The time is now Scotland

It’s a typical early Sunday afternoon. My girlfriend and I are sat on our Rambla taking a coffee and passively taking in the smoke from fellow patrons. A colourful procession of locals are taking a stroll and enjoying the sun. Today is like any other Autumnal day in Barcelona but one thing is different: the noise. The normal buzz of urban life on a Spanish street is punctured by the tooting of horns and shouts of support as a river of motorbikes pass along Carrer Aragó heading to a mass demonstration in plaça Catalunya.

I finish my coffee and dodging the Catalans on the Rambla I cycle down in my red and yellow “Ara És L’hora” – “The Time Is Now” t-shirt. I clasp myself onto the motor led procession and head west to the centre of the city.


It’s a three mile ride and I join a throng of at least three thousand motorbikes surely snaking back all the way from the plaça. Almost every motorbike is flying the Catalan bandana and as the only pedal powered form of transport in this procession I settle on flying the flag for cyclists.

“Movements” become more than just the word and more than just words when by their sheer numbers, they start to stop traffic, stymie conversations and suck in bystanders. Over 110,000 say the police (link in Catalan) have gathered at plaça Catalunya, which now resembles one massive Catalan flag with almost every person in red or yellow. It’s not just people. It’s dogs. It’s cars. It’s the two colours from the stage, from the metro stations and from the roof tops. It’s two thirds of the traffic lights.


I watch the big screen from a far, taking pictures, occasionally clapping and less occasional picking out words in Catalan, all the while trying to avoid skelping people with the pedals of my bike.  Despite my poor grasp of the language and my bike I feel part of this movement.

The subtleties will always be lost on a non native but as a Scot still feeling the stab of sorrow a month after the no vote in Scotland I connect with this struggle more than most.

It’s easy to get carried away and carried along, to clap and to raise your hand with the pronounced shape of the “V” for victory as you merge into a gallimaufry of people doing the same.  This is what real movements do they compel and command involvement and those calls are answered by those bystanders and supporters from a distance.

If taking part in this demonstration shows me one thing it is that Catalunya moves to a different beat than Scotland. With over 100,000 gathering in a main square it beats at least ten times the frequency.

Scotland you’ve got to catch up: remember movement can be both forwards and backwards, so let’s make sure we go in the right direction. Let’s do it with a force that only numbers can amass. Scotland get active. With a Westminster election next year the Catalans tell us: “Ara És L’hora”


The Ghost Catalan Referendum

Catalunya is proud of its reputation as an innovative region. It likes to see itself at the cutting edge of fashion, food and football – to name but three – however with the decision to hold a referendum on Survey Monkey they have taken politics to the edgy edge and beyond. Well I jest, the vote won’t actually be an online poll but it may as well be considering the lack of weight the result will carry. The pro independence parties have dug, and dug and the hole just gets bigger.

So here is where we are at the moment: the ghost catalan referendum. A vote across Catalunya will still take place on the 9th November with the same two questions appearing on the ballot paper. But the result won’t be worth the ballot papers the crosses will be marked on. On the 9th Catalans will saunter off to vote heading up and down the ramblas in their hundreds of thousands towards Government offices. Lines of voters will form and grow throughout the day no doubt in places circling buildings many times. It will make for wonderful pictures; the types of images we have come to expect as millions of Catalans actively engage and protest.

Inside there will be ballot boxes and polling booths and most of the other things you normally have in proper referendums. It’s unlikely they will have the extra ingredient that Scotland had like the establishment parties checking over the postal votes but everything else will be there; except of course any meaningful outcome. A lot of time, effort, money and resources will be used and for what I am not too sure. How can a vote with so little scrutiny and authority really validate anything?

The “new vote” isn’t even universally supported by the pro independence parties and Artur Mas is scrambling on his “what next” strategy and what a predicament he has. It’s exceptionally unlikely that a constitutional kangaroo court would ever legally allow a vote so he must be thinking why hold off? But can an elected politician really lead a region in breaking the law?

With two diabolical options like this the Generalitat is properly hamstrung and what of the average disenfranchised Catalan? A region 20% larger in population than Scotland is being denied the right to vote on self determination by the establishment and how do you really rail against the establishment? The Generalitat has played by the establishment rules and lost spectacularly. Play with politics and engage in legal wrangling with a “real and powerful adversary” and you will lose: a lesson for the present and for the future that Scotland learned last month.

Whatever Catalunya does next it has to be innovate and creative and involve and it must be led by the masses and if anywhere is set up for that it is Catalunya. We Scots can continue to support their movement for real and true democracy. The next few years for their independent movement will be as complicated as ours. So let’s keep in touch and keep learning from both our struggles.

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