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.
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.
Barcelona has quickly returned to normality after the appalling terrorist attack on Las Ramblas. Anyone who knows this city and its people will not be surprised.
August is the strangest of months in Barcelona. The Catalan capital is vacated by the locals for much of the month. Shops, bars and restaurants close for a couple of weeks, with the most popular ones shutting down for the full 31 days. Kids are only half way through their 12 week summer break, so schools and nurseries sit empty. During the sweltering August heat, streets that swell throughout June and July find some relief; as if a pressure value has been released.
I am one of those residents that heads off to avoid the heat. And where better than Scotland for that? An increasing number of Spanish people are finding Scotland a rainy, mild, cultural heaven. Thousands of Spaniards flock to Edinburgh for the festival and the flights between Scotland and Barcelona seem especially packed during Edinburgh festival time.
Sat in a bar in during this years early August trip to Edinburgh I overheard a Scottish waitress apologising to a Spanish family. It was “raining again” and she was truly sorry – apologising as if it was her fault. I could tell that the waitress couldn’t quite work out why the family were all smiling as they looked out into the thin, grey, drizzle outside. It’s 30 degrees in Barcelona today and most of central and southern Spain has seen 40+ degrees over the summer. Spaniards visit, not despite the cold and the rain, but because of it.
I was only partly back in Scotland for the break from the heat, as I had a few meetings about our Homeless Hackathon. I happened to arrive in Edinburgh only a few hours before the attack on Las Ramblas andIsaw the story unfold on the BBC news channel from the lobby of my hotel, and via social media.
During that evening, my phone pinged constantly with people asking about me and the family. Nice to know people care, but it did take me longer than usual to eat a curry in Mother India in Glasgow. A few friends knew we lived on a Rambla (there are several across the city, we live about two miles away from Las Rambals) and they seemed especially concerned. We hadn’t let anyone know we were OK because, really, why should we? We don’t contact people every week to say we haven’t been one of the 21 people who’ve been killed on a Spanish road. However, as we were still kind of travelling, we had a less controversial reason not to update family and friends.
It is a strange feeling to be away from home when an incident like this occurs. Your heart and stomach seem to merge and an uneasy dull pain takes hold. There’s relief at being far away during any incident, but a need to be close to others at a time of shared grief. Its surprising how long that awkward feeling persists.
Less than 24hours after the attack Barcelona was, amazingly, able to organise a vigil on Plaça Catalunya, the square that sits at the top of Las Ramblas.It was a solemn and quiet affair. There were no political banners, placards or national flags. The only message: “No tinc por!” (I am not afraid – in Catalan). In the crowd of a few thousand, the Prime Minister of Spain, the President of the Generalitat of Catalunya and King Felipe VI stood, for once, united in silence and shared respect.
A few hundred yards from the square, towards the sea, Las Ramblas, that narrow, famous strip, was full of people – including those who rarely visit: most Catalans give the area a wide berth. However typically, the world over, locals show their strength and determination not to be bullied, by returning to the scene of an incident, even if they never normally go there.
Barcelona quickly comes to terms with the terror attacks
On Saturday 26th August the largest demonstration took place in Barcelona, with an estimated 500,000 taking to the streets. Ostensively an anti terrorist demonstration, many Catalans took the opportunity to provide a wider context for the attacks. But you can look at it another way: here’s one view of the demonstration, as a takeover by separatists a theme echoed by other UK outlets. And in a similar vain, here’s an article from a Spanish based commentator in Politico which seemed to deliberately stir up Catalan emotions.
These simplistic views are a typical establishment response to the complex issues in Catalunya. They are devoid of context and seek unity on every issue, were in fact there are large divides. It’s a view that sees people as some kind of shallow cup, easily over filled by emotion, able to only concentrate on one thing at a time. Thankfully, Catalans are normal educated citizens of the world and are able to see the connection and highlight the link between supporting brutal regimes like Saudi Arabia and an act of sickening violence on the streets of Barcelona.
With the attack taking place only six weeks before the Catalan independence referendum, an incident like this was always going to be politicised. To think otherwise is to ignore the after affects of recent terror attacks throughout Europe.
In the immediate aftermath it was highlighted that Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force that dealt so effective and swiftly with the attacks, did not see free flowing, terrorist intelligence, as it had been denied access by the Spanish Government. Many supporters of independence see this as yet another example of the Spanish Government trying to stymia Catalunya’s attempts to play a fuller, more meaningful role on the world stage.
With a large contingent of Madrid based politicians (who are flatly refusing to recognise the referendum on the 1st October – a massive slight to the democratic process in Catalunya) taking part in the anti terror demonstration, there was always going to be a political reaction from those seeking Catalan independence.
The Monarchy was also a target. Considering the question which will be asked on the 1st October referendum paper is: “Do you want Catalunya to be an independent state in the form of a republic?”, the presence of the King was not going to be unnoticed.
Only eight days separated the attack on Las Ramblas and the massive demonstration in Barcelona. A week is not long enough for feelings to heal or the pain to disappear. However, in Catalan politics it is long enough for people to see through the haze of emotion and pain, and start to piece together cause and affect.
Scottish Independence demonstrations can make a real difference. They just have to be bigger and better.
(article originally appeared, without links, on CommonSpace)
So what? Around 17,000 people (splitting the difference between police and organiser estimates) gave up part of a Saturday afternoon to demonstrate in favour of a second independence referendum. Let’s put that into some context. With an average of 750 people visiting a Starbucks each day, almost as many Glaswegians had a coffee in the twenty, tax dodging coffee shops across the city on Saturday.
Let’s deal with a sobering fact. In September 2014, 1,617,989 people voted for Scottish independence. Three years later, with less than a week to go, before an exceptionally important General Election – which has been centred around another Scottish independence referendum – our movement, moved 1% of that constituency on to the streets. Is this something to celebrate? Or does it give the Unionists ammunition, to further their call, via Ruth Davidson, that “There is NO support for another independence referendum” Maybe it does, because 1% is almost no support.
Well, it is not quite as simple as that. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland doesn’t boast a particularly well known street movement. So, in that context, around 17,000 people filling the streets is exceptional. This is especially so, when you consider the resources available to the organisers, and the minimal support from other independence organisations (for I am sure, a whole host of reasons, which I won’t go into here). Pulling this number on to the street was no mean feat. Lack of support and resources were not the only barriers. The Labour run City Council put them up too. All Under One Banner were asked to have a 1:10 ratio of stewards to demonstrators. Generally, police and local authorities work to 1:75.
When just making an event happen, seems like achieving the impossible, it becomes more difficult to try to measure the actual impact. The rally on Saturday was Glasgow’s largest ever pro indy demonstration: larger in fact, than the ones held in the run up to the vote in 2014. However, for movements to matter, success has to be measured and evaluated on more than that mere fact. So, was it a success? Well, there’s a few ways to measure success.
The first is to know what the event organisers objectives were. Bill McKinnon, the main organiser, kindly spent some time talking to me about the demo and here are his objectives:
“1. To allow pro Independence patriots to show their demand and commitment to the cause to Scotland , Westminster and the world press.
2. The massive show of determination to achieve the second referendum will be universally recognised by the sheer numbers taking part in the March. We are hoping for 20,000.
3 . There has been a lull in open activity from the Indy movement over the past year. This March shows that our determination is stronger than ever.”
Even if you don’t agree with these objectives, or you question exactly how they can be measured, it is enlightening to know what they were. Using these objectives, the event was a massive success.
The primary way that I would judge the success of an event like this, is to learn of the events amplification. Perhaps “only” 17,000 took part, but a lot more people witnessed the march, as they set about their normal Saturday afternoon in Glasgow. 1000s of images of the march were retweeted, liked and shared across social media channels. The rally, including some of the speeches and performances from Glasgow Green, were live streamed by the ever vigilant Independence Live. Facebook proved an incredible platform with the Independence Live stream; shared over 2500 times; commented on thousand of times and had over 1200 views at any one time.
It is not just the quantity, but the type of images that are spread that reinforce the positive messages of a rally. Seeing images of Sikhs playing drums, of kids marching with parents, and of a whole section of Scottish society joining on a peaceful rally, were exceptionally powerful in portraying a positive image of civic nationalism. Juxtaposing it to the unionist “meeting” of a handful of flag wavers in George Square was priceless. Demonstrations matter: there is no better way for our movement to be so well framed.
The messages and the meaning of the rally were suitably boosted, for a sustained period after the event, by the attendees, their networks, alternative media (CommonSpace included) and unusually, the UK main stream media. Even the BBC covered the rally, because, with numbers approaching 20,000, it became impossible for media outlets to turn a blind eye. Numbers matter. It is well known in event circles that number of demonstrators correlate directly to column inches and media minutes.
The number of demonstrators that took part, and the huge amplification of the rally, should strengthen our belief in the demonstration as a powerful outlet for a political or social movement. It should also give us resolve, post GE2017, to make them bigger and better. As our elected politicians seem to be banging on a closed door, it is likely that we will need them more than ever.
During the General Election campaign Nicola Sturgeon said that “victory for the SNP will force a rethink on a second referendum”, suggesting that Theresa May would change her mind (she does like a U-turn) and sanction a second vote in the next couple of years (should she still be in power of course). However, a hand-break turn on this issue should be placed in the exceptionally unlikely category. So what pressure can be put on Westminster? And who can turn the screw? Demonstrators that’s who. Thousands of them.
Election wins and manifesto pledges are seemingly easy for Westminster, and many Scottish politicians, to ignore. Even votes in the Scottish Parliament have little impact. Democracy is clearly being undermined and with that, the express will of the Scottish people. This alone should drive tens of thousands to the street.
The Westminster based parties, are in unison, ignoring the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament. Ignoring the request for a second referendum is a link in an undemocratic process that is already in chain. Post Brexit, with returning powers from Brussels likely to be swallowed up by Westminster, the devolution settlement will be further weakened. Tory HQs charge towards an “internal UK market”, will weaken Holyrood’s power base in health, justice, transport, education and the environment, to name but a few.
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 face of a seriously determined street movement. Just imagine 50,000 plus linking arms around Holyrood to “protect” democracy!
In most European nations, policy is directly affected by street politics much more regularly than in Scotland. However, Scotland is the scene of one of the world’s most successful ever demonstrations. Only twelve years ago, Edinburgh hosted the MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY rally, that led to the eventual cancellation of billions of dollars of debt from developing nations, under the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. The Edinburgh demonstration was the corner stone of a year long campaign. The official post campaign report praised the demonstration, “The public mobilisation was felt to be the greatest achievement of the campaign” Scotland has an enviable position in terms of forcing change from the streets. In 2005, our voices echoed across the world.
In recent weeks we have all seen the Labour Party have success based on rallies and other well attended and widely covered events. Labour have put in place an exceptional live engagement strategy, and should they ultimately lose, expect this live element of the campaign to continue. We should, by now, be getting the hint at what is possible on the streets of the UK but we can look further afield for inspiration.
Scotland has many similarities with the Catalan independence movement and during a conversation with the Head of Press Relations at the Catalan National Assembly we discussed the differences between Scotland and Catalonia in the history of street politics. We agreed on two main factors which help explain why our biggest independence rally attracted 17,000 and theirs’ drew 1,500,000.
The first is the role of the organisers of the rally. The ANC is a well funded, umbrella organisation, that employs several full time staff. To give you an idea, it spent €300,000 alone on advertising the 2016 demonstration, the same again on staging, AV, PA etc. Everything about the Catalan demonstrations smacks of professionalism. Its success is built upon the unifying role of the ANC and the professional make up of the lead organisation.
You can’t fault the passion and the determination of the All Under One Banner team, but as a non-revenue generating, voluntary organisation, their resources are exceptionally limited. With so many barriers to overcome they were, unfortunately, unable to end the rally in any kind of satisfactory manner for the demonstrators or, as importantly, for the cameras. With the march thinning out on Glasgow Green, the tiny stage and tinny PA, provided a destination that the marchers did not expect or deserve, accompanied by – it was June in Glasgow – near torrential rain.
The Catalan and the Scottish rallies also differ in the subtlety of the message that is transmitted. It was #LoveDemocracy, that was initially at the heart of the Catalan movement, not independence per se. From the outset in 2012, members of the Catalan National Assembly knew that an organisation which called for the “respect of democracy”, had a wider appeal than one focusing on independence. Over the years, the message from the ANC has solidified, to almost exclusively call for independence. However, for many, it is the idea of those in Madrid telling Barcelona what to do, that is the driver for their support. Chat to a Catalan in the street and they are as likely to say “I want to decide, not Madrid”, as they are to say, “I will vote for independence” The ANC have been on a journey focussed on democracy, not independence.
In Scotland, until this general election, calls for a referendum from our elected officials seemed the most likely to bring about a choice to decide our constitutional future. Perhaps now, with democracy under threat, the baton should be handed over to the people, and the message they should carry should not be one demanding independence, but democracy.
Democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people” Perhaps if our elected politicians and our democratic establishments are unable to put the pressure on the UK Government, it is time for “the people”, unified and determined, to do something. Fancy attending a rally that’s a bit bigger, and does something a bit different?
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
#ScotRef events will be more successful if more people are aware of them, and if more people attend them. Facebook helps amplify our events.
Facebook has over 31m registered users in the UK. If you want to get your product / service in front of a lot of people, there is fast becoming no better way to do that, than to use Facebook. However, recently I’ve seen a #deletefacebook campaign (ironically on Twitter) that seems to be gaining momentum.
I am not sure if there was a particular incident, article, TV programme, or annoying advert that prompted @neilmackay to post the above Tweet, but obviously his point of view has had some traction. But let me state this clearly: if you are a #ScotRef event organiser you HAVE to take advantage of Facebook. Our campaigning will play out heavily on this platform.
Top of my list is there shady business practices. Facebook paid less than £5,000 in UK corporation in the UK in 2015. I remember seeing and disbelieving the headline on the news the morning of the revelation. That same morning, I cast my eyes over my inbox to see the detail of the email from my accountant: Facebook paid less corporation tax than my tiny event business!
Facebook made over $4Billon profit that year and stated that its profits in the UK were 0.00005% of their turnover. If that’s the case, the company is clearly run by eejits eh?
The legal case for Facebook to pay a higher percentage of their turnover is black and white: they have done nothing illegal. The moral case for Facebook is equally clear: they have done nothing right.
Such bad business practices alone should be enough for the “intelligent and honest” to heed Neil’s clarion call and ditch the platform. However, if those honest and intelligent people stop engaging and using the platform, then we leave it open to the total abuse by the acolytes of Trump and Farage. If we do not engage we are complicit in placing the power in their hands.
Facebook is a crucial tool for #ScotRef Event Organisers says Scientist (kind of)
Dana Fisher @Fisher_DanaRis an American Scientist, who does nothing else (it seems) but study Protests and Protesters. Her belief in the power of Facebook as a campaigning tool is clear:
Facebook is an invaluable amplification tool. And importantly for our movement it is FREE. An event can gain literally thousands of attendees from a smart use of Facebook.
So, should #scotref event organisers use Facebook? Well, we are all too aware of the negative aspects of this social media platform but we also have to be aware of the benefits to the #ScotRef movement. We have to understand it and use it. So, if you are organising a #ScotRef event don’t #ditchfacebook. Hold off displaying that anger, and let it boil over when Scotland sets and enforces its own corporation tax.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
The number of people taking part in demonstrations matter. Social mobilisation is a crucial means to an end.
It seems to be all the rage at the moment to compare Barcelona to Glasgow. So I thought I’d continue that trend, and add my thoughts about social mobilisation in Catalonia and Scotland. To do this I’ve looked at a two events held in Barcelona last month. By looking at these events I will hopefully demonstrate my concern for the forthcoming second independence referendum in Scotland. I will set that thought out here: our events will have little impact if the current trend of low numbers continues.
First up is a Monday morning demonstration that was held outside the Higher Court of Justice in Barcelona. Artur Mas, the ex President of Catalonia was on trial for supporting a symbolic vote on Independence for Catalonia. Yes, you read that correctly, on trail for organising a referendum. You can probably start to see some potentially scary similarities. Here’s the details from Señor Mas:
“More than 50,000 people from around the country, many having got up very early, have come out on a Monday morning. The people always teach us a lesson: unity and social mobilisation.”
Yup, there really was 50,000 outside the court on a Monday morning. This wasn’t any kind of anomaly. Catalans demonstrate regularly and often bring tens of thousands on to the streets.
A week or so later an estimated 160,000 took to the streets on a Saturday evening to demonstrate against Spain’s intransigence with refugees.
Catalan politicians know that social mobilisation is important and so do Catalans:
“Puigdemont (current Catalan President) calls for social mobilisation before the referendum”
I wonder if Scottish politicians and the YES movement have realised that numbers really matter. And if so what they plan to do about it?
Political dissent lessons from the streets of Barcelona
We’ve all seen and heard the recent discussions around what “being British” means. These debates tend to take place to frame the idea that immigration is threatening these values. I’ve personally never found it easy to define Britishness probably because I don’t consider myself British. However there is a belief that various traits, traditions, beliefs and actions in a community of size can translate into a rough idea of that communities “values”. Say hello to the stereotype.
So by British I mean the often heard phrase of “mustn’t grumble.” Add to that our dislike of a strike or striking and our avoidance of a revolution and we have cultural evidence of this tendency to accept what’s given to us.
We may at times get a bit miffed. We may complain. We may write an angry letter or two and we may even join a demo. But these are the exceptional circumstances rather than the rules. Well, in Spain, and in Catalunya in particular it is quite the opposite. How can I put it? They tend to get well……..a little bit hotter under the collar.
So here’s my guide to political activism from the streets and kitchens of Barcelona and beyond.
1. Play the numbers game
While in Barcelona I witnessed street action against the proposed closing of a local nursery with twenty or so mums and dads marching under one banner. At the other extreme we had a million plus people linking arms across Catalunya. It’s in the blood to take your grievances to the street. And once on the street and with numbers this starts to be noticed as I discussed in a previous post.
Amassing numbers on the street is something for us Scots to consider as we seek to keep the momentum going post referendum. Numbers on the streets – once they reach a tipping point – lead to column inches and minutes on the mainstream TV news. We must start to embrace the street in a way that the Spanish have been doing for generations.
2. Burn bins not books
It was very interesting to see the reaction to the decision of three SNP councillors to set alight a copy of the Smith Commission (be warned this link is to the BBC – it’s included because it is a typical story that the BBC runs about the Smith Commission).
Scottish Labour’s interim leader, Anas Sarwar, said: “This is disgusting and disrespectful behaviour from three SNP councillors.” This is of course expected from a Labour man. However I was very surprised to see that the SNP suspended the councillors. What a shame. They just burned a document they didn’t agree with. In Barcelona when you are pissed off you burn a bin.
This escalation of the use of matches is pretty standard for any street bound demonstration in the Catalan capital. Now I’d have a problem with councillors doing this but seeing a bound document going up in flames in a nice controlled environment; not so much.
As we move towards a more enlivened and more motivated political environment we can’t all start to shift uncomfortably in our seats when someone burns a hastily put together westminster leaning report. Major political change is made when things happen. And let’s not shy away from making a strong political statement: let’s not be scared or sanctioned when we fan the flames.
3. Be bold and break the law
Sánchez Gordillo the elected Major of the small town of Marinaleda led raids on local supermarkets during the height of the recession in Andalusia “They marched into supermarkets and took bread, rice, olive oil and other basic supplies, and donated them to food banks for Andalusians who could not feed themselves.” This is taken from a fantastic book “The Village Against the World” by Dan Hancox which I would thoroughly recommend (buying the book not raiding Tesco)
And check out Enric Duran an infamous young Catalan (he simply had to be Catalan!) who “borrowed” €492,000 from thirty-nine different financial institutions. He had no intention of ever paying any of it back. Instead he distributed it among a variety of different co-operatives and revolutionary projects. Now this is activism. And my hat is tipped!
4. An attack on culture is still an attack
One of the biggest protests that took place while I was in Barcelona was against the closing of a previously disused building called “Can Vias.” Social Activists had turned the building into a hub for social and cultural activity. Until the price of land bounced back of course. The Can Vias link from the blog “It’s a Funny Old World” gives some insight into the universal problem of police brutality as an interesting aside.
For over four centuries Catalunya has viewed an attack on its culture as an attack on the region and on Catalans themselves. Many of their political demonstrations are to save cultural resources. It’s not all about money, poverty, corruption or police brutality; the defence of Cultural Catalunya has equal weight. I wonder if in Scotland we place our culture in such high regard?
Here’s pictures of a packed square and a plaque from outside my first flat in Barcelona. Every year a few score of Catalans would sing, dance the Sardana and place some flowers to mark the commitment to heroes of the Catalan cultural resistance who during the 1800s continued to dance the Sardana despite bans from Madrid.
5. Protest with everything including the kitchen sink
On the Monday before the Catalan referendum a cacophony from outside our window spurred me to jump onto Twitter. I’ve just realised that the natural reaction should have been to just look out the window to find out what was going on, but there you go, that’s the world we live in. Pots and pans were the weapon of choice as thousands of Catalans protested about the Spanish government action in declaring the vote illegal. And what a racket. That continued on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The beauty of this is in its simplicity. It’s easy. And once you’ve taken this little step to activism you could get on a role. It can be done from your home (and owing to the proximity of said pots and pans) this actually helps. And it can be LOUD.
I would love for everyone in Scotland to pick up a pot and with a ladle (my weapon of choice that week in Barcelona) give it a good malky in protest against the increase in Westminster led austerity. Every night for a week, everyone could be active. Every household- even those ones that Tory Peers think “can’t cook”! – can open their windows and can demonstrate to everyone in their neighbourhood and beyond that sometimes what the establishment thinks is enough is actually not enough.
Stories from Barcelona tell me that political statements don’t need to be about burning, stealing or redistributing anything. It’s just about making a noise and being seen.
Scotland make some noise. And fan the flames.
An independent Scot's view on the search for an independent nation