Sometimes, you can provide proof positive of that someone isn’t going to do something. You can explain in detailed arguments why it’s not in their interests to do so. You can provide copious examples of their behaviour in directly comparable circumstances which strongly point to the extreme unlikelihood that the person will take the action under discussion. You can cite direct quotes from the persons concerned saying that they have no intention of doing whatever it is and stating that they’re not going to do it. You can do all that, you kill the suggestion for ever, bury it under six foot of concrete and build a block of flats on top of it, and still, still, some Unionist idiot on social media will insist that Spain is going to veto Scotland’s membership of the European Union.
The claim was that by vetoing Scottish membership of the EU, Madrid would deter Catalan and Basque hopes of self-determination. It was always an example of fake news, based on no more than a supposition. But that didn’t stop it being repeated ad nauseum as though it was a solid fact. Every time the topic of Scottish membership of the EU was aired, up would pop some Unionist person on social media, claiming that Spain would veto us. It was an argument I had with Tory MEP Ian Duncan on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. Ian was insistent that just because no senior Spanish politician or representative of the Spanish government had ever said that they’d veto Scottish membership of the EU, that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t.
Ian was determined to interpret a wee rant by Spanish Partido Popular MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons as a threat that Spain would veto Scotland, even though Gonzalez Pons hadn’t actually said that. Gonzalez Pons’ wee rant was published in the UK media as “blow for Nicola Sturgeon”, because he’d said that Scotland would have to go to the back of a mythical queue for EU membership. It was published in the Spanish media as Partido Popular MEP gets slapped down by the chairperson of an EU committee, and cited in the Spanish media as an example of a Spanish politician making a bit of a fool out of himself by making an intemperate rant.
The argument upon which Spain bases it opposition to Catalan and Basque self-determination is a clause in the Spanish constitution which forbids them to have independence referendums. There is no such clause in the British constitution forbidding Scotland from holding an independence referendum. When Scottish independence come about, it will be legal, it will be constitutional, and it will be negotiated with and recognised by Westminster.
Spain doesn’t recognise the independence of Kosovo from Serbia because Kosovo declared independence unilaterally, an independence which isn’t recognised by Serbia and which Serbia claims is contrary to the Serbian constitution. But Spain does recognise the independence of Montenegro from its union with Serbia because Montenegrin independence was permitted by the constitution and is recognised by Serbia. Unionists only ever cite Kosovo, never Montenegro.
Some of us have been arguing for years that there was no chance of Spain vetoing an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU. Arguing that Spain would veto Scotland was based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the argument that Madrid makes against Catalan self-determination, and if Madrid was to veto an independent Scotland which achieved independence legally, constitutionally, and which was recognised by Westminster, then all they’d do would be to undermine their own argument against permitting Catalonia to hold a referendum.
The truth is that vetoing Scotland from EU membership would not deter the Catalans from their pursuit of independence, quite the reverse. It would only inflame the situation by undermining Madrid’s claim that its opposition to Catalan independence was based on a constitutional and legal argument. You could point out that no senior Spanish politician had ever openly stated that the Spanish government would veto Scottish membership of the EU, but that didn’t stop the Unionists from repeating the claim. They had their suppositions, and by god they were going to stick to them. The reality has always been, as I have been arguing in this blog for years, that the morning after a Yes vote in a Scottish independence referendum, the line from the Spanish government would be, “We’ve said all along that the circumstances of Scotland and Catalonia have nothing to do with one another.”
On Friday we received what ought to be the final nail in the coffin for the Spanish veto myth. The self-same Gonzalez Pons was asked by a BBC reporter whether the Spanish government would veto Scottish membership of the EU, and he said no, it wouldn’t. “If you are thinking about Catalonia,” he added, “the Catalan situation is very very very different.” You can’t get much clearer than that. He did say that Scotland would have to apply for membership in its own right, but few have ever argued otherwise, but he also finally put to rest the claim that Spain would veto Scotland’s application.
This is the first time, to my knowledge (and trust me I’ve looked), that a senior Spanish politician has ever given a direct answer to the question of whether Spain would veto Scottish membership of the EU, and the answer was a clear and unequivocal no. The closest previous instance came during the first independence referendum when the then foreign minister Garcia Margallo said that if Scotland achieved independence legally and constitutionally, then Spain “would have nothing to say”, a very strong hint that Spain wouldn’t veto Scotland, but a little short of a direct and clear confirmation. During the first independence referendum campaign, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy dodged the question three times in an interview with El Pais newspaper, saying that he didn’t want to get into hypotheticals.
So it’s interesting to ask why Spain is now willing to state clearly and openly that it won’t veto Scottish membership of the EU. During the first Scottish independence referendum, Spain did not wish to antagonise the government of another EU member state, that is no longer a consideration. But Spain’s willingness to state openly that it won’t veto Scottish membership of the EU is not unrelated to Spanish, and European, anger with the intransigent and frankly pig-headed approach to Brexit adopted by the British government. Some of Westminster’s statements have been interpreted in Europe as a declaration of economic war, and no EU state is in the mood to do Westminster any favours right now. If openly stating that they will not hinder Scottish independence undermines the British government, EU governments won’t shed any tears. Westminster’s self-created difficulty is Scotland’s opportunity.
I feel vindicated now. The Spanish veto myth should by now be dead and buried, never to be heard from again. The statement from Gonzalez Pons is la gota que colma el vaso, as they say in Spanish – the drop that makes the glass overflow. But that still hasn’t prevented some of the more obtuse Unionists on social media from claiming that Spain would still veto Scotland. They’re the young Earth creationists of politics, no matter what evidence you present them with, they’re not going to be budged from their articles of faith. These are the people who claim that the independence movement is a cult, but it’s their own behaviour which is cultish. And that may or may not be a typo.
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