Catalan referendum effect on Scotland

Scotland is already fighting its next independence referendum. The warriors this time aren’t the 45% breaking the veneer of fear in pubs, cafes and church halls across Scotland no, they are the millions of Catalans facing off and up to the Spanish Government.

Make no mistake about it, what happens in Barcelona will not stay in Barcelona: if the Spanish establishment successfully shouts down a planned democratic plebiscite in Catalunya, Scotland’s next grass-route uprising may falter before the minutes are drawn up from so many recently swelled SNP meetings.

Within many quarters in Scotland independence is “when” not “if” Coming so close has wetted the appetite for a million and a half. The reneging of promises, the march to war and the continued malaise of Westminster politicians to the plight of everyone below the top tax band has stoked the fire in thousands more – evidenced alone in the current rocketing membership figures for the Scottish National Party. 

The spring in the step is not just at the town and village level SNP meetings. You can detect the swagger right through the whole “yes” camp. It can most clearly be seen in the SNP’s demand (because that’s what people with a swagger do, they demand, they don’t ask) for “near federalism” and “home rule” as they start to engage with the Smith Commission. Their collective confidence galvanised by the 45%! A steely determination born from a feeling that they lost, but in an away from home defeat in the first leg kind of way. Just you wait for the return tie Westminster!

The thing is that the second leg might never come. The warning from Spain must be heeded: wanting a referendum doesn’t always mean you get one. The Edinburgh Agreement might be news in 2014 but chip wrapper in the years to come.

You see the Spanish they know how to deal with the pesky upstart called democracy. In Spain they sidestepped the whole messy affair of a clear and decisive vote on independence in Catalunya by ensuring a kangaroo constitutional court would rule in favour of the State: your referendum is illegal and therefore meaningless. 

What will Spain leave on the menu for Scotland?
What will Spain leave on the menu for Scotland?

This precedent having already been set is at the heart of the concern for those biding their time for the return match in Scotland. I am here in Catalunya and I can see the similarities with the Scottish vote as clear as the blood red stripes on the yellow Catlalan flag. During the consultation with the Smith Commission we must guarantee the future right for Scotland to unilaterally vote on independence. 

The magnitude of this issue is brought home when you consider that the UK doesn’t have a constitution, so it’s down to politicians in Westminster to decide what that constitution allows or doesn’t allow – like for example parts of the country having a mandate on independence.

The Spanish PM Rajoy is sticking to his position that a unilateral vote in Catalunya is illegal because it deprives all Spaniards of their constitutional right to vote on matters that affect the entire nation. The UK has a powerful European precedent that there is no constitutional right for one region alone to alter the fate of the nation. Next time round the 60 million in the UK could decide if Scotland gets independence. How does that sound?

If this seems incredible and incredulous considering the process that led to the Edinburgh Agreement then consider that in years to come the backdrop to another vote may be very, very different.

From the moment of the referendum announcement almost two years ago, Pollsters and the media were predicting a whopping victory for the Union. Just cast your mind back. The UK was deep in recession. Terrorism and the furthering opening up of our boarders led to fear gripping much of the nation (or so we were and are conditioned to believe) There was no palpable demand for separation in Scotland. Everything that would impact the decision of the Scots was on the side of Westminster, from the media to big business. So strong was the position that the Westminster parties didn’t need a half way option: all or nothing Scotland: stay and win or leave and lose.

But just imagine how different things might be in a few years with a prevailing wind for the nationalists. After the 2015 UK election swollen by a score or more seats at Westminster and another Holyrood majority; come 2020 the foundations will be stronger and the ground of independence much more fallow. But all this to no avail as Westminster changes the constitution goal post. In fact it pulls up the goal posts. Grabs the ball, jumps on the bus, and with a final cry it declares “The 2014 result stands. UK 1. Scotland 0.”

But lets come back from 2020 to the 9th of November 2014, which is still the planned date for the Catalan referendum. That’s a month today. It’s a month that will see as many twists and turns as a Barcelona number 10 and more in’s and out’s that a Spanish political sex scandal. Every move pulled apart by millions of Spaniards and Catalans under a still warm sun.

Considering that Catlaunya is the birth place of Gaudí, Miró and Dalí, it is fitting that it is here that the canvas is already being stretched across the easel that is the next Scottish referendum.


Catalunya is not Scotland – and that’s a shame

Two weeks is a long time when deciding the destiny of nations. In Scotland we’ve seen twists and turns from those signatories to the “Vow” – like school kids ducking under your grasp just when you think you are about to catch them! There they go again, slipping and a sliding out of reach, nipping off to Manchester and Birmingham and avoiding the question. A 30min debate in the House of Commons on the 16th October will hardly allow time for many answers.

In this ‘blink of a political eye’, we’ve seen the Tory’s shoehorn in a link between Scottish devolution and more power for English MPs. Tory Ministers have rounded on the idea of a reduction in the money “given” (I say returned – minus several billion) to the block grant to Scotland. We’ve also seen the exceptionally bizarre situation of the man – Bumbling Mr Brown – who made the binding promise  to sign a petition to put pressure on people to actually deliver his binding promise! You really couldn’t make it up and you really wouldn’t want to.

Add to that the news that Sir Ian Wood has fracking interests – he of the outspoken, Westminster puppet oil-mouthpiece, and news from the Government (we could have seen the back of them people!!!!) that, should they be elected to power they will slash benefits by a further three billion pounds in 2015.

And let’s not forget of course the cross Westminster party decision to take the country to war again. You would be excused for thinking ‘wha’s like us’, who has a fortnight like that? Well, my Scottish Brothers look across to Catalunya for some real shakeups. The Catalan referendum and the Scottish referendum aren’t cut from the same cloth.

Catalan Flag

The on, off, on referendum

In the last week the Spanish region of Catalunya has declared that it will go against the wishes and threats of the Spanish Government in Madrid and hold a referendum. The date for the referendum is the 18th November. This referendum is widely supported: some 1.8M activists packed Barcelona to demonstrate in September. However a few days after formally announcing the referendum the Constitutional Court upheld Madrid’s appeal: the referendum is illegal it declared: boom, fuck you democracy. Yesterday the head of the Generalitat Artur Mas says he will disobey (this is very true to the Catalan nature) and fight on: the referendum will go ahead, like Scotland they WILL have a vote.

The Catalans look on enviously at the international recognition of Scotland as a separate state. They wish for a seat even near the top table and to be regarded as a definable state. When they saw Scotland’s First Minister sit down with our Westminster masters and sign the Edinburgh agreement they looked on in awe. They talk about Scotland and the Westminster Government as being grown ups. While in Spain the Government in Madrid have grabbed their ball and refuse to even play.

Living in Barcelona the Catalan capital (as I will do for two more months) I often hear the phrase “Catalunya is like Scotland but Spain is not like the UK” There are certainly some cultural similarities between the two northern states and indeed Scottish flags were seen flying during the marches in September and many a Catalan bandera was seen in Scotland in the lead up to the referendum.


But the love of fried food and flag swopping aside what the Catalans mean by this is that unlike the UK Spain devolves very little power to the regions. Catalan institutions kind of operate much like a local authority would in the UK, the only difference being that at its heart there is a big talking shop parliament run by the Generalitat. But recently that parliament has started to strain at the leash – to stop talking and start acting: think Scotland circa 1979.

Many of the Catalans I’ve spoken to since returning to Barcelona mention their shock and open disappointment that Scotland voted no. Their genuine disbelieve. But at least we had a chance to vote they say; a chance at democracy; a chance to decide. They ogle that enviously. But there are many things that we should be jealous of in Catalunya not just the weather and the cheap beer.

Catalunya has a staunchly Catalan press. Ironically I took this from the BBC: “Spain’s leading newspapers are predominantly located in the capital, Madrid, though powerful regional sentiments – particularly in Catalonia and the Basque Country – mean major newspapers in those areas can can have an important influence in local and national life”. Many of the regional papers are in the Catalan language which is little understood in Madrid. This leads to fear in Madrid. Fear that the truth may out, that the press can not be controlled from the centre and that a true debate will rage; Catalunya is not like Scotland.

Catalunya is Spain’s wealthiest region; significantly more wealthy than the Spanish average and it doesn’t rely on something as “fickle” as oil. The Catalans see a future much like the present where tourism, manufacturing, food and services are a broad base to support an independent region. Of course there is a similarity with Scotland (oil in the Scottish budget only makes up approx. 15%) but this was one of the aspects of the debate that the majority of Scots chose to ignore believing the curse of wealth.

Where there is a significant difference though is the heart of the issue, the core of the values of the Catalans: a proclivity not to be taken for fools. At the start of 2014 the price of 10 trips on the metro went up 30c to €10.10 hardly inflation busting but you would have thought that people’s doors had been ripped off and children snatched in the night. Graffiti covered trains and stations. Glass lay broken on the inside of trams. Hundreds traveled together refusing to pay the increase. Megaphones blasted. Banners unfurled. Proclamations and protestations filled bars, carriages, cafes and street corners. This is Catalunya in a microcosm. An active engagement in politics seems to be inbuilt and it is certainly instilled and encouraged through the generations. Scarcely a week goes by when our street corner isn’t host to a stall from some community action group or a march doesn’t pass down our rambla. This obvious, beautiful, passionate and active engagement in street politics scares the establishment. Westminster know we were never going to get active. They were never really scared in this visceral powerful way that crowds with a purpose leave those who see them.

Pup up

Perhaps the major difference between Catalunya and Scotland is how recent the imperial past feels. Only since the death of Franco has Catalan culture been able to flourish and to see the end of cultural subjugation and a Madrid dominated culture. Many of those who saw a right wing dictator cut the wings of their land are still alive. This gives their independence calls a real fervour that was missing in Scotland. You are bound to feel more nationalistic when your grandparents talk of rising up against Madrid. The banning of kilts and claymores is ancient history and for a couple of hundred years the majority of Scots have been consumed by a British culture that doesn’t seem foreign. The confidence in the No camp was built on this fog of the past. Being shat on from a great height with the Poll Tax and the corruption and big business closeness of Westminster – shameless though it is – isn’t quite the same as being arrested without trial for dancing the Sandana!

These reasons alone mean that Madrid’s gamble would be riskier than the UKs. Catalans are not Scots, Catalunya is not Scotland. If we had the supportive press, not tied to establishment coat tales, maybe more of a debate could have taken place. With the realisation that we didn’t rely on one sector of our economy matched with true activism – not just campaign activism – we could have filled the streets and we might have made a dent on the No campaign. If we could have seen the subjugation of what makes those in Scotland different we might have turned a no in to a yes.

But unlike Catalunya at least we had a chance to vote. If this wonderful region does manage to secure a vote I hope they don’t waste it. Being in one country where that has already happened is more than enough.

Over the coming weeks I will try and keep you up to date on the Catalan struggle with a Scottish perspective @williamgallus

Where does the power lie?

So there we are being all powerful again. There we go showing the world that the UK is an almighty important country. War. That’s what power means to people. The decision to bomb other countries and to kill foreigners has been passed in the UK parliament. Not in my name.

Our standing as part of the UK – devalued and discoloured

One of the main tenants of the No Campaign was this idea that the UK would lose its international standing if Scotland left the union. This was to presume of course that our “standing” in the world was something worth keeping: surely it depends what you stand for rather than how high you stand?

The westminster parties, through the fog of war and the mist of time, see that the UK is somehow worthy of this status as a world power. This belief has come to the fore again with the UK parliament backing the UK’s involvement in the conflict in Iraq. At the moment, at least some small saving grace, is that Syria is a step too far.

This lust and desire for power is what lies at the heart of every modern day decision to send troops to war.  Make no bones about it. The UK establishment is still power hungry, searching for it at every turn. To stand “shoulder to shoulder” with great powers must mean they are powerful too.

The Scottish nuclear question

This need for power goes a long way to explaining the blind westminster panic at the idea of losing a base for their weapons of mass destruction in Scotland.

A friend and fine journalist wrote an article in El Pias in which my opposition to nuclear weapons was mentioned. I stand by it and with every decision to go to war it is strengthened. The decision to rid Scotland of Europe’s largest nuclear arsenal was reason enough for me to support the yes campaign.

Power is defined by military might. 21st century power is linked to the ownership of nuclear weapons.  It’s the power of fear. It’s the skinny kid in the play ground who has the big beefy brothers.

The decision to go to war is I believe for most, including even politicians, a moral one. Everyone should be entitled to their view. Reasons will be explained why “we have to go to war” but I don’t buy any of them. We can take  a purely humanitarian role. We can use the diplomatic corridors. We can do all we can not to compound the problems with force.

I.S, ISIS, Islamic State or ISIL appear to be the most brutal of regimes.  But a real, substantial, direct and sizeable threat for the UK? I really can’t see it. How many more OAPs will die of hypothermia in Scotland this winter than those UK citiznes directly or indirectly linked to ISIS? We have clear and present dangers affecting this land, ones that we can address, ones that we can solve. How about directing some of the spoils of power to target those ills?

The yes coalition parties in westminster voted against force.

“MPs voted by 524 to 43 to sanction the UK air strikes, limited to Iraq, with 69 MPs not voting. A total of 23 Labour MPs, five Tories and two Lib Dem MPs voted against UK action along with the SNP MPs and the Green MP Caroline Lucas” – The Guardian

George Square the Referendum Square

Some flagging waving, chatting and singing. Then back across to Wetherspoons. This routine only punctuated by a visit to Greggs. This seemed to be the well trodden path across George Square for many a YES campaigner in the run up to the vote.

George Square was the referendum campaign in a microcosm. Festive and fun for most of the time but sickening and scary for some of it. The square was at the heart of the revelry in the lead up to the vote and the cathartic centre afterwards.

Food Banks in George Square Taken by @jamesh_oneill
Food Banks in George Square Taken by @jamesh_oneill

The square was the backdrop for news stories before and after the vote. It made the mainstream news feeds (although when was some simple thuggery in Glasgow at the weekend actually news?) and it is still creating stories as a pop up food bank. It was also the backdrop for some ill advised political point scoring via Twitter:

Eric Joyce - Labour MP

Yes Eric. Have a pop at the location of food backs. Why are they popping in places where people can actually see them and easily donate?

But let’s go back in time. To the day after the vote. I sought out the warmth of the square on the Friday.  I needed its solace. I needed to know that my feeling of loss was shared. By late afternoon the square was busy. International journalists looking for an angle on the city that voted “yes” and forlorn individuals coming to terms with the heart wrenching realisation that Scotland had voted No.

What's going on here?

Everyone’s square

One fella had climbed the Robert Burns statue and donated a tartan tammy and scarf.  Tourists milled around taking pictures of the wake. The Socialist Workers Party‘s stand was busy. This is everyone’s square after all. Their boisterous megaphone man sucking in passersby. “We have to fight for the working man. Just look round this square, it’s surrounded by multinational corporate companies……” What like Gregg’s and Wetherspoons I thought?

In the middle of the square a small PA system sat on the ground. A compere – playing political songs – filled the space between various members of the public who had something to say. Various grief stricken Glaswegians took the microphone with varying degrees of hand and upper lip stability. One after another they let the audience know how they felt about the result.

The cathartic process begins in George Square post referendum
The cathartic process begins in George Square post referendum

One old guy, shaking like a bartender’s cocktail arm, told of his pain, “knowing that I will never see my country as an independent nation” I felt for him. We all did. He then suggested that a missile sent from Faslane to Downing Street would show them what evil they had placed in Scotland. I moved on.  Settle down there old boy settle down. Controversy comes hand in hand with this square.


Glasgow shouted YES

Who makes Glasgow

The bright pink signs sprinkled across the city were incongruous splashes of colour on the morning after the independence referendum. In unison from hotel lobbies, buildings, buses and railway stations the city’s motto proclaimed “People Make Glasgow” The people of Glasgow made me proud.

On Thursday the 18th September 2014 Glasgow stood up and bellowed “YES!” to independence for Scotland. Its wish and desire echoed only by the city of Dundee, West Dumbartonshire and North Lanarkshire. 28 constituencies mumbled “no” as the country voted 55% to 45%. A resounding win for the Union but with 53% of Glaswegians in favour of independence they lost Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city: the powerhouse of the west of the country.

Robert Burns in George Square the day after the referendum. Tammy, scarf and all.
Robert Burns in George Square the day after the referendum. Tammy, scarf and all.

As a Glaswegian it is from here where I look at the referendum result and start to ponder what’s next for me, my family, the people of this city, this country, this land mass (the UK) and the many other regions across the world looking to pull power closer to their citizens.

Glasgow in numbers

It is estimated that 33% of children in Glasgow live in poverty. This in a country ranked the 14th richest in the world according to the OECD. Of course a massive disparity between the super rich and the poor is not isolated to this island. However in a country that has had a seat of democracy for hundreds of years and ended Universal Suffrage almost one hundred years ago the child poverty figure is nothing short of shameful. Today (as it will be tomorrow, and the day after that) it is impossible to walk for more than five minutes in the centre of the city and not meet this poverty and suffering head on.

Glasgow in the bargain basement

Within two minutes walk from Central Station you will find four £1 discount shops. They open later than most and they are packed, not with people sensing a bargain, but with those feeling the strain of austerity UK. To operate a profit the discount shops pay their shop staff minimum wage but some staff work for nothing: they take advantage of the government work scheme that forces those on benefit to work a full days shift for nothing. With wages so low it’s no surprise that most of the staff shop there too. It’s not just the shop staff on these low paid jobs who suffer. My Uncle works in a warehouse for one of the quid stores. He talks of unbearable working conditions with tales that echo Dickensian workhouses not 21st century work places.

These shop owners as business men have done their research. In 2012, a fifth of households in Glasgow had a net annual income of less than £10,000. With so many people living on low incomes where would you open stack-em-high premises?

This city has the lowest life expectancy in the UK.  In areas in East Glasgow – where I was born – men in their fifties speak of being the last in their class alive. This year the Office for National Statistics found that just 75% of boys can expect to reach their 65th birthday.

Who makes change? Governments or individuals?

The picture painted by the collective groups (some 300 in total) who brought so much colour to the “Yes” coalition was an agenda framed around change. An agenda focused on fairness and equality. It was an agenda built and packaged for Glaswegians and it was backed by almost 200,000 individuals in the city. Glasgow said yes to change; almost blindly to change. When change might just mean that your father lives longer and your kids spend less of their live in poverty it’s not a hard choice.

Glasgow’s collective yes vote included mine and my English born girlfriend. Being part of the process whereby these disgraceful poverty and life expectancy figures could change was one of the main reasons to vote yes. Unfortunately that process didn’t start on Friday morning but that is OK, say it loud “yes” voters, that’s OK! Change is driven by individuals and there are as many of us now as there were on the 18th September.

If the referendum proved one thing it is that when people unite for a common cause or share a common vision they have real power. George Square was packed in the lead up to the vote as where many other squares across the country. But look to Spain’s second city and the proud capital of Catalunya for real inspiration of people power. As a nation of activists we are only starting.

The ultimate destination for most Scots is not independence per se – that is simply a moniker that places you on a list at the UN – but what independence may lead to: the crumbling of the shameful statistics that shame this western democracy and its people.

Glasgow and Glaswegians, Scotland and Scots do not need to live in an independent country to re-write those figures. We need only one thing: the collective will for change to continue. People don’t just make Glasgow: they make change happen. Any even without independence every Scot can make that change a reality.

An independent Scot's view on the search for an independent nation