SNP Govern­ment should step back from its Cata­lan fix­a­tion

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vig­or­ously in favour of Cat­alo­nia’s se­ces­sion.

Most I spoke with found this puz­zling and made the point that while Scot­land’s in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum was le­gal and passed demo­cratic muster, this was not the case in Cat­alo­nia. Why don’t so many Scot­tish peo­ple re­alise that, one af­ter an­other they asked?

Re­peat­edly, I lis­tened to them re­count how the Spanish con­sti­tu­tion was drawn up. Ap­proved in 1978 just three years af­ter the death of fas­cist dic­ta­tor Fran­cisco Franco, and one year af­ter the first demo­cratic elec­tions since the 193639 Spanish Civil War, it was writ­ten pre­cisely with the aim of pre­vent­ing an­other Franco or other po­lit­i­cal en­tity threat­en­ing the sovereignty of the Spanish state.

That sovereignty, my friends re­minded me, re­sides with the Spanish peo­ple, all of the Spanish peo­ple. On an is­sue as im­por­tant as Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence the whole of Spain must de­cide on such a mat­ter, they in­sisted.

It would be easy to dis­miss their re­marks as be­ing sin­gu­larly An­dalu­cian, but travel else­where in Spain right now and you will hear the same ob­ser­va­tions echoed by many. And let’s not for­get that many Cata­lans them­selves also share such views.

In­deed it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that many Cata­lans are the chil­dren or grand­chil­dren of those dis­placed from places like An­dalu­cia and Ex­tremadura at the height of the Franco op­pres­sion. As such, many don’t want in­de­pen­dence given they still have fam­ily ties in the rest of Spain. One of my old­est Spanish friends is one such man, with fam­ily long set­tled in Barcelona. He too is old enough to re­mem­ber grow­ing up in the the omi­nous shadow of the Franco years.

“For sure the le­gacy of Franco lies dor­mant and is not ex­tinct, and we must guard against that, but to com­pare th­ese times with then is ridicu­lous,” he told me, adding that such a com­par­i­son made him an­gry.

He, like many Spanish friends – Cata­lans among them – re­main frus­trated by the way Scot­land’s ref­er­en­dum ex­pe­ri­ence was re­cently held up along­side that of Cat­alo­nia.

While many Cata­lans men­tion the Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in 2014, and the agree­ment with West­min­ster that pre­ceded it, as an ex­am­ple of how things could and should hap­pen, that, un­for­tu­nately, is not the re­al­ity in Spain right now.

Mean­while for some na­tion­al­ist ac­tivists here in Scot­land, the cause of Cat­alo­nian in­de­pen­dence has be­come a near fix­a­tion. In some in­stances it’s al­most as if they’re liv­ing out their own sec­ond Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence frus­tra­tions vi­car­i­ously through the se­ces­sion­ist cri­sis in Cat­alo­nia.

Lis­ten­ing to some of th­ese ac­tivists you would think the time had come to re­con­sti­tute the equiv­a­lent of the Scot­tish vol­un­teers who made up the In­ter­na­tional Bri­gade that jour­neyed to Spain in the 1930’s to fight against Franco’s fas­cist forces. Spain is not yet at that stage.

As a re­cent ar­ti­cle by the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions (ECFR) made clear, “Madrid’s con­ser­va­tive govern­ment is a pop­u­lar and easy tar­get for virtue-sig­nalling com­men­ta­tors who lack the nerve to take on the real con­tem­po­rary Fran­cos in Rus­sia or Venezuela”.As the piece went on to point out: “Spain is no USSR-like Go­liath, nor is the Cata­lan govern­ment of Car­les Puigde­mont a pi­ous, de­fence­less David”.

In Scot­land so much of the po­lit­i­cal re­ac­tion to the Cata­lan cri­sis has been char­ac­terised by a sim­plis­tic, knee-jerk po­lit­i­cal re­sponse, in­stead of calm, clear­headed anal­y­sis. Ar­guably at times it’s even con­trib­uted to the con­fronta­tional mind­set that it’s in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­ests to avoid, not least Spain’s. That the Madrid govern­ment it­self has been con­fronta­tional and han­dled the sit­u­a­tion ap­pallingly is un­de­ni­able. It’s lit­tle won­der that some in Spain and Scot­land have drawn par­al­lels with the Fran­coist era af­ter the Guardia Civil be­gan met­ing out its hor­rific vi­o­lence re­cently on Barcelona’s streets. But those mea­sures aside, wider po­lit­i­cal faults lie on both sides and Scot­land in its po­lit­i­cal re­sponse might serve its own in­ter­ests bet­ter by keep­ing this in mind.

Stand­ing up for a peo­ple’s right to self­de­ter­mi­na­tion is the just and cor­rect thing to do. Democ­racy needs to be pro­tected, but con­sti­tu­tional con­sid­er­a­tions, as in Spain, not only also have to be re­spected, but are an in­escapable part there of see­ing the demo­cratic process through.

There is an­other rea­son why the Scot­tish Govern­ment might well want to take a slightly more tem­pered re­sponse to events in Cat­alo­nia.

How­ever the cur­rent cri­sis plays out, and most likely some com­pro­mise will be reached, Spain re­mains a ma­jor player in the Euro­pean Union.

Win­ning over Madrid’s sup­port for Scot­land’s fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with Europe given Brexit has not been easy. While signs of im­prove­ment in se­cur­ing that Spanish sup­port were be­com­ing ev­i­dent, it would be all too easy to sour or squan­der any gains with Madrid over Cat­alo­nia.

If Scot­land re­mains se­ri­ous about its own long-term in­de­pen­dence and Euro­pean as­pi­ra­tions, it may yet need ev­ery pow­er­ful ally it can muster. Just as Spain needs calm and clear heads right now in work­ing through its own con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis over Cat­alo­nia, so Scot­land needs to see Cat­alo­nia’s in­de­pen­dence hopes in the con­text of its own long-term Euro­pean game plan. Sol­i­dar­ity is one thing, strat­egy is some­thing else.

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