Catalan government announces date of indy referendum

The pro-sovereignty parties which form a majority in the Catalan parliament have jointly agreed the date and question of a referendum on Catalan independence.  The referendum is scheduled for 9 November 2014, and will comprise a two part question.

The first question will ask “Do you want Catalonia to become a state?”  (In the original Catalan: Vol que Catalunya esdevingui un estat?)  with two possible responses, yes or no.

Those who have voted yes to the first question will be asked a second: “In the affirmative case, do you want this state to be independent?”  (in the original Catalan, En cas afirmatiu, voleu que aquest estat sigui independent?)

The date and question for the referendum were agreed by the leaders of the CiU, ERC, ICV-EUiA, and CUP parties.   The parties held a joint press conference in the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan parliament, to announce the historic vote.

Artur Mas, president of the Catalan government and leader of the CiU said: “Everyone who wants a change of political status will be able to vote for it, and everyone who wants an independent state will be able to vote for that.” Mas thanked the “understanding, generosity, cooperation and sense of country” of all the parties that have signed the agreement.

He added, “We know that what we have in our hands has a great historical significance and a very important future. We had to live up to the occasion.”

Oriol Junqueras, leader of the ERC, the minority party in the coalition governing Catalonia, said that the referendum “had to be as inclusive as possible, had to give the opportunity to the majority of Catalan citizens and overcome and improve the current situation.”  He added: “We have agreed this formula, with one question in two parts, which permits the mobilisation of the majority of Catalan civil society and permits the pro-independence majority to achieve a clear victory.”

However the anti-independence parties and the Spanish government have reacted negatively to the news.  Alicia Sánchez Camacho, leader of the Partido Popular in Catalonia said:

“Artur Mas is deceiving the Catalans because he knows that the consultation will not be held because it is illegal and the Constitution does not permit it.  Today Mas has lied to the Catalans by promising a Catalan consultation…  Today is a day in which the Catalan Government has chosen confrontation and the division of the Catalans…  The Government of Spain will guarantee the unity and concord of all Spain.”

She added:  “The government of Spain does not negotiate with those who propose illegal acts such as Artur Mas and the rest of the politicians have done today.”

Meanwhile Jorge Fernández Díaz, the PP representative from Barcelona who holds the post of Spanish minister of the interior, said that today’s events in Catalonia were not welcome, and blamed “irresponsible representatives” – alluding to the CiU and the ERC.  Speaking to journalists in the Congress in Madrid, he guaranteed that the Spanish Government will not permit the referendum to take place, saying: “We’ve not all lost our common sense,” and adding that the referendum was “fundamentally inconstitutional”.

On Thursday evening, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy issued a statement condemning the decision of the Catalan Parliament to press ahead with a referendum.

He said: “The consultation is unconstitutional and will not be held.  It strikes against the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, for which reason my Government will not negotiate nor authorise something which is the property of all Spaniards.  It is for them to decide what is Spain and how it will be organised, no Government can cede what belongs to all Spaniards.”

He insisted that Catalonia must comply with the law, and added:  “This consultation will not be held.  That is beyond discussion and all negotiation.”

Despite the negative response from Madrid, the news that Catalonia’s pro-sovereignty parties have agreed a question and date for the referendum was welcomed by groups and organisations campaigning for independence.

Carme Forcadell, leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), which was one of the organisers of the recent Via Catalana during which 1.6 million Catalans formed a human chain to demand the right to self determination, said that the ANC was fully behind today’s announcement. Ms Forcadell added:

“9 November will also be a symbol of our freedom.  We will work even harder in order that there is a massive yes in November …  now we will work for a Yes and a Yes.”

Muriel Casals, leader the forum Òmnium which works to develop and encourage the use of the Catalan language, said:

“Today is a day of hope, 9 November will be a statement of victory for us.  We are about to become a normal country.”

Iberian omissions and replacements

I wasn’t going to do another update today, but as I was stuck indoors waiting for patient transport to bring the other half home from the hospital, I caught up on some news from Iberia.  The news contains an interesting omission, and an interesting replacement.

El País publishes an English language version once a week, El País in English.  This week’s edition has an English translation of Sunday’s major interview with Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy.  That’s the interview where he was asked three times about the “new blow to an independent Scotland’s EU hopes” which was touted all over the Scottish media the other day.

Here again is the link to the original Spanish version of the interview, and here is the link to the English translation published in El País in English.  I had intended to post the link here at some point so that Scottish people interested in what Rajoy really said could read the entire interview.

However from the point of view of Better Together, and their fond belief that Rajoy was making an important intervention in the debate on Scottish EU membership, it must come as an immense disappointment that El País’s English translators have entirely omitted the passages of the interview relating to Scotland.  The passages concerned were those where he declined three times to give an answer to the question about whether he’d veto Scottish membership of the EU.

There are only two possible explanations for the missing section of the interview, which contained such supposedly important news that was a major blow to Alex Salmond.  The first is that El País’s English translators took one look at Rajoy’s answers and decided that they made no sense in Spanish, never mind in translation.  Seriously, this guy gives interviews like a Johann Lamont who knows how to use subjunctive verbs.

The other reason is that what Rajoy said about Scotland is not news, not in Spain, and not anywhere in the English speaking world.  All he did was to confirm what la Moncloa has been saying from Day 1: that constitutionally Scotland and Catalonia are in very different situations.  The interview was as close a confirmation as we’re going to get of what those of us who keep a close eye on independence related developments in both Spain and the UK have been saying all along – Spain has no intention of vetoing Scottish membership of the EU.

So the passages could safely be omitted by the decidedly unionista El País as they add nothing new to any anti-independence campaign, whether in Spain or in the English speaking world.

The message to take from this is don’t believe what the UK press reports about Spain’s attitudes to an independent Scotland.

But it’s not all bad news for Better Together.  Scotland may become independent, but Iberia offers a replacement.  A group of Galician activists have started a petition to get David Cameron to accept Galicia as an integral part of the UK to replace Scotland if it goes.

If Westminster is sensible enough to accept the offer, the rUK would still contain a country which is mountainous, it rains all the time, where they play the bagpipes, and where they even have a Celtic football team of their own.  The food is better, the rUK fishing industry would get to blag most of the Atlantic fish stock quotas, and chippies could start selling octopus suppers.

Galicia even has an ancient diocese called Britonia, founded by migrants from Britain, which had a series of bishops with Welsh names and retained a distinctive British Celtic identity for many generations.  Admittedly the Britons migrated after the fall of the Roman Empire in order to escape the Anglosaxon invasions, but the Galicians are quite willing to put all that nastiness behind them.

Plus the Galicians get a shot at having an independence referendum of their own.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

It’s a win-win for everyone.  Except for Mariano Rajoy.

And finally.  Many thanks to everyone who asked after my partner’s health.  He’s made a fantastic recovery.

Every little helps

There’s only one thing Project Fear has for sure, and that’s an enormous barrel.  How else to explain their ability to keep scraping the bottom of it to come up with a new scare story.  It can’t be easy to come up with some convincing goods when you aim to produce a new fright every other day.

It’s not made any easier when your quality control is handled by policy wonks who think a ride on a fairground ghost train is a pants wetting journey into the terrifying unknown.  We get a lurid warning of impending doom all lit up in neon flashing lights, which on closer inspection turns out to be a poorly made plastic dummy worked by clearly visible strings.  But enough about Alistair Darling.

This week it’s supermarkets.  Undaunted by the fact that previous claims that we’d be paying more for the leckie, gas, and mobile phones were debunked even before the ghost train had passed the Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here sign, Better Together have been in touch with some supermarkets in search of pricing quotes that can be used to terrify us into voting no.  A couple of executives from Asda and Morrisons came up with some cheap mince.  Every little helps eh?

We shouldn’t blame the executives too much, at least not this time, their area of expertise is flogging baked beans.  Some over-enthusiastic journalists took their comments and twisted them out of context in order to create an unidentified item in the bagging area, which Better Together promptly decided was actually an unexploded bomb and not some offcuts of tripe.

A list of hypotheticals and unwarranted speculations turned magically into a fact.  Food is going to be more expensive if we vote for independence because fewer Scots eat vegetables and that will make them more expensive to deliver because they’ll form a smaller proportion of overall sales nationwide.  And it will cost a fortune to organise the security details and special cages to protect the petits pois from Scottish people who are afraid of legumes.

Surely however, by the same logic, since Scots eat more processed foods, then processed foods will form a larger volume of sales so will be cheaper to distribute.  Or am I missing something?  I thought this was supposed to be a scare story.  Independence would give us slightly cheaper chocolate digestives versus slightly more expensive broccoli, the vegetable spawn of Beelzebub.

But back to reality.  No supermarket chain has issued any statement saying that if Scotland becomes independent, they’ll put up prices.  In fact there are plenty of reasons why food prices in an independent Scotland could be lower than they are in the rest of the UK.

The story was comprehensively debunked, both by Business for Scotland and the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston, within hours of Better Together’s horsemeat lasagne hitting the supermarket shelves.

The intervention of Robert Peston was interesting.  It’s perhaps a sign that even the BBC, Better Together’s biggest cheerleaders, are beginning to despair of their lamentable excuse for a campaign.

And today Newsnet Scotland is reporting that they have contacted Morrisons, who denied that they were predicting higher food prices in an independent Scotland at all.  In fact the company admitted that it was possible that food prices could even fall.

Despite the scare story being dumped in the compost bin quicker than a mouthy MP can jump on a bandwagon, the Herald reports today that Magrit Curran is justifying her MP’s salary by demanding that Alex Salmond come clean on the price of beans in an independent Scotland.  Magrit is insistent that the weekly shop will be cheaper if Scotland stays part of the UK, and added that it’s a “devastating blow” to Yes Scotland because the White Paper did not give a detailed statement on the possible impact of independence on two for one offers on toilet duck.  Maybe it’s just Magrit who should BOGOF.

After Scottish independence food will of course be cheaper in the remainder of the UK, but only for people who are forced to get their weekly shopping from a food bank.  We can be sure there will be increasing numbers of those if we vote no.

The number of food banks in the UK doubled over the last year.  Between April and September this year, the number of people approaching the Trussell Trust for help tripled.  The Trust runs over 400 food banks across the UK.  A third of those who needed help were families with children.  The Trussell Trust alone helped to feed 350,000 people, and this doesn’t count the many thousands who approached other organisations running food banks.

Stagnating wages, increases in the cost of living, and cuts to benefits are forcing thousands of citizens of a rich developed country to resort to food banks to feed their kids, but the Trussell Trust reported that the problems of poverty in the UK are so deep that increasing numbers of those they help are rejecting offers of food that must be prepared and cooked.  They just can’t afford the fuel bills.  Organisations running food banks put the increase in demand for their services very squarely down to the changes to benefits policies introduced by the UK government.

Labour has no clear solution to this problem.  In fact they refuse to commit to reversing the changes to the benefits system introduced by the Coalition.  There will still be food banks in the UK even with a Labour government in power.  The only certainty from the supermarkets is that food prices will continue to rise, and the only certainty from the Westminster parties is that increasing numbers of families will still have to resort to food banks while a tiny minority grow increasingly rich.

There is no truth to Project Fear’s claim about food prices in an independent Scotland.  But even if there were, and food was slightly more expensive if we reject Westminster’s policies, what sort of country would you prefer to live in?  One where more and more of us subsist on poverty wages and sub-poverty benefits, or one where food was slightly more expensive but everyone has enough of an income to feed, heat and clothe themselves adequately?

I’d rather live with dignity, even if it means paying 2p more for a tin of beans.

What Rajoy is still not saying

There’s something the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy is still not saying, not even after being asked three times.  On Sunday, El País newspaper published a major interview with Rajoy.  It was a wide ranging interview, covering many topics, however naturally Catalonia and Scotland loomed large in the interviewer’s list of questions to ask.  The reporter asked Rajoy three times whether he would veto Scottish membership of the EU, and three times Rajoy declined to say that he would.

Most interestingly of all we got a statement to the reverse effect.  Rajoy needs a reason to exercise a veto against Scottish membership, but he said he doesn’t have one.  Some of us have been saying all along that Rajoy has no intention of vetoing Scottish membership of the EU, contrary to the headlines in some of our national newspapers and broadcasters of late.

But first of all, I’ll let you read for yourselves exactly what Rajoy had to say about Scotland, together with the previous question and answer in the interview, which relates to Catalonia and is linked to his answers on Scotland.

I checked the translation with a couple of native Spanish speakers, because the turgid speechifying of Mariano Rajoy is not noted for its fine rhetoric.  There’s a similar difficulty when trying to translate Johann Lamont’s interviews into Spanish.  Or there would be, but I’ve never actually been that short of better things to with my time.

The translation is not elegant, I’ve tried to keep it as literal as possible, the better for you to judge for yourselves what Rajoy was trying to say.  Here is the relevant part of the interview in the original Spanish followed at the end by my translation.

VERSIÓN ORIGINAL

El País:  Hay problemas graves que afronta este país: Cataluña, la crisis de la Monarquía, la crisis del conjunto de las instituciones españolas, en el sistema político. Las tres crisis requerirían acciones decididas por su parte como jefe del Gobierno y en las tres no vemos encima de la mesa ninguna iniciativa clara. ¿Cuál es su idea de actuación respecto al problema de Cataluña?

Rajoy: Cataluña es uno de los temas más importantes que tenemos planteados en este momento y la posición que yo defiendo como dirigente político, como miembro del PP y como español es sobradamente conocida. España es la nación más antigua de Europa, la que consiguió hace más siglos su unidad. Nunca Cataluña y el resto de España han vivido separados. Los lazos que nos unen son de todo tipo, lazos afectivos, históricos, comerciales, personales… y mi posición en ese sentido está clara. Como presidente del Gobierno yo tengo algunas obligaciones, desde luego cumplir y hacer cumplir la ley. Es decir, yo no puedo autorizar un referéndum en Cataluña. No quiero, pero es que además no puedo, yo no podría autorizar un referéndum por ejemplo como el que hay en Escocia por la sencilla razón de que la soberanía nacional le corresponde al pueblo español, según dice la Constitución. Y por tanto, si no hubiera una reforma de la Constitución, nunca podría un Gobierno, ni siquiera el Parlamento, autorizar un referéndum como el que se está planteando en Escocia. Es sorprendente que todavía haya quien no se haya dado cuenta de algo tan simple como eso. Yo lo único que quiero decir es que nunca me he negado a hablar. De hecho lo hice en numerosas ocasiones, pero es evidente que yo tengo que cumplir mis obligaciones como presidente del Gobierno y las cumpliré. Si quieren reformar la Constitución existen procedimientos para ello.

El País: Hablando de Escocia, ¿va a utilizar su veto para impedir que Escocia sea un miembro de la Unión Europea si vota por la independencia?

Rajoy: Los casos de Escocia y de Cataluña son muy distintos. El Reino Unido no tiene Constitución escrita. Pero además el derecho de autodeterminación solo se reconocía, que yo recuerde, en tres constituciones: la de la URSS, la de Yugoslavia y la de Etiopía. Por otra parte es bastante razonable que ningún país se ponga una cláusula de esas características. Yo lo único que quiero decir es que esto es un dato, no es un juicio de valor ni una opinión: Cualquier parte de un país integrado en la UE que se va de ese país, lógicamente queda fuera de la UE, no porque lo diga yo sino porque lo dicen los tratados.

El País: ¿Utilizaría su veto en la UE?

Rajoy: Yo no puedo utilizar mi veto para nada. Solamente podría utilizar el veto para que no se fuera. Porque es que no es un problema de veto. Es que automáticamente se va y por tanto no puedo vetar, es que se va.

El País: Me refiero a vetar su acceso posterior.

Rajoy: Tendría que ponerse a la cola. Estaríamos en otra historia. No vamos a adelantar acontecimientos.

TRANSLATION

El País: There are serious problems facing this country: Catalonia, the crisis of the monarchy, the crisis of the set of Spanish institutions, in the political system.  The three crises would require decisive actions on your part as head of the government, and on the three we do not see any clear initiative on the table.  What is your idea of action with respect to the problem of Catalonia?

Rajoy:  Catalonia is one of the most important topics we face at the moment, and the position which I defend as a political leader, as a member of the Partido Popular, and as a Spaniard, is abundantly known.  Spain is Europe’s most ancient nation, which achieved its unity centuries ago.  Catalonia and the rest of Spain have never lived apart.  The links which unite us are of every sort, links of affection, history, business, personal… and my position in that sense is clear.  As president of the Government I have certain obligations, naturally to comply with and ensure compliance with the law.  That is to say, I cannot authorise a referendum in Catalonia.  I don’t want to, but that’s beside the point, I can’t, I don’t want to authorise a referendum for example like that in Scotland for the simple reason that national sovereignty corresponds to the Spanish people, according to the Constitution.  And therefore, if there were no change to the Constitution, a government, or even a parliament, would never be able to authorise a referendum like that which is planned in Scotland.  It is surprising that there are still those who have not realised something as simple as that.  For myself, the only thing I want to say is that I have never refused to talk.  In fact I have done so on numerous occasions, but it’s obvious that I have to fulfil my obligations as president of the Government, and I will fulfil them.  If they want to change the Constitution procedures exist for that.

El País:  Talking of Scotland, are you going to use your veto in order to prevent Scotland becoming a member of the EU if it votes for independence?

Rajoy:  The cases of Scotland and Catalonia are very different.  The United Kingdom doesn’t have a written constitution.  But besides the right to self-determination was recognised in, as I recall, only three constitutions: that of the USSR, that of Yugoslavia, and that of Ethiopia.  On the other hand it’s quite reasonable that no country should have a clause with those characteristics.  The only thing I want to say is that this is a fact, not a court ruling or an opinion: Any part of a country integrated within the EU which leaves that country, logically is left outside the EU, not because I say so but because the treaties say it.

El País:  Would you use your veto in the EU?

Rajoy:  I can’t use my veto for nothing.  I could only use the veto so that it were not out.  Because it’s that this is not a problem of veto.  It’s that it automatically leaves and therefore I can’t veto it, it’s that it leaves.

El País: I am referring to its later accession.

Rajoy:  It would have to put itself in the queue.  We would be in another story.  We’re not going to get ahead of events.

Mariano Rajoy is Galician.  The popular stereotype of Galicians is that they never say quite what they mean, and you have to read between the lines of their answers.  This is not true of all Galicians, not by a long chalk, but it is very true of Mariano Rajoy.

Anyway, here’s what I took from Rajoy’s remarks.

The first time in the interview that he was asked whether he would veto Scottish membership of the EU, he embarked upon an explanation of why Scotland and Catalonia were not comparable cases.  He also said that it was perfectly reasonable for a state to have a constitution that ruled out the independence of any part of its current territory.

The implication is that the UK is being unreasonable and the odd one out in Europe – again – for allowing Scotland to hold a referendum and opening this whole secesionistas y rupturistas can of worms for him.  I get the sense that the recent briefings from the Tories in the UK press that the No campaign is doomed to lose have made their way to Partido Popular ears.

Rajoy then went on to address a set of circumstances that aren’t actually going to arise, saying that a country which declared independence from an EU member state was left outside the EU and asserted it said as much in EU treaties.  I’m not entirely certain that is what the EU treaties say.  The European Commission has repeatedly said that it will only ever comment on a specific scenario if requested to do so by a member state, an offer Rajoy and Cameron have both declined.

That aside, Scotland won’t be declaring independence from an EU member state without having negotiated with the EU beforehand, while it’s still a part of the UK and the EU, but after a yes vote has made independence a certainty.  Rajoy can be accused of many things, but he certainly isn’t ignorant of that fact.  He’s just hoping that no one else in Spain has noticed.  He’s not about to address Scotland’s particular set of circumstances as he doesn’t want to give the Catalans any ideas.

The noticeable omission from the response was any attempt to answer the question about whether Rajoy would veto Scottish membership of the EU.

So the interviewer tried again.  This time the answer was confused, and confusing, because Rajoy was trying to avoid making a clear statement about how Spain will respond in the event of a yes vote in the Scottish referendum, a yes vote that his pal Davie told him just a year ago wasn’t going to happen.  But now he’s hearing from his friends in the Tory party that Scotland might go independent after all.  He’s acutely aware that Catalonia may well have its independence referendum yet, and his words could come back to haunt him.

However Rajoy pretty much gives us a statement that Scotland gives Spain no reason to exercise a veto on EU membership.  “I can’t use my veto for nothing,” he said.  Because as he’d already made clear in his own baroquely opaque way, Scotland is a totally different case.  Scotland cannot be vetoed for the reason he will veto Catalonia, and Madrid gains nothing but loses some significant advantages if it vetos Scotland’s membership of the EU.  He’s preparing Spanish opinion for 19th September 2014, when he could well be explaining to the Spanish papers why Spain will welcome Scotland with open arms, but he’ll still have no truck with those Catalans.

Then he made a statement that got me scratching my wee heid at first. Solamente podría utilizar el veto para que no se fuera translates as “I could only use the veto so that it [Scotland] wasn’t out.”  What he meant was that this entire situation could have been avoided if Scotland’s right to an independence referendum could have been vetoed at an EU level.

Thankfully for us, he doesn’t have that power, despite Partido Popular attempts to build a European wide anti-independence alliance.  Now Rajoy is trying to make the best of the poor cards he’s got left to play, and he’s feeling very let down by Cameron.

He returned to the assertion that Scotland would have left the EU, because he doesn’t want to discuss what happens at an EU level after a yes vote but before Scottish independence.  Again he didn’t answer the question about whether Spain would veto Scotland.

So the interviewer made a third attempt, and explicitly asked whether Rajoy would veto Scottish membership of the EU, even if Scotland were applying for membership from outside the EU.  And yet again we got no answer, instead we were told that we’d be in a different set of circumstances.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

There you have it.  As clear a statement from Rajoy as we’re going to get that Spain gains nothing by vetoing Scotland, and will create no obstacles to Scottish membership of the EU after a yes vote next September.  He’s not about to do Westminster any favours.

The difference between solidarity and stupid

Ever seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian?  It’s a movie classic.  In terms of the sheer density of surrealist ridiculousness contained in every scene it’s rivalled only by any video ever released by the Better Together campaign.  The only real difference is that Life of Brian is funny on purpose.

The Labour wing of the increasingly fractuous Better Together Except For Thae Basterts I’ll Not Be Seen On The Same Platform With campaign has apparently also spotted the similarity between the doughty struggle to save the Union and the comedy genius of Monty Python.  It can be the only explanation for why Wee Dougie Alexander wants Scotland to play the role of the Judean People’s Front Crack Suicide Squad at the end of the fillum.

The Scottish Labour People’s Front Crack Suicide Squad are the ones who turned up at the end of the movie, when Brian was being crucified, yelled “Attack!” and then stabbed themselves.  This is pretty much what Labour wants Scots to do in order to demonstrate our solidarity with people in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, who are also being crucified by Tory governments.  At least it’s what Labour calls solidarity.

It’s already been demonstrated that the outcome of Westminster General elections is not greatly affected by how Scotland votes.  Even if Scotland doesn’t return a single Tory MP, we cannot protect communities in the rest of the UK from Tory governments.  England outweighs the rest of the UK in terms of population by a very considerable margin, the Scottish vote can only make a difference to a Parliamentary majority if the parties achieve very similar numbers of seats in England.  That doesn’t happen very often, and when it does happen it tends to produce governments with wafer thin majorities that don’t last the full term.

Labour demands that we make a futile gesture anyway, it’s the noble and self-sacrificing thing to do.  Like locking yourself in the garden shed for 27 years in solidarity with Nelson Mandela.  Mind you, if Ian Davidson promised to lock himself in his shed for 27 years it could well be a vote winner, sadly it’s not going to happen.

It’s not even as though Labour’s vision has a very positive view of those we’re supposed to be showing solidarity with.  It seems Labour wants us to vote no so that Labour supporters in the rest of the UK can say, “The Tories are basterts, but I feel much better about myself knowing that people in Scotland are having a crap time of it too.”

Which means that Labour regards solidarity as something akin to oil revenues, they should only flow from north to south of the Border.  True solidarity would see Labour supporters in England welcoming the fact that Scotland has an escape route from the Tory menace, despite it being an escape route they cannot take themselves.  Solidarity in this instance would be them saying, “Flee as fast as your hairy wee Caledonian legs can carry you mate.”

And in fact a not insignificant number of them are of this opinion, because unlike the Labour party in Scotland they know what solidarity means.

We are all human beings with the same worries and struggles. What Dundee faces, Liverpool faces. This is a truism.  And it also applies to Dublin and a whole lot of other places that aren’t part of the UK.  But let’s gloss over the subversive thought that solidarity also applies to non UK passport holders.

Imagine a group of friends trapped in a cave behind a rockfall, one is much smaller and skinnier than the rest.  There’s a narrow space between the fallen rocks that’s just big enough for the wee yin to crawl through.  There’s not enough room for the bigger ones to follow and the rocks are too massive to shift.  They’ll have to go into the depths of the cave in the hope of finding another exit.

Does the wee yin stay in the cave trapped with the rest, or does she make her escape and go and get help?

Labour wants us all to stay in the cave, so no one ever goes for help.  That’s not solidarity.  That’s stupidity.

It’s also insulting, because Labour tells us that by squeezing out through the rockfall wee skinny Scotland is abandoning her English friends, and will just bugger off to watch telly that can’t receive Dr Who or Strictly instead of suffering the deprivations of Conservative rockfalls.  The selfish article.

In fact an independent Scotland will be constructing a politics that isn’t constrained by Westminster’s love affair with American neoliberalism, one that can tackle social inequalities and provide a sustainable future for all.  That’s a vision of independence many of us share, one which will allow us to shout, “Haw here’s a Tory free exit over here,” down an open shaft.  Then we can help our English, Welsh, and Northern Irish friends towards a way out of their own.

But there’s another Tory related issue that Labour wants us to overlook when we consider our vote in September next year.  And it’s this, in order to get those much sought after majorities which will allow Labour to usher in a golden era of government with lashings of solidarity jam, Labour has to adopt policies that appeal to Tory voters.

It’s the simple arithmetic of Westminster.  The party which attracts the votes of swing voters in Labour-Conservative marginal seats is the party which forms the government.  The only way Labour can do that is by dressing in Tory clothes.  So we end up with a Labour party which is, to all practical intents and purposes, identical to the Conservatives.  13 years of Blair and Brown taught us that.

Labour wants Scotland to stay in the cave along with opponents of the Tories in the rest of the UK.  It’s not like they have any clear idea of how to get us all out, there’s no Labour plan to guide us anywhere but deeper and deeper into the bowels of austerity.  They quite like it down there.

That’s the choice facing Scotland.  We can squeeze out through an exit that no one else can use but which might shine enough of a light to let others find their own escape – or we can all give up hope and resign ourselves to gloom forever.

True solidarity delivers hope.  That’s why I’ll be voting Yes.

Comparing Catalonia and Scotland: Part 4, Territorial Extent

This one is sort of the opposite of the language story.  Scotland is a fearsomely complex story involving several different languages and some highly confused social attitudes, whereas in Catalonia you can sum it up as “they speak Catalan”.  However defining the territorial extent of the Catalan lands requires a bit of explanation, whereas determining the territorial extent of Scottish lands can be summed up as “eh … Scotland”.

Scotland is well defined.  Despite a Scottish worldwide diaspora numbering in the tens of millions, there are no other countries, territories, provinces, or regions which are predominantly inhabited by people who define themselves as Scottish and where there are political movements seeking unification with Scotland.  The land of the Scots is Scotland, whose only land border is one of the oldest established national frontiers in Europe.  Minor historical quirks like Berwick aside, that’s all there is to say on the matter.  Scotland has no territorial claims.

Scottish independence may have an effect on the debate within Northern Ireland about its constitutional future, however there is no prospect of Northern Ireland uniting with an independent Scotland despite the occasional petulant shriek of “well you can just jolly well take Northern Ireland with you” from south of the Border.

The great majority in Northern Ireland don’t want to be part of Scotland, and hardly anyone in Scotland would welcome Northern Ireland as a new part of Scotland.  Scotland has a vested interest in ensuring the continuing success of the Northern Irish peace process.  We’ve got quite enough problems with our own sectarian loons getting upset about fitba matches, we certainly don’t want to encourage them with international territorial disputes.

There are only two semi-serious arguments about Scotland’s territorial extent.  Both come under the heading of unionist scaremongering.  In fact they’re not serious at all, but in a universe where Alan Cochrane is a political commentator and Alistair Carmichael is a bruiser, the plausibility bar has already been set pretty low.

These arguments relate to claims that Westminster might cling on to some bits of Scotland, not that Scotland might have designs on bits of England or Ireland.  There’s the argument about Westminster keeping Faslane as a sovereign base territory, and the hoary old claim that Shetland, Orkney and the North Sea oil might not want anything to do with the rest of Scotland if we decide to govern ourselves.

This second claim was invented in the 1970s by Westminster politicians who wanted to put Scotland off voting for Home Rule and who got friendly journalists and backbench MPs to run their wee fairy story in the papers so they couldn’t be directly blamed on Westminster.  There’s never been any evidence to back up the assertion that Northern Islanders do not regard themselves as Scottish.  However that didn’t stop Alistair Carmichael and Tavish Scott – two typically Norwegian names there – trotting out it out again toward the end of last year.

Of course Westminster has no particular affection for the inhabitants of Orkney and Shetland over those of Auchtermuchty or Shotts.  It’s the oil they’re after.  Mind you, international law says that even if Westminster did hang on to Shetland and Orkney, Scotland would keep the oil fields anyway.

We still don’t know which joker thought it was a good idea to threaten Scotland with the annexation of Faslane, but since the only way the rUK could maintain Faslane as a functioning nuclear sub base would be with the active cooperation of an independent Scotland, it’s about as likely to happen as Mariano Rajoy learning the words to els Segadors and pledging allegiance to Barcelona FC.

The current Catalan independence debate is taking place in the Generalitat de Catalunya, the lands once ruled by the Count of Barcelona.  Like Scotland this is also a well defined territory, whose current borders date back to the Middle Ages – apart from the French department of Pyrenees Oriental with its capital in Perpinyà / Perpignan, known in Catalan as Catalunya Nord.

The Spanish monarch ceded these northernmost districts of Catalonia to the King of France in 1659 after losing a war with France for control of the Netherlands.  It wasn’t about control of the tulip trade, or access to Amsterdam coffeeshops, it was some sort of spillover from the 30 Years War.  Whatever it was it had bugger all to do with Catalonia, but Catalonia had to pay for it in terms of territory.

Although many Catalans would quite like to get Catalunya Nord back, its French status is not a live issue, no one’s going to fall out with France over it.  Nowadays a large majority of its population speak only French and although many have sympathies with Catalan independence aspirations south of the border, there is no significant political demand for reunification.

The old Generalitat de Catalunya was originally one of the realms of the monarchy of Aragon.  The others were Aragon itself, centred around the city of Zaragoza (Saragossa in Catalan, which was also the old name in English), the Kingdom of Valencia, the Kingdom of Mallorca, and the island of Sardinia which is now a part of Italy.  All the rest are part of modern Spain.

The Catalan language still has a presence in all these areas.  In the case of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, Catalan remains the majority language although it is now threatened by the spread of Spanish as an everyday spoken tongue.  In Aragon there is a strip of Catalan speaking towns and villages running the length of Aragon’s border with Catalonia, an area known as La Franja.  In Sardinia, the Catalan language has almost disappeared, although it’s still spoken by many residents of the town of L’Alguer (Alghero in Italian).

Outside the Kingdom of Aragon was the tiny Principality of Andorra, which has retained its independence for over 1000 years.  Its inhabitants are Catalan speaking and proudly identify as Catalans as well as Andorrans.  They are also extremely proud of their small country’s success in maintaining its independence, and fully intend to keep it that way.

All these territories are considered by Catalans to form els Paissos Catalans ‘the Catalan Countries’.  The big unanswerable question about the independence of Catalonia would be what happens in the other Paissos Catalans.  As I explained in the article on language, the Catalan language is closely tied to a Catalan sense of identity.  The extent of the Catalan language correlates closely with the territorial extent of Catalan national sentiment.  This is why the Partido Popular which currently governs in Aragon, Valencia and the Balearics is so keen to assert that the local varieties of Catalan are not in fact Catalan at all.

Support for independence or pro-Catalan sovereignty in Valencia, the Balearics and La Franja is far less pronounced than in Catalonia itself, however it is still politically significant.  The Coalició Compromís, the coalition of Valencian parties supporting Catalan sovereignty, is the third largest party in the Valencian parliament with six deputies, and over 280 local councillors throughout the Valencian Community.  The coalition of progressive and pro-Catalan sovereignty parties in the Balearics has four seats in the Balearics parliament.

For Westminster and Scotland, Scottish independence finishes once and for all with the “Scottish Question” in Westminster politics.  However the independence of Catalonia would not necessarily end the “Catalan Question” for la Moncloa, the seat of the Spanish government.

The independence of Catalonia would most likely strengthen political demands in Valencia and the Balearics for greater autonomy or for closer links with the newly independent Catalonia.  It would also most likely create an irresistible push towards independence in the Basque Country, and lead to greater calls for autonomy or self-determination in Galicia and the Canary Islands.  Far from ending questions of “secession” for Madrid, Catalan independence would open the door to a whole new range of demands.

This helps to explain the vehement reaction from la Moncloa to Catalonia’s independence movement.   However in the intransigence of its response, Madrid is most likely storing up future problems for itself.

Comparing Catalonia and Scotland: Part 3, Public Opinion

In Scotland the independence campaign is very much a battle for public opinion, and a struggle to get the message of the positive benefits of independence out to a population whose traditional media outlets are almost universally active supporters of the Union.

The referendum campaign began with a No campaign which complacently looked on opinion polls showing consistent majorities against independence and decided that they could close the folder on the Scottish question, the result was already in the bag.  That’s why the UK government’s strategy was headed by George Osborne, bagging and folding in a department store was his only real life work experience before he went into politics.

It’s quite probably the case that the Westminster government only conceded to the referendum in the first place because it thought it was going to win easily.  If they thought they were going to lose, they’d have made a more concerted attempt to prevent independence by offering a more comprehensive devolution package while refusing to concede that Holyrood had the right to hold the referendum.

However UK government felt so confident that Scottish people are proud little Union flag wavers at heart that they allowed us to have an independence referendum that turned out not to be about questions of national identity after all – instead it turned into a debate about democracy, and inequalities, and what sort of future would serve ordinary people in Scotland best.  And on those questions the existing constitutional settlement has nothing to offer.

Scottish public opinion seems to be far less decided than the no majority in opinion polls would suggest.  That no majority is extremely fragile, and is easily persuadable to switch sides.  The result of the Scottish referendum is by no means a foregone conclusion, which a hitherto complacent Better Together has belatedly shown slight signs of recognising.

Perhaps it’s just me, but of late Project Fear seems to have undergone something of a gear change.  It’s more Project Mass Hysteria, it’s what happens when you fear that Plan A hasn’t worked but Plan B turned out to be Alistair Carmichael.

There’s still all to play for in the independence campaign.  The Yes campaign has spent the past year building a network of tens of thousands of activists and volunteers.  Over the coming months they will step up the door to door canvassing, the local events, and the face to face discussion that can overcome the media barrage of unionism.   All Project Fear has to counter this is a dispirited and diminishing band of unionist party members.

Between now and September 2014, the challenge for the Scottish independence campaign will be to persuade the undecided, and those whose support for continuing Westminster government is weak or doubting.  Once public opinion is secured, and expressed in the referendum vote, independence will follow.

Catalan public opinion is already made up and has decided on independence, the independence campaign must now find a political route that will allow Catalan statehood to become a reality.    The challenge for the Catalan independence campaign is to find a way out of the current impasse: Catalonia’s insistence on its right to decide its own future, and the Spanish government’s insistence that Catalonia has no such right.

There’s still no certainty about when Catalonia will have a vote, never mind agreement on details like the exact form of the question, but all opinion polls show large majorities in favour of independence.  More people are in favour of independence than the combined total of those opposed, those who don’t know, and those who say they’ll not vote.  The only question is just how large the pro-independence majority will be.

An opinion poll published by Cadena Ser in September found that 52% would vote in favour of independence, with 24% opposed.  15.9% were undecided or wouldn’t say, while a further 7.7% had decided not to vote.  Discounting the don’t knows and the abstainers, that would produce a referendum result of Yes 68.4%, No 31.6%.

A more recent poll, published on 22 November, found that 54.7% were in favour of independence, with 22.1% against.  15.7% said they would abstain, while the remainder were don’t-knows or wouldn’t-says.  This poll actually reported a slight decrease in support for independence (although within margin of error) from the previous poll in the series.  Again discounting the don’t knows and won’t says, it produces a hypothetical referendum result of  71.2% Yes, 28.8% No.

Whatever the exact numbers the polls paint a consistent picture.  By a substantial margin, the Catalan Yes campaign has already won over public opinion.

The fact that Catalans have already made their minds up is precisely why Madrid is so set against a referendum.  It’s already lost a referendum campaign before it’s even begun.  A Catalan Millor Junts campaign would be duffed up by els independentistes far more comprehensively than Nicola Sturgeon duffed up Alistair Carmichael.  And it wouldn’t even have such a tame media to rely on.  So you can see why Madrid is keen to avoid it, it wouldn’t be at all pretty from its point of view, although those who delight in schadenfreude would love it.

The massive and enthusiastic public support for independence was fully displayed in la Via Catalana in September this year, when over 1.6 million Catalans formed a human chain stretching across Catalonia from the French frontier to the Valencian Community.  Catalans know how to party, they also know how to demonstrate.

Following the event, the Partido Popular’s leader in Catalunya, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, sniffed that her party (with its 19 seats in the 135 seat Catalan Parliament) represented the silent majority of Catalans.  She probably didn’t mean those who did not especially relish standing in the sun in 30º temperatures along a stretch of motorway in order to prove a point, but were quite likely to vote yes anyway.

It only left her open to the contemptuous response: Let us have a vote then we’ll find out who’s the majority.

Madrid is growing nervous of external developments that may upset its increasingly desperate attempts to fend off the growing clamour from Catalans for the right to vote – like the possibility that the Scots may just vote Yes after all, despite all the assurances the Partido Popular heard from friendly Tories that it wasn’t going to happen.

Scotland can probably expect to hear a bit more from Mr Rajoy and his friends over the coming months.

Comparing Catalonia and Scotland: Part 2, language

This is an issue where there are profound differences between Catalonia and Scotland.  This is a very long post, because it’s a complex subject, and because I make no apologies for being a linguistic anorak.  I’m not going to ask you to indulge me, I fully intend to indulge myself.

The fate of the Catalan language is a major factor in the Catalan independence debate.  In the Scottish debate, we’re far more exercised about whether we’ll still be able to watch Dr Who (we will, I’ve been in the Tardis and seen the future) than the future of Scotland’s traditional languages.

Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese all descend from the Latin introduced into the Iberian peninsula during Roman times.  Due to the many similarities between these closely related languages, it’s not that difficult for a Spanish speaker to acquire a working knowledge of Catalan (or Portuguese).  Strangely this doesn’t appear to be the opinion of the average Spanish speaker with Partido Popular affiliations, who regards Catalan as more  incomprehensible than Klingon with a speech defect – and usually considers it of less practical use.

Funnily enough, this is also the opinion that quite a few English speakers have about Scots even though Scots and English are also closely related.  But then there’s something about having English as a native language that turns bilingualism into as much of an achievement as solving a Rubik’s cube in the pitch dark while handcuffed to a serial fondler.

Catalan is spoken by around 9.5 million people, and is understood by some 2 million more.  Many of these live outside the borders of Catalonia, in areas considered by Catalans to form a part of els Paissos Catalans ‘the Catalan countries’.  Catalonia itself has a population of about 7.5 million, 6.5 million understand Catalan and slightly less than 6 million speak it.  The remainder are largely Spanish speaking.

This gives the Catalan language a demographic weight which greatly exceeds that of Scotland’s 58,000 Gaelic speakers or the 1.5 million speakers of Scots.  It also has a political influence which is vastly more significant.

Catalan politicians make policy statements about ensuring that Catalan medium education is compulsory for all and demanding that commercial organisations provide signage and product packaging in Catalan.  In Scotland the most timid proposal to install bilingual Gaelic-English signs in railway stations still provokes howls of uncomprehending outrage about “imposing minority languages” on everyone with the supposed good sense to speak only English.  Scots are slowly getting over our linguistic cultural cringe, but only slowly.  Catalans have no linguistic cringe at all.

Scottish attitudes to our native languages strike Catalans as deeply bizarre and very confusing.  To be fair, most Scottish people are pretty confused by Scotland’s rich and complex linguistic heritage too.  We prefer to treat our national languages like beloved elderly relatives.  We want to make sure they live in a comfortable care home, but don’t dare suggest that they come to live with us.  It’s hardly surprising we don’t know that much about them.

On the other hand Catalan is fit, active, and quite capable of abseiling down the outside of La Sagrada Família.  It is not threatened with extinction in the way Gaelic or Scots are, but it faces a direct threat in the form of policies of the Spanish government which could lead to Spanish replacing Catalan as the everyday language.

Language plays a very different role in the national identity of each country.  The Catalan language is central to Catalan identity.  A Scottish identity is not tied to a single language.  Scotland is a multilingual nation, and has been for all of its recorded history.

There are many who believe that Gaelic is Scotland’s only “true” national language, but there is no law which says that a nation can have only one national language.  And anyway, if there was, as an independent nation Scotland could rewrite that law to suit itself.  Scotland has three national languages, Gaelic, Scots and English.  But it’s not wrong to say that Scotland’s confused and complex attitudes to Scottish languages reflect the confused and complex story of the various languages that have ebbed and flowed across the country.

Gaelic is a Celtic language belonging to the Goidelic branch of that family, and is closely related to Irish and Manx (with which it is partially mutually intelligible). It is somewhat more distantly related to Welsh, Cornish, and Breton, and probably the extinct Pictish as well, which collectively form the Brittonic branch of the Celtic family.

To simplify quite a lot, Gaelic originated in Ireland, and gained a foothold in Argyll and Galloway in the late Roman period.  Scotland entered history as a Gaelic speaking polity centred on the area of modern Argyll, which gradually extended its political, cultural and linguistic influence over the entire northern third of the island of Britain, replacing Pictish and Old Welsh varieties of Celtic.  By the time Scotland reached its modern territorial extent, around the year 1000, Gaelic was the only spoken language everywhere north of the Clyde Forth line, and overwhelmingly dominant west of a line drawn approximately from Gretna to east of Edinburgh.

Despite its ancient history and the crucial role it played in the formation of the Scottish nation and the Scottish state, Gaelic cannot play the same role in modern Scotland as Catalan does in Catalonia.  This is not just because it has declined in number of speakers, but also because it must share the title of national language with Scots and Scottish Standard English.

Scottish Standard English is probably easier to deal with first.  It has already effectively declared independence from other varieties of Standard English and is well described in linguistics textbooks.  It is a strikingly distinct variety of Standard English proper only to Scotland, and as such is a national language of Scotland.  But there’s no Catalan Standard Spanish, most Catalans would see such a thing as a contradiction in terms.  There is only the Standard Spanish of the Spanish state, regulated by la Real Academia.

The existence of Scottish Standard English is one of the reasons which leads to so much confusion in the debate about whether Scots is a language in its own right or a dialect of English.  Most linguists have no difficulty accepting Scots as a language, moreover one which is easy to distinguish from the general run of English dialects.  But Scottish public opinion is far less convinced.

Scots descends from the Northumbrian dialect of early Middle English.  Standard English from the dialect of the East Midlands.  Northumbrian Middle English displaced Gaelic from much of Lowland Scotland during the Middle Ages, spreading out from the newly founded burghs which attracted thousands of settlers from northern England, Flanders, and even further afield.  The common language was a northern dialect of early Middle English.  Prior to this expansion Northumbrian Middle English had been confined to parts of the Lothians and Borders.

There was no compulsion on Lowland Gaelic speakers to adopt Inglis, as it was called.  They took up the new language as it was the effective language of trade and wider communication.  Increasingly it became the means of preferment and advancement as the Scottish state turned its back on its Gaelic roots.  But it may also be true that like modern Scots they had weak language loyalty, retaining a folk memory of a time when their ancestors had spoken Welsh or Pictish.  For some that may not have been in such a remote and distant past.  Old Welsh clung on as a spoken language in some of the remoter parts of the Southern Uplands perhaps as late as the early 1200s.

A number of important linguistic changes occurred during the period following the Scottish Wars of Independence, affecting pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.  These changes led to the Inglis of Scotland becoming clearly differentiated from its southern relative.  Eventually it became the state language of Scotland, under the name Scots.  It was on course to evolve into a standard written language quite distinct from English, but history and politics intervened.

Despite the spread of Scots, Gaelic remained widespread and was still spoken by over half the Scottish population perhaps as late as the time of the Reformation.  However it was increasingly confined to the more mountainous north and west, the region traditionally known as the Highlands.  Gaelic lost prestige, and the Scottish state was more than occasionally hostile to it, an attitude which strengthened with the post-Reformation association of the Gaelic language with Roman Catholicism.  The Reformation also saw the introduction of written English in the form of the English language translation of the Bible.

Gaelic came to be regarded as proper only to the Highlands, although it was still spoken in Galloway and South Ayrshire until as late as the 18th century.  Lowland Scotland is lowpin with Gaelic place names, but a surprising number of residents of places like Dysart (an Dìseart ‘the hermitage’) Airdrie (an t-Àrd Ruigh ‘the high foothill’) or Bellahouston (Baile Uisdein ‘Hugh’s town’) will still deny that they have any connection to Gaelic.

The Clearances of the 19th century devastated the remaining Gaelic speaking heartlands.  The language experienced a demographic collapse, and although elderly native speakers could still be found throughout the Highlands right into the second half of the 20th century, by the 21st century Gaelic speaking communities were largely confined to the islands.

Efforts to revitalise the language have had limited success.  Gaelic enjoys a higher public profile than in the past, and the language is attracting increasing numbers of language learners.  The most recent census showed that there is a small but welcome increase in the number of children who are acquiring the language.  And there are also encouraging signs that the language is developing looser networks of speakers in other parts of Scotland, often centred around a Gaelic medium school.

We’re confused about the role Gaelic played in our history.  We’re even more confused about Scots.  Scottish people naturally compare Scots with Scottish Standard English, which is after all the form of English used in Scotland.  This means Scottish people perceive the Scots language to be far more similar to English than non-Scottish people do because Scottish Standard English is itself the result of language contact between Scots and English and has absorbed many features from Scots.

Scottish Standard English is a historically southern variety of English imported into Scotland after the Union.  It is pronounced with the phonological system of Scots, and has borrowed a number of Scots words and quite a lot of Scots syntax.  It typically coexists in a continuum with traditional Scots, people using varying amounts of Scots or English depending on the social circumstances.

The introduction of English led to the abandoning of the old Scots literary language.  Scots was restricted to poetry and was now spelled according to English orthographic rules.  Writing Scots as though it were English increased the public perception that Scots was “a dialect of English”.  This perception remains widespread, and is the reason why Scots benefits from even less government and public support than Gaelic, despite having 25 times as many speakers.

Although both Gaelic and Scots have been discriminated against and discouraged, there has been no legislation actively preventing their use outside state institutions since 18th century attempts to extirpate the Gaelic language.  The state did not legislate against the use of Scottish languages, they were ignored and left to decline.  Deeply ingrained Scottish social attitudes and the need to acquire good English in order to get ahead in life did the rest.

Independence is likely to improve the status of Gaelic and Scots, but language issues do not form part of the debate.  A positive outcome for Gaelic and Scots will be an accidental side effect of independence, but for the overwhelming majority of Scots, this language obsessed geek included, they do not rank high in the list of reasons for seeking independence.

Catalan has not suffered the same neglect, instead it was subject to severe state repression, well within living memory.  And for many in Catalonia their language is an important reason for seeking independence.

The linguistic differences between Catalan and Spanish are of a similar order to the linguistic differences between the English of England and very traditional Scots.  But for god’s sake don’t ever say that Catalan is a Spanish dialect or you’ll likely find your boiling hot botifarra casserole served in your lap.  Unlike Scots, Catalan has an accepted written form and is highly codified and standardised.  It’s considered ill-educated to mix Catalan and Spanish together with the casual disregard that Scottish people mix Scots and English.  So jist gaunnie no dae that.

Also unlike Scotland, which has played musical chairs with languages throughout history, and whose linguistic history requires a multilingual set of volumes full of maps and diagrams*, Catalans have continued to speak their Latin derived language since Roman times.  When people in Glas Cu were speaking Old Welsh, Catalans were speaking an early form of Catalan, when Glaschu was speaking Gaelic, Catalans were speaking Catalan, when Glesga was speaking Scots and later Glasgow spoke Scots and English, Catalans were still speaking Catalan.  It’s something they’re quite consistent about.

Catalan was the state language of the Kingdom of Aragon, and was highly prestigious.  Following the Reconquista, Catalan spread south into the Balearics and Valencia, and was even widely spoken in Sardinia and Sicily.  It possessed a rich literature, which formed the basis for the modern standard language. Catalan was widely recognised as amongst the most important European languages of the day.  Its literary output included influential masterpieces such as Tirant lo Blanc, and  Ramon Llull’s Blanquerna, regarded by many as the first true European novel.

One of the first books to be printed in the Iberian peninsula was in Catalan, a devotional text dedicated to the Virgin Mary published in Valencia in 1474.  Also in Valencia, a full translation of the Bible was published in Catalan around 1477, making it one of the first Bible translations into a European vernacular language.

The Valencian Bible was prohibited by the Spanish Inquisition in 1482.  All copies were ordered to be burned.  The sole surviving book ended up in Sweden, where it was lost in a fire in 1697.  A single leaf of the book is all that remains.  Even after the Kingdom of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile were united under the same monarchy with the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon to Isabel of Castile in 1475, the Catalan language remained the official language of Catalonia and els Paissos Catalans.  It continued to be an important medium of literature and administration.

However the status of Catalan went into a slow decline after the union of Castile and Aragon.  The merchantile classes of Aragon who had supported the language were cut out of the important trade with Spain’s American colonies, which Spain insisted must pass via the Castilian speaking ports in Andalucia.  Catalonia descended into poverty and neglect.  The language lost prestige and gradually became permeated with Spanish words and expressions.

Following the Spanish War of Succession, which saw Catalonia support the losing side, the new Bourbon monarchy took steps to centralise Spain and abolished the traditional autonomy of the various kingdoms and provinces which made up the Spanish state.  Henceforth all the realms of the Spanish monarch were to be governed by the laws of Castile, “the most praiseworthy in the universe”.   The decree was issued in 1707, the year another ancient polity lost the right to govern itself.

Catalan was banned from administration, the legal system, and the theatre.  Priests were forbidden to preach in any language but Castilian Spanish.  Only a limited amount of private publishing in the language was permitted.  As the 18th century turned into the 19th, the prohibitions stayed unchanging.  When telephones were introduced into Catalonia in the late 19th century, it became illegal to speak Catalan on the phone too.

Catalonia was one of the first parts of the Spanish state to experience the industrial revolution.  This brought increasing wealth and development to Barcelona, whose citizens increasingly saw their progress hindered by the reactionary Spanish state of the 19th century, which was in thrall to the interests of the old landed aristocracy and the church.

The Catalan Renaixença  ‘Renaissance’ arose in response to the sclerotic nature of the Spanish state.  The Catalan language came to be seen as a symbol of the frustrated desires of Catalans for their country to become a fully democratic modern European state.  A revitalised standard literary form of Catalan was the outcome of this movement, a modern Catalan language fit for all the needs of a modern Catalan nation, but which was solidly linked to the greatness of the Catalan literary past.  It was rapidly accepted throughout els Paissos Catalans.

But despite, or perhaps because of, these developments, Catalan remained exiled from the education system and lacked any official standing until the 1930s, when for a brief period the Spanish Republic was more tolerant of its use.  But it was not to last.

Following the victory of the Francoist Nationalists in the Civil War, the Spanish state again clamped down on the use of Catalan.  The prohibitions implemented from 1940 onward were draconian.  All publishing in Catalan was made illegal, it was banned from the radio and later from television.  Speaking the language in a public place was outlawed.  Many families have stories of older family members who were hauled off by the dreaded Guardia Civil because they could not speak Spanish properly.  Even Catalan personal names were changed to their Castilian Spanish equivalents – many found themselves in the surreal position of their own names being illegal.  You could no longer be Pau, you had to be Pablo.

The period of the dictatorship saw the development of the package tourism industry, and the gradual recuperation of Catalan industry.  Although a limited amount of Catalan language publishing was slowly permitted, the official position remained one of harsh intolerance.

Thousands moved from other parts of Spain into Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearics.  For the most part they did not acquire Catalan, the policies of the Franco government ensured that it was almost impossible.  The predominance of Spanish monoglot children in many Catalan schools – where Catalan was banned from use – meant that children from Catalan speaking families acquired the habit of speaking Spanish to their friends.  For the first time in Catalan history, large scale language shift to Spanish was underway across much of the traditional territory of the language.

This was the situation when Spain returned to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975.  As the country transitioned to democracy, Catalans demanded autonomy and official recognition and support for their language. A key element of this was that control of the education system and broadcasting should rest with the new Catalan autonomous government.

Catalonia introduced an immersion system of education, in order to teach Catalan to the generations of children who now started school without the language.  These children then learned via the medium of Catalan, alongside native Catalan speaking children.  Spanish remained an obligatory subject, taught through the medium of Spanish.  Spanish language media was still widely available in Catalonia, and it was joined by a wide range of Catalan language publications, radio stations and television channels.  The result was to produce a generation fully bilingual in Catalan and Spanish.  In fact the success of the system was seen in the fact that Catalan children regularly scored the highest in Spain in their Spanish language exams.

Although Catalonia has had great success in reversing the language shift to Spanish, elsewhere in els Paissos Catalans the story was not so positive.  As Spain emerged from the dictatorship, the old Kingdom of Valencia became a stronghold for those francoist Spanish nationalists who sought to continue under the new democratic system.  Their current political incarnation is the Partido Popular.

Viscerally opposed to el catalanisme (Catalan national sentiment) right wing Spanish centralists ensured that the new Spanish constitution recognised the Catalan of the newly autonomous Valencian Community as a totally distinct language, called Valencian.  Valencia isn’t in Catalonia, therefore, they insisted with a simple minded logic, the language of Valencians cannot be Catalan.  Meanwhile they were blythely indifferent to the fact that everyone who wasn’t Castilian was still expected to speak Castilian.  It was a calculated attempt to break up the unity of the Catalan language, and reduce the “risk” of contamination from Catalan thoughts of independence.

Years of utterly moronic arguments followed, in which linguistically illiterate politicians tried to assert in the face of all contrary evidence that a not especially distinctive group of Western Catalan dialects were not in fact Catalan at all.  They even attempted to insist that “Valencian” should be written according to Spanish spelling rules, not Catalan.  Eventually a compromise was reached and it was agreed that Catalan and Valencian were different parts of the same “linguistic system” and shared the same basic orthographic principles.  Which in layperson’s terms means they’re the same language.  However it is still enshrined in the Spanish constitution that the official languages of the Valencian Community are Spanish and Valencian.

More recently, and even more gob-smackingly naked in its political intent, the government of Aragon has ruled that the Catalan spoken in the towns and villages along the Aragonese border with Catalonia, a region known as La Franja, is not a language at all.  It is instead a collection of dialects which officially have no connection with Catalan or with each other, known by the Spanish acronyn LAPAO. Lengua Aragonesa Propia de la Parte Oriental ‘Aragonese Language Proper to the Eastern Area’.  One of the aims of this law was to inhibit Catalan teaching in local schools, and prohibit the use of text books published in neighbouring Catalonia.

However the Catalan language has also come under direct assault within Catalonia.  A series of court cases led the Spanish High Court to rule that Catalonia was in breach of the Spanish constitution by not providing Spanish medium education.  The Spanish government’s education minister, Ignacio Wert, railed against the Catalan education system, accusing it of promoting “separatism”, and said that the goal of public education must be to “hispanicise” pupils.

Just this week, Madrid unveiled a plan to reduce the powers of autonomous regions and eliminate many Catalan institutions under the guise of “rationalising” Spanish layers of government.

Madrid wants to impose on Catalonia an education system like that of Valencia, which has proven unable to prevent the on-going shift from Catalan to Spanish.  Nowadays Catalan is scarcely to be heard on the streets of Valencia city or Alicante.  Many Catalans fear that if they do not achieve independence, that will be the fate of Barcelona too.

Well that it, as close to in a nutshell as I can get.  It’s a walnut which is very convoluted and full of wrinkles.  If you’ve read this far, you probably know more than you need to about why Gaelic and Scots are not especially relevant to Scottish desires for independence, but the Catalan language is important to Catalan desires for indy.

But I hope it’s been worthwhile.

* and foot notes.

No, an homage to catatonia

Brian Wilson, former radical socialist turned nuclear energy enthusiast, has decided to launch a new attack on the SNP and Scottish independence for being the root cause of all that is evil.  It’s not like he does anything else, so no one was that surprised.

In an article for the Hootsmon entitled No homage to Catalonia, Brian took issue with the SNP for not showing enough solidarity with Catalonia.  Not like the Labour movement which was a proud ally of the Republican cause during Spain’s civil war.

It’s a sign of just how far the Scottish Labour party has fallen, here was Brian arguing the case for the heirs of Franco.  That’s some seriously depressing irony, and just too tragic to make a smartarsed remark about.  Brian thinks Mariano Rajoy was quite right to gang up with Davie Cameron and thon Belgian guy, the one with the bowtie in lieu of a personality, to tell Scots and Catalans that they’ll be out on their ears if they vote to govern themselves.

He starts off poorly, with some bad history.  While Scotland and England were uniting peacefully, he tells us, assorted monarchs were knocking lumps out of each other to get their paws on a piece of Catalonia.  Scotland on the other hand enjoyed peace, thanks to the glorious Union, as long as you don’t count those Jacobite Wars which were going on at the same time.

Brian’s point, however poorly illustrated, was to make out that in Europe you positively trip over ancient grievances, and it’s only the fragile structure of the current configuration of states that prevents us from coming over all atavistic.  Existing states good nationalism, potential states bad nationalism.  And it helps to remind us that the Scottish independence campaign is likewise about “ancient grievances”, and not some current grievances about the way the UK is run which it shows no willingness to address.

The spectre of war stalks Brian’s imagination.  If Scotland votes for independence, we’ll open the doors to independence demands from everyone from Catalonia to some German Nazi survivalist in a log cabin in the Alps.  The world will be plunged into chaos, and it will all be the fault of Scottish people for deciding we’re not too wee too poor or too stupid after all.  We’ll be the standard bearers for the sort of post apocalyptic world that Mel Gibson was famous for before he did that other movie.  But with Johann Lamont instead of Tina Turner, which is a lot scarier.

The possibility that other modern European nations might be just like the Scots, and be perfectly capable of sorting out their own constitutional arrangements without resorting to violence or the benefit of external assistance seems to have escaped him.  But as Brian well knows, Project Fear’s largest donation comes from a non-Scottish Conservative businessman who lives in England, so it’s easy to see why he might have missed that point.

He goes on to ask a most curious question.  “When [the SNP] talk of ‘a seat at the top table’, they must surely have some idea of how large they think that fabled piece of furniture should become?”

OK, I was being polite.  When I said curious question, I really meant “gobsmackingly asinine question”.  It’s a question which is so stupid it transcends stupidity, enters the realms of profundity and then comes right back to stupid again.  It’s stupid cubed.

For starters there’s the wee issue that Brian doesn’t seem to have grasped the “self” part of “self-determination”.  It’s hardly for Scotland or the SNP to decide which other ethnic, cultural, or linguistic group is or is not a nation worthy of independence.  It’s unionists who do that sort of thing.  Mariano Rajoy and his government do it every time they inform the Catalans that they aren’t allowed to hold a referendum.  Brian and his pals do it every time they invent some spurious reason why Scotland cannot possibly be a successful independent state.

Just how big does Brian think that any international organisation the UK belongs to is going to become?  Perhaps the UN has an upper limit on the maximum number of states that are allowed to exist simultaneously.  You’d think they would have let us know.  Or perhaps new countries go into a sort of international green room, wine and nibbles will be provided until it’s their turn to go on stage.  Or it could be that if there are too many countries some of the older ones pop out of existence.  I’m sure I saw an episode of Dr Who about something like that.  But we won’t get Dr Who in an independent Scotland so we’ll never have to worry about it anyway.

It’s more likely that Brian is trying too hard to think up another question that is impossible for the SNP, or indeed anyone else, to give an answer to.  This will allow him to proclaim smugly that the SNP don’t have any answers.  Let’s just call off this whole independence thing then.

But this unknowable can be laid firmly at the door of the SNP in Brian’s world, and it is in fact the basis of his entire argument.  That nice Mr Rajoy is just being sensible and statesmanlike in working with Davie and wossisname, it will come to me eventually, to prevent people doing radical and dangerous things like voting to have governments they can exercise some degree of control over.

And yet again there’s nothing from Brian about any positive reason for Scotland to remain subject to governments we didn’t vote for.  No vision of hope, no prospect of anything better together.  Vote no, it’s an homage to catatonia.

And a very special thank you to Mary for the Kirriemuir Gingerbread.  I was scoffing a bit as I typed.

Comparing Catalonia and Scotland: Part 1

The Spanish government insists that the cases of Scotland and Catalonia cannot be compared to one another.  Mariano Rajoy is neither Scottish nor Catalan, so what would he know?  However it’s not a very convincing claim for other reasons.  David Cameron and Mariano Rajoy are apparently scheming together to block Scottish or Catalan independence, so they must be doing some comparing of their own.

If Scots and Catalans want to compare our countries with each other, that’s far more our business than it is Mariano’s or Dave’s.  It’s pretty rich of the Spanish Prime Minister to state that we cannot compare Scotland to Catalonia.  Aye Mariano, that wull be right.

One thing Catalans and Scots certainly have in common is that you tell us we cannot do something, many of us will go ahead and do it anyway just to prove you wrong.  This is quite likely to have some significance in our respective independence campaigns.

Scotland and Catalonia are both modern democratic European nations which are currently engaged in a debate about whether or not to become independent states.  Both independence movements are in opposition to central governments which are controlled by parties which have the support of only a small minority.  Admittedly there are a few more Partido Popular supporters in Catalonia than there are pandas in Scotland, but not by very many.

That seems to give us quite a lot worthy of comparison all by itself.  There are many similarities between Scotland and Catalonia, there are differences too.  Let’s have a wee look at some more, starting with constitutional status, and nationhood.

Constitutional Status

Although subsumed within the United Kingdom in 1707, Scotland continued to exist as a nation.  The articles of the Treaty of Union guaranteed the independence of institutions of the old Scottish state such as Scots law, the church, and the education system.  Scotland has a constitutional right to self-determination, founded upon the continuing existence under the Union of Scots law and its principle of the sovereignty of the Scottish people.  The constitutional and legal basis of Scotland’s referendum was laid out in the Edinburgh Agreement between Westminster and Holyrood.

In Spain, many people point to David Cameron as an example of a “mature” politician, contrasting him with Mariano Rajoy who refuses to concede a referendum in Catalonia.  But the truth is Cameron had no choice.  After Scotland elected a majority government which had an independence referendum as a main plank in its manifesto it was politically impossible for him to block it.

Instead Cameron attempted to wrest control of the referendum away from the Scottish Parliament, but even there he failed.  That didn’t stop the Unionist media presenting it as a defeat for Alex Salmond, but saying black is white, up is down, and George Foulkes and Alejo Vidal-Quadras are respected elder statesmen is pretty much their stock in trade.

Catalonia is in a different position.  Its traditional institutions were abolished in the 18th century, when the Spanish monarchy embarked on a bout of centralisation in the wake of the Spanish War of Succession.  There was no treaty of union.  Catalonia was legally abolished, like it was Strathclyde Regional Council.  Unlike Strathclyde Region Council however, it was missed and not forgotten.  The issue of Catalan self-government would not go away.

Although it acknowledges Catalan autonomy, the modern Spanish constitution contains a clause which states that the Spanish nation is one and indivisible.  The clause, an old Francoist slogan, was inserted into the constitution at the insistence of the generals when the country transitioned to democracy in the late 1970s after decades of military rule.

The clause was specifically designed to frustrate pro-independence aspirations amongst the Catalans and Basques.  If the generals were going to trust in the ballot box, not brute force, they wanted some guarantees.  The Madrid based parties, which were not exactly enamoured with the idea of Catalan or Basque self-determination either, were happy to oblige.

The result is that Catalans feel that they are operating within a system which is even more blatantly designed to screw them than Labour’s 1997 stitch up with the Lib Dems, which gave the new Scottish Parliament an electoral system designed to prevent an SNP majority government.

Madrid continues to refuse to acknowledge Catalonia’s right to hold a vote on its future.  It holds that Catalonia cannot become independent without a change to the Spanish constitution, and that in turn requires a vote throughout Spain.  Not that there’s any willingness on the part of the Spanish government or main opposition party the PSOE to support the necessary constitutional changes.  So it’s not going to happen.

Catalonia continues to press for a referendum.  The Catalans assert that their right to self-determination trumps the provisions of the Spanish constitution, which Catalans see as an undemocratic restriction on their right to decide their own future.  Madrid remains as instransigent as ever.  Neither side shows any sign of backing down.

Although earlier this year the pro-sovereignty ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, Republican Left of Catalonia) was pressing for a unilateral referendum in Catalonia before the Scottish referendum, it now looks unlikely that will happen.  However the ERC, the junior partner in the coalition running the Catalan government, continues to gain support in opinion polls.  This is a sign that Catalan public opinion is losing patience with the softly softly approach of the CiU government of Artur Mas.

What happens over the coming year in Catalonia is likely to depend in no small measure on the outcome of the Scottish referendum.  They are watching us with great interest.

Nationhood

Scotland is a nation by any definition.  We have no need to prove it, what with it falling into the category of the bloody obvious.  We’ve got so much national identity we export it, traditionally in the form of tartan rugs, whisky, and a tourism industry which makes out we are a nation of romantic dreamers with a touch of the supernatural, when in fact we are a hard headed bunch of cynics with a sick sense of humour.

Catalonia is a nation too.  That’s what the Catalans say, and if they’re saying so it ought to be good enough for everyone else.  You’d imagine they ought to know, after all.  That’s kinda what “self-determination” means.  Like the Scots the Catalans have an abundance of national identity, and also tend towards hard headed cynicism combined with a sick sense of humour which doesn’t extend to torturing bulls.

However the Spanish constitution does not recognise the existence of the Catalan nation.  Catalans are deemed to be a “historical nationality”.  No one is really sure what this means, although it’s possible that according to the Spanish constitution Catalonia is only a nation when everyone is dressed in period costume.

Since Scotland’s national dress was the invention of a couple of pretend-Polish guys on the make and an overdose of Victorian romanticism, we’d probably only rank as a hysterical notionality.  And indeed there are those on the wilder fringes of the Better Together brigade who apparently believe this.  But since Scotland’s right to its independence referendum is now established in fact, no one pays them much attention.

Catalonia’s legal status as something other than a nation leads to long and bitter debates.  The default position of Spanish Unionists is to refuse to recognise that Catalonia is a nation at all.  Scottish people occasionally experience this too.  I once met a German girl on holiday when I was a teenager who earnestly assured me: “I’m sure you’ll find you are in fact English.”  I just laughed and said: “Och you Austrians and your whacky sense of humour.”

One person telling a second person that they understand the second person’s identity better than the second person does is of course an exercise in craziness.  It is doomed to failure unless the first person is a psychiatrist and the second is under the effects of mind altering drugs or has recently suffered a severe concussion.  While many in Catalonia would assert that their country has indeed received repeated kicks in the head from the Spanish government, few would believe that la Moncloa was the sane one in the equation.

The Madrid government is having about as much success in persuading the Catalans that they are not a nation as that German lassie did nearly 40 years ago.  A sense of nationhood is immune to legislation, all the constitutional clauses in the world make no difference.  Nationhood rests in the minds and imaginations of those who profess it.

The problem Madrid has no answer for is that many Catalans can imagine a much better future for their nation as an independent state.  You can’t legislate against hope.  And in that respect, the Catalans and the Scots are identical.