I wasn’t going to blog today because I’ve got a bad case of manflu, which is like a regular cold only with additional histrionics, drama, and attention seeking. So very much like the Labour leadership contest then. But there’s news from Spain which I thought worth sharing, mostly because it’s deeply discomfiting to those Unionists who keep claiming that Spain would veto the membership of an independent Scotland in the EU. And when you’ve got a severe dose of manflu, the one thing that cheers you up more than anything else is making people who annoy you really miserable.
Regular readers of this blog will know that the myth that Spain would veto an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU is just that, a myth without foundation. At no point has the Spanish government ever made a statement to that effect, and on those occasions when he has been asked explicitly to state whether or not Spain would veto the membership of the EU of an independent Scotland, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has refused to give an answer.
The reason is that Madrid’s opposition to a Catalan independence referendum is based on a clause in the Spanish constitution which says that Spanish territory is indivisible. Madrid argues that Catalan independence would be unconstitutional and therefore they would refuse to recognise it. Madrid’s officials have explicitly stated that they would veto the EU membership of a Catalonia which declared independence. They’ve never done the same about Scotland for the simple reason that the Scottish independence process would be perfectly constitutional and legal. When asked about this situation in an interview back in February 2014, foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo said that if Scotland were to achieve independence within the framework of the British constitution, then Spain would have nothing to say about it.
Of course Spain doesn’t want to encourage Scottish independence, what with us being besties of the Catalans, but on the other hand they know that they have no legal or constitutional grounds to object to Scottish independence. They objected to Kosovan independence because the Serbian constitution prohibits it, but Spain did not object to the independence of Croatia or South Sudan which were constitutional and legal. What will happen with the Scottish independence process is that Spain will huff and puff and harrumph and bluff, but the morning after a Yes vote in a Scottish independence referendum Madrid will say, “But we’ve said all along that Scotland is an entirely different case from Catalonia.”
Foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo has been a busy man this week. Speaking earlier in the week about the situation of Gibraltar post-Brexit, the Spanish foreign minister did make an explicit threat of a veto. Only it wasn’t Scotland he threatened, he threatened to veto the terms of the UK’s Brexit if it includes Gibraltar. Reported in the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper, the Spanish foreign minister was quoted as saying that when the UK presses the Brexit button, the European Council must agree the terms of the negotiations “by unanimity”. He added that Spain intended to make it “clear that Gibraltar does not belong to the UK” and would “have the right to veto”.
So it’s not Scotland that faces a threat of a Spanish veto. It’s the rest of the UK and the Conservative government. Oh, the irony.
Last night there was a very interesting interview with Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo on the El Cascabel programme on Channel 13tv of Spanish television. The programme is available online for a limited period. Speaking about the dangers that occur when a party leaves the centre ground and flirts with extremism, García-Margallo said that Nigel Farage had succeeded in dragging the Conservative party and United Kingdom out of the EU, and added, “I may be wrong, but within four or five years England will return to the frontiers that it had in the sixteenth century.”
Asked by the interviewer Antonio Jiménez to clarify his point and asked whether he was referring to Scotland, García-Margallo elaborated, “I believe that Scotland will demand an independence referendum in order to remain in the European Union.” He continued to speak of the problems that Northern Ireland would face as a result of the Brexit vote, and the risk to the peace process. At no point did he hint that Spain would veto Scottish membership of the EU if we vote for independence in the referendum that he expects us to have. “When you put the interests of your party before your country,” he went on, speaking about the British Conservatives, “the result is a catastrophe.”
(Link to video http://www.13tv.es/programas-13tv/el-cascabel/ Comments start at 11.30. Please note the programme is in Spanish)
What the Spanish foreign minister’s comments tell us is that the highest levels of the Spanish government believe that Scottish independence is highly likely, and equally they tell us that they believe that the actions of Scotland in seeking an independence referendum are perfectly understandable given the behaviour of the British Conservatives. And by speaking of a return by England (and he said England not the United Kingdom) to its sixteenth century borders García-Margallo implicitly recognised that at the time Scotland was an independent state and was seeking a return to that status as a result of Brexit.
There was no hint of a threat against Scotland in anything that García-Margallo had to say, nothing to suggest a veto, and given that just a few minutes previously he had been discussing the situation in Catalonia, it would have been very easy for him to speak about any measures Spain might take to discourage Scotland from seeking independence. In fact, he adopted a tone that was sympathetic to Scotland and clearly set a second Scottish independence referendum within the context of the Conservative government being dragged to the right under the influence of political extremists and as a means for Scotland to safeguard its EU membership by recovering its previous status as an independent state. I nearly fell off my chair.
So there you have it. There is a serious threat of a Spanish veto arising out of the political fall out from the Brexit vote. It’s just that it’s not a threat against an independent Scotland remaining a member of the EU, it’s a threat against the rest of the UK getting the kind of Brexit that the Tories might want.
Right now due to my manflu my eyes are teary and my nose is running and I feel a bit queasy, which is probably how the Scottish Conservatives and Unionists will be feeling once they digest the latest news from Spain. Spain is threatening to veto them, not an independent Scotland.
Link to audio version of this blog, courtesy of @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/the-real-spanish-veto-threat-wee-ginger-dug-22nd-july-2016?in=occamshaver/sets/wee-ginger-dug-blogs
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