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Of the people, by the people.

October 7, 2017

More  by accident than design, I have found myself in Spain for the past week, over the period of the Catalán Referendum and its aftermath.

I have been in and around Valencia, three and a half hours south of Barcelona, so I can make no eye witness claims as to happenings in Catalunya – but it has been interesting to view the week’s events developing, from a position in Spain, but   outwith  the “eye of the storm”.

State broadcaster, TVE, much like the BBC’s coverage of Scots affairs, is unsurprisingly very much on the side of the status quo, and this has shown in its unbalanced reportage of events in the Catalán capital. However, this has been an occasion when “citizen journalism”, often much, and rightly, maligned, seems to have come good – a lesson for some involved in Scottish political affairs, perhaps – that balanced and fair reporting has more impact that partisan half truth. Also, a  special reference to the Ferret’s Peter Geoghegan for his insights during the week.

A couple of years ago I was in Valencia for  their October 9th Valencia National Day parade, also marked as the Feast of San Dionisio, the patron saint of lovers. It was a glorious festive occasion with the Valencians’ obvious love of their history, culture and autonomy superbly displayed. Of Spanish flags, there were none, only those of Valencia, and the parade was unremittingly positive and upbeat, the atmosphere  only faltering slightly as the local Commander of the Guardia Civil and his entourage passed. It was a reminder that, while the majority of Valenciens seem to accept their current level of autonomy, the Spanish state might well be advised not to take that acquesience for granted.

On that basis, I wondered about local reaction to events in Catalunya. Many, Valenciens, I suspect, are bored with the ongoing focus on the country to the north, and others may fear the consequences of their rich neighbour becoming independent. However, generally, as is the case in the more progressive parts of Spain, irrespective of personal political beliefs, there seems to be an acceptance that the Catalans have the right to vote on their future and the right to act on the result.

As is often  the case, however, it is the central power’s reaction  to the attempt to exercise those rights which has engendered most attention. The heavy handedness of the Madrid government, in sending in paramilitary police and Guardia Civil to attempt to block the vote, has not gone down well with those who remember and reject the years of Franco (though those who have privately kept the Falange flag flying are delighted at the sight of “firm government”). The downright and demonstrable  lies of Spanish Government officials, coupled with a supremely ill judged intervention from the pathetic remnant of a discredited monarchy, have only served to ignite fire in the middle of the smokescreen of obfuscation.

Where nations are united in a political state, there is generally a declaration that this is “a union of equals” – for the good of all involved. However, if one partner attempts to act as an equal and is slapped down, the foundation and rationale of that union becomes less and less tenable. It happened in Scotland when after many “declarations of love” for Scotland during the Referendum campaign, David Cameron made an ill judged attack, along the lines of “back in your box”, before the vote counting was even finished, and the current UK Government makes no secret at all of its disdain for Scotland’s democratic rights, especially in its handling of a  Brexit for which the country did not vote. The UK Government’s unsatisfactory response to Spanish state violence at the polls in Catalunya serves as an indicator of its current  thinking on Scotland’s rights as a nation within a state.

Catalunya, and watching millions, have seen clear evidence over the past week that Madrid is as much an enemy of its people as it was in Franco’s day, and that its continuing membership of the Spanish state is not in its best interests. The fact that, as I write this,  Spanish state army convoys are headed towards Barcelona, merely underlines this fact in graphic form.

Similarly vivid was the contrast between press pictures of Guardia Civil violence against would be voters, and the iconic pictures of Catalán police saluting the people as they sang “Els Segadors”, the Catalunyan National Anthem.

Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 10.27.24

Picture SER Catalunya

Apart from the fact that Catalunyan independence seems inevitable, the precise way forward is still unclear. The country looks likely to declare its independence on Monday and will then put in place its contingency plans. These, of course, will very much depend on the reaction of Madrid and their European and international colleagues. Whilst negotiations would seem to be the only rational  route to progress, there are currently few signs that this will be the favoured first option of the Spanish government.

When people are convinced that a government is not serving their wishes or is not hearing their concerns, the result can be either insurrectional violence, or a dysfunctional politics where voters chose to give the politicians a bloody nose, rather than vote for meaningful policies. In Scotland and Catalunya, this has ended in votes towards independence, in England, long bereft of a post colonial sense of its own  identity, this has translated into votes for UKIP and Brexit.

Where government is broken, people will either attempt to take events into their own hands, or seek alternative models.  Where the ruling powers have a post colonial need to “rule” others, this will be seen as sedition, rather than an evolution towards more effective and appropriate  models of governance. Both Spain and the UK are entities looking for a role in the world after having lost Empires. In both states, devolution was born out of a desire to keep control, rather than any recognition of a democratic deficit; it is universally accepted that power devolved is power retained, and both states are currently providing clear proof of this in their actions – towards Catalunyan independence and Scotland’s place in Brexit. All views of “British values” involve a looking back towards “world power” status and war time exploits. Even where these views are accurate, and often they are complete misrepresentations of what actually happened, they present a view of the current UK which is hopelessly outdated and accepted by nobody with a balanced or informed view of history

For Scotland or Catalunya to gain independence is not a condemnation  of what has gone before, nor is it the product of hate, disdain, or bigotry, it is merely a recognition that a construct, which once may have worked to the benefit of both partners, no longer works  for one, or indeed, both,  of them, and should therefore be remodelled.

This is obvious to all, outside of the most non-progressive thinkers in both Spain and the UK. Even the Labour Party, which espouses the majority of SNP policies, need to understand that a progressive Scotland, and its neighbourly example, is the most hopeful means of promoting progressive policies in England, a country which often seems enthralled by the self interested policies of Conservatism. Labour needs to jettison its current  obsession with the Union, and move away from  a mindset which seems to suggest if the Labour voters of England can’t benefit from a Labour policy, then neither should SNP voters in Scotland. Listening to the people? Serving their wishes?

Catalunya is not Scotland. In much the same way, Scotland is not a Nordic country. However, it should be understood that, when comparisons are made, there is not necessarily any attempt to allege huge similarities, but rather to point out that if Scotland where in a  position to  work with such countries and adapt such policies as would be appropriate, this would be of benefit to all. At present this possibility is severely limited by the UK government’s anglocentric view of the world.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating of all UK weaknesses is its refusal to learn from others, and its deluded belief that “British” ideas are always best. Such parochialism is disastrous in terms of the political and social health  of the state.

Both Scotland and Catalunya can benefit from joining the international community, learning from it, and sharing with it. Just as importantly, these benefits can be felt in Spain and in England too. Post independence, all countries involved would benefit from a stronger and more equal partnership.

How good it would be to proceed on such a positive course, where a country’s politics is able to reflect the wishes of its people, where the voter could be engaged by the link between political process and the realities of everyday life – and how far we seem to be from politicians in London or Madrid who can espouse such vision!

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