection of any such rejection.’ What did you mean?”

    Let’s assume there has been a vote in parliament, and a narrow majority of MSPs have voted against a referendum. I say we should target every single individual MSP who did so. By “target” I don’t mean as in shooting practice, I don’t mean in a military sense! I mean “focus intense attention upon”. Not at the parliament in edinburgh, but in their own locality, amongst their own constituents, in their own town, their own village, their own street. A small protest may have very little impact outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, but, in the street where your MSP lives, with somebody there to take photos, with a photographer and journalist from your local newspaper, talking to your MSPs neighbours and other local residents, could be a different matter. Prodcue leaflets with a local address on them, saying why this is being done. These don’t have to be fancy productions, and you don’t have to have thousands of them, just as long as the local press can quote from them, and just as long as they state your complaint AND put your demand. As an example of a possible demand, “recall parliament for emergency session to reconsider the un-constitutional rejection of a single-issue, non-party-political, self-determination referendum!” – okay, so that is far too long to be a good slogan, but I’m not putting it as a slogan, I’m giving it as an example of the kind of demand that could be put. Exactly what wording is used could depend on the timing of the rejection, the timing of elections, etc. And of course, as well as targeting rejectionist MSPs through demonstrations in their own locality, target them on-line, on websites, be e-mail, write letters to them, write letters to the local press, make phone calls, etc etc etc. Now, of course, the SNP is likely to hold its hands up in horror at such unofficial behavior. GOOD! let them! We can’t allow any political party to dictate what we can and we can’t do! This is about self-determination, after all. Oh, and by the way, unlike an “unofficial” referendum, I reckon all of this could be done at minimal cost, and without seeking anybody’s permission, by local groups of people acting on their own initiative.

    Okay, there’s one suggestion. I’m sure other people can come up with others.

    1. Grant Thoms says:

      Just for clarity Dave, I wasn’t suggesting that local authorities pay for and organise an official referendum, for a start they are not allowed to. The Catalan experience showed that you don’t need the establishment – councils or government – to organise a referendum. What Catalonia did, so Scotland could follow.

Keep our Journalism Independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address to subscribe for free here and receive Bella direct to your inbox.

 
Bella Caledonia