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.
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.
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