Category Archives: Catalunya

A short story from Catalonia

In September 2012, while Scotland and England were preparing  to sign the Edinburgh Agreement, the Catalan independence movement forced the Catalan Government to take radical steps towards independence.

Yes, it’s like comparing apples and pears when looking at Scottish and Catalan independence, and of course there are many, many differences.

However, the purpose of this short piece, is not to compare one with the other, but to tell the story of how the Catalan movement took the decisive step in 2012 to push for independence.

They organised, they pressurised, they coalesced: they moved.  They did not sit and watch their elected leaders do nothing.

There can be no more pertinent story for the YES movement in Scotland to hear.

Catalonia and Scotland’s independence movements were re born in 2012

In June 2012, Catalan independentistas, welcomed the first ever poll that gave Catalan independence a lead, all be it a small one, with 51.5% responding, that they were in favour of Catalan independence.

The mood of the country seemed to have switched and after the massive and unprecedented La Diada celebrations on the 11th September, the demand became tangible.

A poll, simply numbers on a pie chart. It is numbers on the street that really matter. Evidence backed up, in colour.

Over 1.5 million people marched in Barcelona to demand that the Catalan President Artur Mas listen to the movement.

The messages were clear: head to Madrid and demand concessions for Catalonia or lose office. Independence is bigger than you and your party.

The last seven incredibly rocky years for the Catalan independence movement started that 11th of September.

One month later Scotland and England would sign The Edinburgh Agreement.

This was no simple coincidence: both movements paid close attention to the machinations that were taking place in the UK and Spain that year and the Catalans demanded what had been offered to Scotland.

And so it has continued. Over those seven years, Scotland and Catalonia, have looked at each others journeys. During the ebbs and flows it is easy to reflect on specific moments and wonder……

Would the Edinburgh agreement ever have been signed if David Cameron had woken up one Summer morning, to find a poll putting YES ahead?

Would Catalonia be independent, if Spain had allowed a similar referendum in 2014?

But back to 2012

That year the Catalan independence movement faced off against a conservative leader of a political party immersed in the establishment.

Of course many will see the similarity with Scotland in 2019. How does the YES movement persuade a conservative leader of a political party immersed in the establishment to make a radical move?

To many independence supporters in Scotland a radical move (or any move) in the next two years by Nicola Sturgeon seems impossible.

The SNP’s “waiting game” appears to be an unshakable political position.

So what have we to learn from Catalonia?

A movement moves, it doesn’t wait

Such was the display of strength by the Catalan independence movement, that on the day after the La Diada, the Catalan President, for the first time, came out in favour of independence. It was a seismic shift in Spanish politics.

Until that decisive event run by the ANC and Òmnium, Artur Mas has let Catalan independence gather dust on the Spanish political shelf.

It was an amazing slight of foot for a politician.

Almost overnight he changed his mind, or more precisely, he had his mind changed by 1.5 million people.

President Mas, from respected establishment politician, to radical, Artur, man of the people, ready to head to Madrid and demand concessions for Catalonia.

A conservative and a Conservative political beast, plotting a radical course towards independence. It shock all of Spain.

It took this radical, brave and daring transformation of a political leader to supercharge the demand for Catalan independence. But the spark came from the two professional, civil, non political, organisations that supported independence.

Oh, to have only one of those organisations in Scotland!

What does this Catalan story tells us?

Well, maybe it is that anything can happen. Maybe it’s that one poll can make all the difference. Maybe it is that one march or demonstration can matter.

However, I believe there is one definitive and definite lesson for Scottish independence:

A movement has to move, and it can not continue to be led by a conservative leader of a conservative political party.

The YES movement should not wait for politicians.

The YES movement should not be led by politicians.

The YES movement is bigger than any politician or any political party.

A movement has to move, and it is time to move.

 

 

 

Make a move. Take Scottish independence to London’s streets

Follow Catalonia’s lead. Take the universal, undeniable right of self determination to London’s streets.

Typically people will read this and say, “but Scotland isn’t like Catalonia, we don’t and can’t march with the numbers they can” Well, I have had enough of that, it’s not about numbers it is about desire. With a desire to make a truly global impact with our campaigning events we can make a difference.

Once again the “Catalan question” received global coverage and once again the vehicle for that explosion of coverage was a huge rally. Above is a news report from Aljazeera. Here’s the coverage on the BBC, Reuters and The Washington Post and the list of international reports is pretty much endless.

This marks an unusual spike in coverage for the Catalan right to self determination. Every 11th September the world is reminded of the call from Catalonia during the La Diada celebrations. It was’t only the date that made this rally different it was the location: not the Catalan capital but the Spanish capital.

Around 120,000 demonstrators peacefully took over the Madrid streets on a warm Saturday evening. Just normal people, plus representatives from political parties and civic organisations from all over Spain joined the rally to highlight the desire of Catalonia to be able to democratically vote for self determination.

The demonstration had extra impact this year as the twelve pro Catalan independence  leaders, currently on trial for the ridiculously archaic charges of “rebellion and sedition”, are being held only a few kilometres from the start of the rally.

Madrid proves a new canvas for the red and yellow picture

The Catalan right to self determination is not a regional issue, it is a national and an international one and taking such a huge demonstration to the Spanish capital has powered the issue further into the international and national consciousness.

Catalonia is being denied the opportunity to hold a legal referendum on its future and a similar position is likely to arise in Scotland. The Catalans are ploughing a furrow that we could easily follow. If, if, we had the desire and the leadership to do it.

I have no doubt that many civic organisations across the UK support Scottish independence, or at least the right for a sovereign parliament to call such a vote. And I believe that London holds 10,000s of people who would support Scotland’s cause. We could take London by storm. But firstly we have to work out who would rally the “we”

I’ve written about the hope that the Scottish Independence Convention can replicate the success of the Catalan National Assembly by coordinating the YES movement, but like many, I remain in serious doubt that this organisation has the capacity, the leadership or the desire to truly make any kind of impact. Their fund raiser seems to have stalled on around £100,000 and they have one post on their website THIS YEAR.

And I am still in quiet shock from reading this back in November:

“30K will get the organisation started and branded – complete with public engagement research (so we know that undecided voters will be open  to what they see when they look at our messages and branding)”

And the movement continues to have unanswered questions about this organisation.

So if that is the “who” would coordinate the movement, let’s look at the what.

George Kerevan suggested an alternative approach to having our voice heard in London, blocking the London underground. I posted yesterday what happens when organisations have the wrong person making campaigning decisions, and hopefully this idea will be stuck on a red light forever.

I would suggest a much more successful PR campaign would be to aim for a similar event to yesterday’s march in Madrid.

It really shouldn’t be beyond our movement to organise an event like this. But we just don’t seem to understand the value it can bring. Incidentally, it could be done for the cost of the SIC set up and branding.

The Catalans not only understand how to use events to supercharge their demands but they crucially have an infrastructure to support the event.

Scotland is clearly lacking the understanding and the infrastructure to organise a truly impactful event. I hope we are not also lacking the desire.

Scotland doesn’t have a normal media

This is  how the media works in a normal European country. But Scotland doesn’t have a normal media. 

There is a tried and tested media strategy on the European continent. A political party organises a rally. Supporters of the cause and the media turn up. The media point their cameras at the stage and then the crowd. The day’s events are then broadcast.

To make sure the true feeling of the event was captured the cameras came on to the stage.

It doesn’t really matter the size of the audience, there were only a few hundred people at this one, or the particular cause. If a party that has elected representatives organises a rally it is news worthy.

The speeches at this particular rally included attacking the Spanish state for its stance on Civil Rights, the Barcelona mayor’s “support” for UBER and the presence of Mobile World Congress in the city again this February.

Small crowd but still worthy of media coverage

You could have a debate around “newsworthiness” of these types of rallies. ButI would like to see a debate around another concept: democracy.

How else are apolitical organisations or political parties able to edge onto TV screens if they don’t run rallies and have them covered? The state is not a functioning democracy if rallies like this are not covered by the media.

What else is a broadcaster doing if not this?

It is no stretch to say that, with media a reserved matter in the UK (it is not reserved in Spain by the way), Scotland is not a true democracy. Much that is discussed is not shown on our main TV channels or in the main newspapers in Scotland. This is not normal.

The media blanking of rallies (small, medium or large) is the much bigger picture. We should be focusing the debate on what is not in the media, not what is in the media.

Camera. Almost outnumbering the speakers on the stage

Following Thursday’s latest BBCQT fiasco many of the independence minded commentators (and the various indy supporting new media channels) have been whipping up a storm about the audience. If it’s not the QT audience that gets people going, it’s the QT panel. Both are worthy of disdain and comment but I often wonder if we are falling into the classic trap set by the establishment using the main stream media? Noam Chomsky put it like this:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate”

I wonder is this the establishment game? Use its flagship shows to ‘noise up’ the dissenters so they don’t focus on what the media isn’t covering? Keep the area of debate around panels and audience and maybe we will lose focus on what they should be covering and crucially what others are saying. And the reason behind this?

Demos, rallies and street protests will play a major role in the independence campaign that lies ahead of us. The campaign may also involve civil disobedience. However, don’t expect it to come to a TV screen near you. You would need to live in a normal country with a normal media for that to happen.

La Diada 2018

As one million independence supporting Catalans took to the streets to demand independence during La Diada celebrations, the YES movement spent the day arguing about Braveheart. How can two grass roots movements be so different?

For the seventh year in a row two grass roots organisations the Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Òmnium have organised the largest one day event in Europe. La Diada celebrations took place on the 11th of September and this year attracted around one million supporters.

It was, as always, a fantastically colourful and fun day. It’s a street celebration of Catalonia with Gigantes, Castellers, and La Sardana with the Catalan independence flag La Estelada tied to every conceivable living thing or inanimate object.

La Daida 2018
The amazing Castellers.

As a Scot I have mixed feelings when I take part in this type of event. I am in absolute awe of the achievement of the organisers and the passion of the crowd. But I wish those yellow and red flags were blue and white. It would be spectacular if we could have a national day celebration like this in Scotland but, as everyone will tell you, there are just too many buts…….

La Diada 2018  The Coral Demonstration

The organisers know that they have to keep the event fresh and this year the coral colour of the official teeshirt was chosen to remind everyone of the shocking scenes which took place during the 1st October independence referendum. It was a coral coloured tie that “secured” the ballot boxes.

This year, the route packed in the demonstrators, rather than spreading them out across the city or the country. At 17.14pm a massive wave of sound travelled down the demonstration before toppling over a specially constructed symbolic wall: this movement will overcome any and all barriers.

As ever the central focus was the demand for a Catalan Republic but this year the crowd were given extra voice by the imprisonment or forced exile of the organisers of the 1st Oct referendum.

The objectives of La Diada

La Diada is used to re-energise and to motivate independence supporters in Catalonia and to internationalise the cause. In addition the call for the return of the political prisoners was the main focus for the international aspect of the demonstration in 2018.

Among the speakers three prestigious European personalities took to the stage: Aamer Anwar, the acknowledged Scottish human rights lawyer, in charge of the legal defence of Catalan ex-minister Clara Ponsatí; Thomas Schulze, the German university professor recognised for his staunch defence of the Catalan cause in Europe; and Ben Emmerson, the English international and human rights lawyer in charge of the defence before the United Nations of President Carles Puigdemont and other Catalan politicians.

In 2017 around 800,000 took part in La Diada. It would be hard to argue that an extra 200,000 independence supporters have been found since Spain’s brutal put down of the referendum last October.  The actions of the Spanish Government continue to recruit supporters to the cause of Catalan independence in much the same way as the main Westminster parties approach to Brexit is pushing more people towards support for Scottish independence.

Could Scotland hold a similar event in 2019

The independence movement in Scotland needs an event of this scale and size. In much the same way as the Catalans we have to internationalise our claim for independence.

How many people would remain ignorant of Scotland’s current position as a Nation (and not a region) as well as our vote to remain in the EU after seeing pictures of a massive colourful demonstration stretching from Edinburgh to Arbroath? Or from Edinburgh to Bannockburn?

We all know the answer. Scotland’s natural beauty and our historic landmarks provide a canvas that no main stream media in the world would ignore. Sure, we run our own independence events in Scotland, however, like a tree falling in a wood, an event only has an impact if people actually see it.

Our current demonstrations

Having a few thousand people march through Dumfries or a few thousand watch Braveheart in the centre of Glasgow just doesn’t excite anyone outside of those already committed to voting YES.

We have an exceptionally motivated and committed grass roots movement in Scotland and with a shared focus we could organise an event of this size. We could. And we should.

Scotland needs a body similar to the ANC

To organise an event of this scale we need an organisation similar to the Assemblea Nacional Catalana. We need elected representatives from the movement who appoint and direct full time staff and we need this now.

There’s rumours that the Scottish Independence Convention have announcements forthcoming, which may point towards this type of professional organisation, but I’ve been told something is “imminent” for at least nine months.

As I look over the front pages of all of the Spanish papers this morning to see this amazing stream of people who packed the streets, I am still filled with the possibility that Scotland could do this. And we should.

La Daida Grassroots events

If you are involved in a grass roots organisations, perhaps one that is currently discussing the structure of the SIC, and you don’t see the need for a body to help coordinate the movement then come and experience La Diada.

If you are one of the organisers of Hope Over Fear or All Under One Banner and you want your efforts to really, truly make a difference, then pull your resources and get behind one massive national day demonstration. There’s a million reasons to do it.

Plans for La Diada 2018 unveiled evoking the 1st October Referendum

The 11th of September is a holiday in Catalonia for the national day: La Diada. Plans for La Diada 2018 were announced in July.

The focal point of the celebration is always the huge rally organised by the ANC and Omnium, the two largest grass roots organisations that directly support a Catalan Republic.

Plans for La Diada 2018 unveiled

The celebration is different every year in theme and often location. This year the celebration will take place along a 6KM section of one of Barcelona’s main streets.  La Avenida Diagonal, a road that pretty much splits the city in two, will be crammed with those in support of a Catalan Republic.

la diada 2018
The demonstration will pack Diagonal a 6KM stretch of the major Barcelona street.

It’s likely that around 1 million people will take part, at what is now, the largest annual single day event in Europe.

A colourful demonstration

As well as a different theme and location there is normally a different colour. This year the colour is Coral, to reflect the ties that secured the ballot boxes during the 1st October Catalan Referendum.

La diada 2018

The vast majority of supporters will wear the official La Diada 2018 luminous coral t-shirt. A helicopter will fly the route, taking pictures that will be beamed across the globe. The global press interest will be as high as ever. Front page covers and news bulletins across the world will show images of a million defiant Catalans demanding the right to self govern.

Millions of supporters of the idea of a Catalan Republic will have an amazing day. They will see that their dream is shared by a huge number of Catalans. The event is both a strategic and tactical masterpiece.

The location for La Diada 2018  is well chosen

Many of Barcelona’s most famous monuments and buildings sit close to Diagonal. From Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium at one end to Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia at the other, Barcelona’s brightest and best cultural building will come into sharp focus. The pictures remind the world of the immense wealth of Catalan culture.

The colour has been chosen to evoke memories of the 1st October Referendum

La Diada 2018 will remind the world when Catalans had to “brave” the line that snaked outside 100s of polling stations as they waited to cast a vote.  It’s like re-running the referendum without the potential for voters being bloodied by Spanish police.

The organisers know that to engage at a regional, national and global level they have to alter the backdrop of the event to avoid apathy setting in (a situation that every annual event has to face): even Europe’s largest annual event can lose it’s appeal.

The Organisers

The event is coordinated, funded and organised by the professionals employed by Omnium and the ANC. As of course it has to be. As an event organiser it would be unimaginable to think of an event like this funded and organisation by part time independence supporters. The stress and the stain would be unbearable, so to would the administrative and logistical burden. The event is a huge undertaking, involves months of organising and costs in excess of 600,000 Euro*

Sure a happy bunch of grass roots enthusiasts could run an annual event, but just imagine the difference? The event would shrink, press would not be invited, managed or housed, helicopters would be replaced by cameras on top of buildings, the PA replaced by a loud hailer. It would be so unthinkable for a Catalan independence supporter than they would laugh at the suggestion: having the most important day in the Catalan Independence calendar run by part timers! Are you mad?

No, the Catalans are not mad. But the Scots are. Amateurism rules, and our independence events make a tiny ripple on the smallest of ponds.

*rough estimate given to me by the Head of Press, ANC, in 2017.

The HOOP event in Edinburgh grass roots at its best and worst

March’s #HandsOffOurParliament demonstration will show everything that is great about the YES movement, and at the same time will expose some of the handicaps that we carry with us. I have a few suggestions that will make the most of the event.

A beautiful thing will happen in Edinburgh on the 23rd March, something that shows the best of the YES movement.  A few months ago it was nothing more than a conversation topic between a few Scottish independence activists on a bridge.  Three months later a few thousand people will create a human “hoop” around the Scottish Parliament. If anything sums up the YES movement’s power and passion it is this ability to turn words into actions.

I suggested this human chain idea in a piece in CommonSpace (full article here) back in June 2017:

"Democracy is under threat in Scotland. However, Westminster politicians are building their case on exceptionally shaky ground, and they know it: but they can easily ignore, and fend off other politicians. They can bin newspapers and ignore partisan news reports. What they are unable to do is to show the same intransigence in the face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000-plus linking arms around Holyrood to "protect" democracy."

I am certainly not claiming any credit. It’s easy to have an idea (this post has a few more) it’s much harder to actually get out there and do it. The credit must fall to those putting these ideas in to action (my thanks to one of them in particular, Cliff Serbie who was frank with me in answering my questions)

I currently live in Barcelona and this has its disadvantages when trying to do what you can for the YES movement but it also has advantages. Being up close and personal with the Catalan independence movement offers me a very different perspective on political events in Scotland. If you are going to pass on some tips you may as well learn from the undeniable masters of mass movement street politics: the Catalans.

My suggestions and observations are based on my twenty years organising events and my experience of the dynamic fight for self-determination here in Catalonia.

Before I get into the details here are two links that will provide useful background to my suggestions. Here are the ten things that I believe make the Catalan movement so strong and an article looking behind the scenes at the organisation that manages HOOP style events in Catalonia: Assemblea Nacional Catalana.

I know Scotland and Catalonia are in many ways similar however they are also  very different. I have taken those differences into consideration when making my suggestions in this post. I am not going to suggest that we should aim for 250,000 taking part next time! That would just be daft, but there are things we can do. Starting now, with over a week to go until the HOOP event.

Attend the Hoop Event on the 23rd March if you can!

March’s event should be the first but not the last HOOP 

Before jumping to conclusions I contacted the organisers via their Facebook page (and they have seen and “signed off” this post) to find out a bit more about their plans. As you would expect they are but a group of dedicated activists with little time and even fewer resources for such a big event. It’s typical of our movement, and I covered some of the issues with this volunteer approach last year when I looked at the All Under One Banner rally.

Where I see issues with this DIY approach, many in the movement see beauty. The idea of the true grassroots, scrimping and saving and “doing the best they can” is romantic to many Yessers. I don’t share that opinion: we have a few hundred thousand minds to change and I think a professional approach to all that we do will ultimately be more successful. I truly believe that our events can have a big positive impact on many potential YES voters.

So with my total respect for the people who are doing it and my belief that some professional support would make things even more powerful I present my suggestions.

1. Limit expectations and the size of this HOOP event

The organisers have done everything you could expect of a volunteer team. They have had coverage in The National and The Scotsman and are increasing the awareness daily on social media. A  couple of thousand taking part would be an amazing achievement. However, as we all know to our chagrin, demonstrations numbering in the few thousands are unlikely to make an impact on the MSM. I know that we will all see the usual Tweets: “where are you BBC”, but the organisers shouldn’t be distracted by that. The main objective should be to galvanise the YES movement and make this event a catalyst for a similar event that is much bigger and bolder. 

2. Start raising funds by selling a badge

At the moment there are no plans to collect funds (the organisers asked me to make this VERY clear) at the event. This approach is of course very grassroots, the idea that people pay for things! It’s a romantic notion but campaigns that are not directly supported by private funds or political parties need to raise money from those passionate about the cause.

If the organisers are really to do anything that breaks outside our of YES leaning networks we have to raise money.

My suggestion is to come up with something similar to the Catalan Yellow Ribbon that many of you may know about. The ribbon signifies support for the Catalan political prisoners currently held without trial in prisons hundreds of miles from their families.

Selling this for a few Euros  is a simple and effective way to raise funds. I am sure with a week or more to go the organisers could source or make something that they could sell for a coupe of quid at the event. Or perhaps someone reading this post could do it for them? The organisers need to sell them, account for the sales and hold on to the money for a while.

Why is money so important when fighting a campaign? The Catalan National Assembly organise the massive La Diada events every September 11th. They spend €300,000 on advertising. Yes, that’s what you have to spend to get a crowd in a country as likely to demonstrate on the street as they are to buy a beer! Money talks and we really have to make our voices heard. This event is a wonderful opportunity to start to raise funds for an upcoming campaign.

Following the event these little lapel badges (whatever they look like) could be either sourced directly from the official supplier, as the official ones are here, or made by groups and sold across Scotland, with funds being sent to the HOOP Foundation (which of course at the moment is a figment of my imagination). Slowly a fighting fund on this specific issue could be built.

The uniqueness of the power grab, as this clear democratic deficit, is that it is something that unites political parties and many voters, even some unionists. In Catalonia many a Yellow Ribbon wearer is no independentista; however the idea that you can be in prison for your views is an anathema to many. There are issues that transcend party politics and the power grab issue is one.  It is a unique opportunity.

I hope you don’t feel grubby thinking about money. But if you do, you are probably about to feel worse. I am suggesting that the event is used to start a database for those who feel passionate about the power grab.

3. Collect email addresses and then collect more data

I asked the head of press at the ANC what was the secret that brings 1 million people on to the streets. The answer was  data. Boring, but true.

Every effort should be made to collect email addresses of those attending HOOP and who are interested in the impending doom of a Westminster government using Brexit as an excuse to erode democracy in Scotland.  At the end of the event the organisers should have a list of email addresses of people who WANT to be contacted about issues relating to the Westminster power grab including events and merchandising.

So to summarise my advice:

  1. We should have another similar event later this year run on a much more professional basis that has grander and achievable objectives.
  2. We should have a fund set up and run by a grass roots movement.
  3. We should have the beginning of a powerful database.

If these three things take root in March we have a very good chance of building something that is even more beautiful. But that’s not the way things will pan out.

But of course, we are grass roots, so none of this is going to happen.

Maybe someday and somehow political activists in Scotland will take a different, less romantic approach and try and organise events that really make a difference. 

If you are interested in attending the  HOOP event visit their Facebook page. If you are interested in running a different type of event along the lines I’ve suggested, get in touch.

What makes the Catalan independence movement so strong

What are the major factors in 90% voting YES in the referendum in October and a pro independence majority being returned in the last elections in December? What makes the Catalan independence movement so strong?

Within every movement there are a whole host of factors that give it strength or sap it’s power and the Catalan independence movement is no different.

I’ve decided to look at what I consider to be the ten most important and powerful factors which support the Catalan independence movement. My hope is that looking at Catalonia will provide independence minded Scots, not with a template, but at least a hazy picture, of what, in my view, is a better structured and more secure independence movement.

The Catalan independence movement is built on the following ten areas.

  1. Catalans act, feel and even look different from the majority of Spaniards

Most Catalans do not feel at all Spanish, and this disassociation with the Spanish state is at the heart of the independence movement in Catalonia. Your average Catalan can, and will outline exactly how and why they feel Catalan. We know the power of “feeling different” and in Catalonia this feeling gives a strong undercurrent to the Catalan independence movement.

2. The strength of the Catalan culture

By defining culture in the traditional sense of traditions passed down the generations, Catalonia has a culture which is very peculiar and particular. For example, in the Caganer, they have a figure who sits in the nativity and defecates in the corner. They also have a log that defecates your christmas present. They have human towers and gigantic paper mashy figures. They have a dragon that collects kids dummies when it’s time to give them up. In fact, fire breathing dragons light up the streets at various points across the year with the lack of ‘elf and safety  scaring the bejeebies out of  the tourists. They share their patron saint with England but their St. George’s day could not be more different, as lovers exchange roses and books.  The sense of cultural identity is incredible strong and powerful.

3. It is not a passive culture

A huge number of kids and adults take active part in the groups and clubs that propagate the Catalan culture. From Sardana dancing (they don’t do Flamenco up here), playing the Shawm or participating in the barrio festivals, taking part in cultural activities, is, well, part of the culture.

I remember being shocked to see the coolest barman in our barrio slipping into his Casteller outfit to build human castles with his friends and family. So, the “cool kids” here, do terribly uncool things. But culture is beyond cool. Or perhaps, culture is the epitome of cool. This physical connection to what makes Catalonia and Catalans different, supports the independence movement in a very visual sense.

4. They have their own language which everyone speaks

Catalan pride themselves in being bi-lingual. There are two official languages in Catalonia, Castilian and Catalan. However, Catalan is really the official language. You can get by in Catalonia knowing only Castilian, but you can’t really get on if you don’t know Catalan. During the recent clashes between Puigimont and Rajoy the sense of imperialism seemed stronger when a foreign tongue answered the Catalan President. Many Catalans vote for independence to ensure their language is fully protected.

5. Catalans and Catalonia were never integrated into Spain in the way that, for example, Scotland and Scots were integrated into the Union

It won’t take you long to find a Scottish Ambassador, or Editor of a London based newspaper or a High Court Judge, however if we look at Catalonia and Spain this just isn’t the case. Despite a large Judiciary and Foreign Office in Spain, there are only two Catalan ambassadors and only two senior judges.

The idea of a Catalan Prime Minster ruling Spain would have Catalans and Spaniards alike falling off their bar stools. Catalans have always felt that they have been kept at arms length from the “successes and spoils” of Imperial Spain.  This distance and lack of entanglement provides an easy get out of their particular union.

6. Teenagers have a grandparent who can tell them about the civil war when Spain ripped itself apart, with many Catalans on the losing side.

Many Catalans have a parent who can remember a dictatorship under Franco. They only have to go back a couple of generations to find real suppression of their culture, murder of relatives and dark secrets; unlikely to be unearthed until Catalonia is independent. The scars run deep and the pain is visceral. Spain crushed Catalonia for forty years, just over forty years ago. This alone, for many Catalans, is the key to their belief in the need for independence.

7. The participative nature of politics – the barrio culture: local democracy in action.

Barely a month goes by without one of the community groups in our neighbourhood organising a meeting, rally or march. In 2017 we saw local campaigns against the number of new hotels; the construction of new flats for off plan sales; the changing of the bus routes; the increasing number of BnB rental flats and opposition to the trail “superilla“, a huge traffic free block in the middle of the barrio.

In Catalonia politics is not something that happens to you, and it’s not just a job for politicians. Being engaged in neighbourhood affairs prepares the entire population for life of activism. It is also a training ground for future politicians like Ada Colau, the current left wing Mayor of Barcelona, who cut her teeth dressing up as a Super Hero at housing repossessions.

An interest and engagement in the largest political issues come easily to those brought up to campaign against the closure of nurseries and the cancelation of bin collections.

8. The role of the media

The quality and the quantity of media outlets – including their national broadcaster – which supports independence, is certainly a major factor in the strength of the Catalan movement.

Catalonia’s National Broadcaster providing truly balanced coverage of Catalan politics.

9. The role of the cultural organisations the ANC & Omnium

Nothing can demonstrate the power of these organisations more than the fact that both of their leaders were arrested by Spanish authorities a few days after the 1st October constitutional vote. If you go behind the scenes of the ANC you will see a professional organisation created to: win, peacefully and democratically, Catalan independence. Òmnium, the much older society, compared to the ANC, is a multi facetted civic society that seeks to support the Catalan language and culture. Both these organisations boast more than 50,000 individual members and can organise demonstrations of more than a million people.

The Leaders of the ANC and Ómnium are still detained without trial in a Spanish prison.

10. Taking politics to the street – successful massive demonstrations

The mass gatherings of pro independence supporters, which have taken place in Catalonia since 2012, have had a measurably large impact on the political process in Spain. La Diada celebrations, which take place in September each year, bring on average close to a million supporters on to the streets. These mass demonstrations, supported by every pro independence party and both Ómnium and the ANC are the largest events in the pro independence calendar. They show both the strength of the movement and a united front against the current constitutional process in Spain.

Catalan Independent Republic Referendum FIVE days to go

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.

Voting forms printed out and posted along the Rambla Poblenou

Project fear

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.

Catalonia’s National Broadcaster providing truly balanced coverage of Catalan politics.

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 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.

Catalunya and Spain in deadlock the last 48 hours

You have no doubt been struggling to keep up with what’s happening in the saga that is the Catalan referendum build up. So here’s what’s happened in just the last 48 hrs (Monday 5.14pm to 5.14pm Wednesday)

Monday 5.14pm

A million people demonstrate in favour of a referendum being held on the 1st October. The question on the ballot paper will ask Catalans and Spanish citizens resident in Catalunya, if they want Catalunya to be an independent republic. At 17:14 (which is chosen to commemorate the fall of Barcelona to troops loyal to Madrid over 300 years ago) demonstrators reveal their Day of Yes, luminous yellow t-shirts. The city streets explode in colour.

Around one million people joined the La Diada celebrations

Tuesday morning

–  To coincide and to distract from the national and international coverage of the mass demonstrations, the Spanish Constitutional Court suspends a Catalan law that drafted a legal framework for an independent state. The Spanish establishment moves up a notch in its attack on democracy.

– Julian Assange tweets:

“This Catalan government ad is now banned in Spain as the war against Catalonia’s independence referendum heats up”

Banned. Anything that promotes the “illegal” referendum

– The President of the Government of Catalunya reiterates his desire to negotiate with the Spanish Prime Minster. “There is time for dialogue until the last moment” says Carles Puigdemont.

– Madrid based, New York Times correspondent, tweets that a Spanish judge suspends s a meeting for Catalan independence set to take place on Sunday. Raphael Minder asks is this now becoming a “freedom of expression” issue. Spain’s Government is being seen, both nationally and internationally, to be acting in an ever more dictatorial fashion.

Tuesday afternoon

– Prosecutors in Catalonia order police to seize ballot boxes, election flyers and any specific item (like printers, envelopes, stamps, paper clips, etc.) that could be used in support of an independence referendum.

Only a few weeks after the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils and with a raised terrorist level across Europe, the Spanish Government has ordered Police to chase stationary, rather than terrorists.

Wednesday morning

– The Prosecutors are busy. They order an investigation of the 712 Catalan mayors who have officially supported the Catalan referendum.  It’s now only 19 days before the referendum: is that long enough for a fair and balanced investigation?

Wednesday afternoon

– Catalan News report that “Sources from the National Police corps” say that there will be an increase in the number of Guardia Civil officers in Catalunya in the lead up to the planned vote.

– Reacting to the news of a cancelled pro independence event: “We can’t debate, we can’t vote, we can’t inform, and now we can’t hold a public event. What’s next?” Asks Carme Forcadell, Catalan Parliament President.

– Spanish PM warns anyone helping out at a polling station that they will be acting illegally and will be arrested.

Where will it end? Will everyone who votes face being behind bars?

It’s early evening now. Who knows what will happen in the next 48 hours?

It’s getting more tense by the day in Catalunya. 19 days and counting. But counting down to what is anyone’s guess.

La Diada 2017

It was sunny yesterday. Baking hot, sweaty, sunshine. That kind of weather is far from ideal for standing in the streets without shade for a few hours, however the million people who did so yesterday didn’t seem to bother. In fact the bright sunshine reflected the mood of La Diada 2017.

The official Catalan National Assembly led La Diada celebrations are now in their sixth year. Since 2012 a million or more people have celebrated the day by calling for the independence of Catalunya. With hundred of thousands of yellow and red Catalan flags, most with the addition of the white star on a blue background – favoured by those seeking Catalan independence, it is always an exceptionally colourful event. This year the event went luminous as every person who had packed the streets revealed a shocking yellow t-shirt as the count down to the “reveal” approached.

Around one million people joined the La Diada celebrations

At 17:14 the t-shirts came on and the banners floated above the crowd. This was the day of YES. The Catalan national anthem rang out; there were cheers as every new image appeared on the giant screens. People cried as a human tower was “topped” by a young girl raising her hand, and then producing a catalan flag. This will be the last La Diada demonstration. Next year it will be a celebration!

It’s the 12th September. It’s raining. The holiday is over. The headlines on the Madrid based media focus on the lower numbers of demonstrators than in a couple of previous years. There’s a realisation, a million people demonstrated, but a few million more need to vote YES for the referendum to lead to a new independent country. Perhaps the elation of yesterday was hope more than expectation?

Today will see Spain ramp up it’s efforts to delegitimise the referendum. Hot on the heals of the announcement of  the Spanish police to search and seize ballot papers and ballot boxes, many more moves will be played in this constitutional game of chess. Spain says this referendum, schedule to take place in less than three weeks, is illegal.

The Generalitat of Catalunya maintain that the referendum will be binding, and the Government has already put in place a law to supplant the Spanish constitution. It is an impossible impasse with an impossible timeframe. Today the weather reflects the mood of many independence supporters. But tomorrow, we know there will be sunshine.