It’s only six days until the date set for the Catalan independent republic referendum. It allows a moment for reflection on the campaign so far. As a Scot who witnessed the campaign in Scotland the difference is striking. Where are the hoards of people saying Catalonia will be a financial basket case?
Over the last few months the coverage of the referendum in Spain has had two distinct phases. Since a coalition of YES supporting parties won a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament in late 2015, the vast majority of coverage around this referendum has been its legality. Since the La Diada celebrations on the 11th September, the narrative has been around Spain’s actions to enforce the law, and Catalonia’s desire to place democracy above the law.
The debate has of course touched on many other issues but the legality and the right to vote have been the most prominent. The recent Observer editorial covered a lack of debate around the financial implications of becoming an independent nation as “Brexit” like / light. Suggesting that a simple blood and soil “SÍ” was enough to start or end any serious conversation. (The whole Observer piece was beautifully and forensically debunked by Alistair Spearing) The truth is completely different. The simple fact is that holding the view that Catalonia wouldn’t continue to thrive outside of the Spanish state is insulting, not only to the intelligence of Catalans but to the Catalans themselves. Catalans are immune to this nonsense, initially despite Madrid’s actions and now because of them.
The Madrid supporting press and the Spanish Government have been peddling the cliff edge financial disaster over the last few weeks. It’s clearly a Spanish version of “Project Fear” as experienced by Scotland in 2014. However it has three large differences.
The role of the media
The power of Madrid’s media is nowhere near as strong as the voice of London in Scotland. As James Kelly noted in an excellent piece, Catalonia is served by a truly national TV broadcaster which is, understandably, sympathetic to a majority who wish to hold a referendum. Radio and print media has strong independent supporters too. Back in Scotland, turn on the radio or tv or pick up a newspaper and you are almost guaranteed to hear London’s voice; perhaps with a Scottish accent. The Scottish titles are all still owned by London based media conglomerates; not so here in Catalonia. And of course the failings of BBC Scotland and STV are now becoming clear for all to see.
El Periódico (a Catalan newspaper with strong ties to Madrid, which was initially financed by Silvio Berlusconi ) has been embroiled in a smear campaign against the Mosses d’Esquadra the Catalan police force, after the publication of a false memo, supposedly, from CIA warning of an attack on Las Ramblas. Madrid based titles such as El País have been dishing out the classic fear tactics for weeks: “The myths and lies of the Catalan independence movement” is a headline in today’s edition and is copy book Scotland Circa 2014.
The Madrid based media speaks from and for Madrid. They are camouflaged government messages sent north to undermine the belief of a nation in waiting. Confidence and self believe allows Catalans to see the half truths and thin promises.
The lack of respect felt for the Government in Madrid
Catalonia looks at the weak minority Government of Rajoy in Madrid with scorn, distaste and an increasing discomfort as it tramples on civil liberties and democratic institutions. Dialogue on a referendum has never been possible and the intransigence of the PP led Government is still the best PR vehicle and recruiter for the Sí movement in Catalonia.
This was of course very different in Scotland in 2014. The SNP faced a strong majority government in London and its strength and relative unity gave it credence in Scotland. Its desire to see Scotland remain in the union was for many, heart felt and honest. Scotland had been respected and the Edinburgh Agreement was a work of two nations. No one in Catalonia thinks Madrid looks north with any love and affection.
The third and perhaps the most important difference is that there are very, very few native doubters. Catalonia is not ladened down with home grown nae sayers that seem to dominate the media and the airwaves in Scotland. Many Scots still bemusingly wonder exactly how could one of the 10 richest nations on earth look after it’s own affairs?
The “too wee, too poor” argument that circled above the YES movement in 2014 should easily be blown out of the water. And we should look to Catalonia for that strength. Catalan politicians, its media and its citizens would not pore over something like GERS – with every mention giving its spurious claims more coverage – they would simply dismiss it and move on. Scots must do the same.
There are of course many Catalans who have serious concerns and issues with independence, however even the most ardent unionist would not consider Catalonia to be “too wee or too poor”. To proffer this view in a “wealthy region in the north” as BBC World recently chose to describe Catalonia, would be to insult yourself, as well as your neighbours. In Scotland this attitude just guarantees you column inches.
These three major differences come together to totally undermine “project fear”. Last week, for example, using the Madrid based media, the Spanish Finance Minister warned of 30% fall in Catalan GDP if Catalonia sat outside Spain. The message fell flat. It’s clear that Spanish politicians can’t be trusted, or as they say in Castilian: “este tío no es trigo limpio”
The Spanish relationship
For many in Catalonia, Spain has been seen to constrict the development of Catalonia not to further it. Infrastructure spending in Madrid and its surroundings dwarf the Catalan capital. Billions of Euros flow south every year never to return. Political corruption is much more prevalent in the south of Spain compared to Catalonia, and only this July, Rajoy become the first sitting PM to testify during a criminal trial, where he denied any knowledge of the massive corruption scandal that has stained his PP party’s already blotted copy book.
Every Catalan knows that Madrid stifles the language and the culture of Catalonia. During an interview with the Catalan National Assembly, I was struck by the outsider position that Catalans play in a “united” Spain. “Unlike Scots, Catalans have never embedded into the establishment. There are two Catalan Ambassadors in the whole of the Spanish diplomacy. The same with the Judiciary” said the ANC head of press.
Is Westminster ready to play the same hand?
As we look ahead to the Catalan referendum on the 1st October we will of course be thinking about the next Scottish referendum. We have to be skeptical that the YES movement will be able to reduce the power of the London media in Scotland; but we must try.
We are also unlikely to shake the Scottish doom mungers; but we must try.
However, we have to be confident that the May led Westminster Government will continue to deal from the same pack of cards as Rajoy.
As May pushes ahead with Brexit, the power grab and dismisses democratically elected Scottish institutions, Westminster is mirroring all of the mistakes made by Madrid over the last few years. It would of course be much better for every side if another Edinburgh Agreement could be signed, however, it this proves impossible, May and whoever replaces her, will push many soft No’s to the cause, as has undoubtedly happened in Catalonia.
With every passing week the Westminster Government and the mess of an opposition party in Labour, continue to undermine the “good will” that underpinned both the Edinburgh Agreement and gave credence to the messages we framed as Project Fear.
This week is monumental for Catalonia and it is a big one for Scotland too.