2007 - 2021

Catalonia, Scotland and Europe

Scotland is not Catalonia, and the UK is not Spain:

  • 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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Comments (14)

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  1. Willie says:

    What good is the EU if it turns the other way when a state militia bloody and beat innocent men women and children.

    What good is the EU when it turns the other way when a state jails political protestors.

    Seems to me that the EU would look away if a state marched its citizens off to the gas chambers. This is exactly what was done in the 1930s when the Nazi menace was ignored.

    And so, at what point, instead of ignoring the problem, is it appropriate to intervene. Waiting for as long as it takes, was not, as 1930s Germany showed, the correct option.

    The holocaust was very real, was on our doorstep, afflicted millions Jews, caused the loss of millions of citizenry around the world, and we let it happen. First they came for x, then y, then z and it will happen again, as the undeserving poor are now starting to find out in the ever more corporate UK.

  2. Robert says:

    This is from the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, supporting the right of Catalan people to a legal, binding referendum while taking no position on the issue of independence as such.


    “After talking about a train crash in the conditional or future tense for so long, it’s difficult to take on the fact that today it has happened.
    A decade of PP carelessness with Catalonia has culminated with the adoption of article 155 by the Senate today.
    Rajoy presented the motion to the applause of his party and to the shame of all of us who respect dignity and democracy.
    Were they applauding his failure?
    Those who have been incapable of proposing a single solution, incapable of listening or of governing for all, have enacted a coup against democracy today with the annihilation of Catalan self-government.
    On the same track, in the other direction, the pro-independence parties are in their, smaller train with no breaks, advancing at a kamikazi pace (“now is the moment”, we’re in a hurry”), after their mistaken reading of the results of the Catalan elections. Their speed has been the result of partisan interests, a headlong dash which has been consumated today with a Declaration of Independence in the name of Catalonia that doesn’t have the support of a majority of Catalans.
    We won’t tire of repeating it: it’s a mistake to rennounce the 80% in favour of a negotiated referendum for the 48% in favour of independence.
    Many of us have been warning of this danger for years and, over recent weeks, working in public and in private to avoid this collision. We’re a majority, in Catalonia and in Spain, who want a halt to the trains and for dialogue, common sense and an agreed solution to take hold.
    There’s always time to turn to dialogue. Whatever happens, we won’t cease to demand it. But now our task is to defend Catalan institutions and to fight to maintain the social cohesion and prosperity of Barcelona and Catalonia. We’ll be with the people, struggling to make sure that their rights are not violated. Healing the wounds that all of this has caused and calling on people in the rest of the country to fight with us, because the democracy that is at risk today is theirs too. We will also continue to call on the Socialist Party to stop supporting those who have applauded Rajoy today, otherwise it will be impossible for them to be part of any credible or inspiring alternative.
    I know where I’ll be: involved in the construction of new forms of self-government that give us more democracy, not less. That includes working to kick out the PP which, with its cruel applause today, has celebrated the pain of a people. But also, above all, I’ll be working to feminize politics so that empathy becomes an everyday practice that allows us to build broad consensuses through which diversity can become our greatest treasure.
    Nor Article 155 nor Unilateral Declaration of Independence: not in my name.”

  3. Alf Baird says:

    “Scotland is not Catalonia, and the UK is not Spain”

    This argument falls down through most of the article. Scotland seems to be precisely the same as Catalonia, i.e. a mere colonial possession dictated to and controlled by an artificial (UK or Spain) ‘union’ charade that is really a front for an aggressive form of nationalist political ideology, as in other similar so-called political ‘unions’, past and present.

    1. Exploration of difference between Scotland and Catalonia isn’t some form of political treason Alf, it could be quite useful to develop a way to win a referendum?

      1. Alf Baird says:

        “Scotland is not Catalonia, and the UK is not Spain”

        On reflection, Ed, there is one major difference between the UK and Spain. Spain’s authoritarian and aggressive actions are being ‘justified’ primarily via its written constitution. The UK has no written constitution and exists only in the way it was initially constituted, i.e. via majority votes of MP’s from each constituent nation. Hence it is and always has been perfectly legal, constitutionally, for a majority of Scotland’s elected MP’s to give notice to end the ‘union’ (insofar as Scotland is concerned) in the same way it began. Constitutionally and therefore legally a referendum is not, and never has been, a prerequisite for Scotland’s independence, and more especially any referendum which has an inherently flawed voter franchise. So, the SNP majority of MP’s could declare independence now, today, and there is nothing constitutionally that Westminster could do about it. Similarly, any majority of England’s MPs could declare the union ended and England independent and there is nothing, constitutionally, that Scotland could do about that. Those favouring Scotland’s independence should simply hold to and apply the law as it stands.

    2. Graeme Purves says:

      Scotland is not a ‘colony’, it’s a feudal ‘possession’.

  4. Crubag says:

    “The EU doesn’t have any locus on Catalonia, it is a weak organisation of states”

    The EU is really a bundle of things, the Council (EU leaders), the Parliament (MPs) and the Commission (the civil service, though much more activist than the UK tradition).

    And I’m reminded here of the FPO joining the Austrian government back in 1999/2000.

    The then EU15 (or 14, minus Austria) took a strong view, with the Council boycotting government contacts, the Parliament issuing a condemnatory motion, and the Commission pledging to monitor affairs inside Austria.

    So it can be done. Though after a few months the Council concluded this was probably counter-productive, boosting the FPO, and re-opened channels. It might yet turn out to be the high water-mark for this kind of EU-wide political action.

  5. Jim Bennett says:

    I didn’t particularly like this article. Maybe apart from the bid where the author said:
    “I have no idea.”
    Gordon Guthrie, you have my hearty agreement. You have no idea.

  6. Mathew says:

    What’s the future for Catalonia? Well, obviously, it will become a desert, just like all the other countries/regions of the Mediterranean basin.
    WMO announce today that average CO2 for 2016 was 403ppm. Mauna Loa now seeing daily readings above 410ppm.
    Whether Catalonia will be an independent desert or a ‘Spanish’ desert, I don’t know.

  7. Paul Carline says:

    Seems to me both Alf and our esteemed editor are right. The treatment of Catalonia and Scotland by their respective national governments is essentially the same – a denial of the principle of self-determination. It’s an illusion to think that time and moderation will resolve the problem. There are powerful forces in both Spain and the UK – and overarchingly also in the EU – which seek to retain centralised control at a time when the dominant popular impetus is centrifugal, towards a reassertion of difference after a period of increasing attempted homogenisation.
    The resistance to Scottish, Catalan, Basque etc. independence (there are somewhat similar movements in other EU states, such as Italy) comes from the increasingly desperate attempts by the Anglo-American so-called elites to prevent their pet project (part of the greater one-world-government project) from failing.
    It is in everyone’s interest that the Catalans succeed. Whether they are aware of it or not, they are the standard bearers for a return to something like real democracy in Europe.

  8. Justin Kenrick says:

    One of the most helpful articles I have read on the situation in Catalonia.

    To win democracy requires moving beyond the 2 options we are told we have to choose between, not in order to choose a Blairite middle way that always sides with the most powerful while trying to give a semblance to those being oppressed, but to choose a deeper independence than exchanging one flag for another.

    Independence needs to be approached in a way that shows a better, more inclusive way of doing politics, like the one Ada Colau describes, one that would win an election and an independence vote by demonstrating it’s humanity and intelligence.

    “So what now? I have no idea” is simply to say that none of us can predict what will happen next, but Robert’s extended quote from Ada Colau makes clear what the independence side needs to do next:
    – embrace the concerns of those whose fear drives them to say No,
    – connect with them and with the majority across Spain through their shared concerns about the abuse of democracy and the way the right wing in Madrid refuses dialogue or accountability.

    Catalonia is not Scotland and the crisis of 155 is not the crisis of Brexit, but the same fundamental choice remains:
    – focus on denigrating those who don’t share your prescription, and your base shrinks,
    – focus on shared concerns for economic and social justice, and the alliance for change builds.

  9. Jim E. says:

    For sure Paul. One common element on the road to Francoism was the loss of empire. These ancien regimes are still inherently authoritarian.
    Here it is more subtle. we have the impoverishment of the population to achieve similar authoritarian controls via neo liberal economics of rigid welfare channels, ponzi housing schemes,(house builder profits up 3 fold) and strangulation of the public sector with cutting of wages in real terms. It might worth looking again history and at Portugal to see how they came up with some mitigation from Daniel Finn:


  10. Jimmyc says:

    Interesting the reference to northern Ireland and and Article 2, Clause 7 of the UN charter Westminster called Northern Ireland an ‘internal security matter’ which I guess was its way round the UN clause

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