Category Archives: Catalonia

If we don’t get a Yes this time, we might end up like Catalonia

2013_09_11_JorgeLizana_Via Catalana Cuidadela7
2013_09_11_JorgeLizana_Via Catalana Cuidadela7 by Fotomovimiento, on Flickr.
There is a school of thought that the independence referendum is happening too soon, before the Scottish public has been fully convinced of the merits of the prospect. However, a number of events (a capable SNP government and a useless opposition at Holyrood, a major recession, the collapse of the LibDems in Scotland due to their Westminster coalition with the Tories, and a Westminster government that didn't understand Scottish public opinion) together created a perfect storm that gave us first an SNP majority in Holyrood and then Westminster's acceptance of a referendum organised by Scotland.

Now that we've got the chance to be sovereign again, we need to grasp it with both hands because the opportunity might never arise again.

At first, this might seem counterintuitive. After all, many Unionists moan about the prospects of a neverendum if we vote No. Indeed, I have argued in the past that only a Yes vote is likely to bring closure:

If it’s a Yes, I expect most people from the No campaign to start fighting Scotland’s corner relatively quickly. This is because I don’t know of many countries that after independence have had a large group of people trying to undo the divorce. [...]

If the referendum ends in a No, I’m not so sure. Of course we’ll all accept the result and try to make the best of it at first, but having talked about how much Scotland will be able to achieve as an independent country, it will be very difficult to abandon the dream completely. The SNP might lose a few disillusioned voters, but on the whole I expect the party to survive and keep the flame alive. Also, given likely subsequent developments in the UK, such as leaving the EU and getting a Tory government supported by UKIP, I wouldn’t be surprised if large groups of Scots would soon bitterly regret their No vote in the referendum.

However, even if in ten or twenty years' time everybody in Scotland agrees that it was a terrible mistake not to vote Yes in 2014, circumstances might be less favourable. Oil might be running out (or be banned due to global warming), Westminster might have decided to invest in nuclear power instead of Scottish renewables, the Scottish Parliament might have been declawed and defanged, and the UK might have succeeded in dismantling the welfare state everywhere to such a degree that restoring it and extending it (as suggested by the Common Weal project) would be completely unrealistic.

Even more importantly, would we ever be allowed to hold an independence referendum again? Even if pro-independence parties gained an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament once more (which is not an easy thing to do, given the electoral system used), would Westminster really cooperate? We shouldn't forget that David Cameron only agreed to the referendum because he thought it would lead to a quick and decisive victory for the No side, which would have buried Scottish nationalism for a generation. If Scotland then decided to organise a referendum anyway, it's very likely it would be deemed ultra vires, especially because Westminster will interpret the Edinburgh Agreement as a concession by the Scottish Government of sovereignty/authority -- in other words, there would be a legal precedent that the Scottish Parliament should seek approval from Westminster before holding an independence referendum.

If the Scottish Government tried to organise a referendum after Westminster and the courts had decided it was illegal to do so, we'd get into a Catalan scenario, and that's not a pleasant thought. It might look very romantic when you look at their 400 km-long human chain and all that, but this article calculates that the chance of an amicable divorce there is just 14.8%, and it emphasises the risk that the police and perhaps even the military will be deployed by Madrid to keep the situation under control. Hopefully things wouldn't get that bad in Scotland, but the danger would be there.

We have a unique opportunity in September. We can vote Yes knowing that Westminster will respect the result, and it can all happen completely peacefully. However, it might be our one and only chance to do so. Nobody should vote No because they don't think the time is ripe yet. This is probably the best chance we ever get.

European independence movements

Active separatist movements in the European Union (from Wikimedia).
The map of Europe has started changing again. I had expected Scotland to be the first European border change of the 2010s, but Crimea beat us to it.

Scotland will also not be the first former country to vote Yes to independence in a referendum -- Veneto got there first (although it was an unofficial referendum with no legal force).

As I've discussed before, we might have reached one of those points in history when the equilibrium is punctuated and a whole wave of new countries will appear.

Of course the size of the wave might vary a lot. If Scotland votes for independence, Wales and/or Northern Ireland might follow. An independent Catalonia will probably lead to other nations leaving Spain, at least Euskadi (Basque Country) and Galicia. The recreation of La Serenissima (the Republic of Venice) will most likely lead to an exodus of new countries from Italy, such as Lombardy and Sardinia. And although I'm not aware of any significant independence movement in Baden-Württemberg, that could change quickly if Bavaria left Germany.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any really good list of independence movements. There's one on Wikipedia, but it includes "movements" that are really just the dreams of a few individuals, which makes it hard to work out the number of likely new countries.

While we're on the topic of independence movements within the EU, there were some rather interesting ideas in an article by Graham Avery entitled Independentism and the European Union:

The EU has no preference for bigger rather than smaller states, or vice versa; one of its principles is to ‘respect the equality of member states’. However, in its system of decision-making the EU does have an inbuilt bias in favour of smaller states. For seats in the European Parliament and votes in the Council by qualified majority, smaller states are over-represented in terms of population; they also have relatively more voting power than bigger ones. This ‘degressive proportionality’ is designed to give smaller states the reassurance that they will not be dominated by the bigger states.

[...]

These aspects of the EU’s structure and functioning evidently create an environment in which independentism can be more credible.

[...]

In considering how to deal with independentism today, member states of the European Union are fully entitled to insist that the principles of democracy and constitutionalism should be respected. They should also accept that – in relation to the EU – independentists are entitled to follow the logic of the structure that member states themselves have devised.

To be fair, it's not just because of the EU. The existence of a whole network of international organisations (the UN, NATO, the EU, the IMF, the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights and all that) creates a situation where countries have rights and obligations, and the application of international law means all countries are equal. This arguably favours small countries over large ones because the former are more homogenous and quicker on their feet, but vulnerable to being bullied by big countries (as Georgia and Ukraine have recently discovered).

It was tough being a small independent country three hundred years ago (and it still can be outwith NATO and the EU), but these days it's really not very obvious any more how Scotland benefits from being part of the UK.

The most realistic answer

L'Assemblée Nationale Européenne
L'Assemblée Nationale Européenne, a photo by CedEm photographies on Flickr.
A short while ago, Yves Gounin (who is a high-ranking government official in France) wrote a very interesting article in the journal Politique étrangère.

The Catalan website VilaWeb has provided a useful summary, as has Wee Ginger Dug, and the article itself is here in PDF format.

It's an excellent article, and I highly recommend reading it if you have any French (Google Translate will help you to a certain extent, but it will get confused in some places).

I decided to provide a summary of my own, maintaining the author's section headings, and focusing on the bits that are most directly relevant for Scotland.

However, I very much hope somebody will soon provide a full translation into English -- it's an essential document in the Scottish independence debate.

Anyway, let's get started! After a short introduction the article is divided into the following sections:

Longing for independence and European integration [p. 12]
The independence movements in at least Scotland and Catalonia are united by their desire to remain in the EU, not least because doing so reassures the voters that the countries won't be internationally isolated after independence.

It's therefore important to explore whether these new states will become EU member states automatically, or whether they will be placed in the same situation as the applicant countries of Eastern Europe, obliged to follow the long and risky process of accession negotiations.

A political gamble [p. 12f]
The independence supporters are therefore keen to assert that continued membership of the EU is practically automatic, while opponents claim that independence would lead to applying for EU membership from scratch.
The answers from public international law: succession of states [p. 13ff]
The author briefly explains how states can succeed states. It's likely the remaning parts of the UK and Spain will try to claim continuing state status, whereas it's unlikely either Flanders or Wallonia could do this if Belgium is dissolved.
Succession of states and international treaties [p. 15f]
After looking at how the succession of states affects international treaties, the author concludes one has to look at the rules of each international organisation separately -- one cannot conclude anything about EU accession by looking solely at international law.
An unprecedented situation [p. 17]
Looking at the EU itself, it quickly becomes clear that there aren't any clear precedents.
A brief detour via the UN [p.17f]
While there are no precedents within the EU, that's not the case in the UN. Here the rules are clear: The new state has to apply for membership from scratch.
The EU hostile to the splitting of states [p. 18ff]
There are good reasons why the EU is against member states splitting up.

On the one hand, the EU promotes its own regional agenda but does not want to be accused of getting involved in the internal affairs of member states at the same time.

On the other hand, many member states are worried about their own independence movements and believe they can hold back these by obstructing the accession to the EU of new states forming from other EU member states.

Common sense arguments in support of automatic membership [p. 20f]
However, is it reasonable and realistic to expel parts of existing member states from the EU? Can one imagine border posts on the Catalan border? The reintroduction of a national currency in Flanders? Scots deprived of their rights derived from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights?

Also, a legal argument can be taken from Article 50 of the TEU, which outlines the procedure by which a member state can leave the EU. It could be argued that expelling these states and refusing to readmit them would be in breach of this explicit procedure.

Another argument stems from the EU's founding principles: freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. It would be ironic if the Union denied the populations of Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders the right to self-determination, and this would undoubtedly constitute a democratic regression.

Europe of the citizens [p. 21]
An even more powerful argument can be drawn from the link established over time between the European Union and its citizens. The EU constitutes "a new legal order of international law whose subjects are not only States but also their nationals". That means that unlike other international organisations, the EU is not only composed of states but also of citizens.

The question here is whether by losing their British, Spanish and Belgian nationality, the Scots, Catalans and Flemings will ipso facto also lose their EU citizenship.

A negotiation in good faith would be in everybody's interest [p. 22]
It's fair play for opponents of independence to raise obstacles to continued EU membership, but one might ask whether it's in the EU's own interest to complicate the (re-)admission of these states. Once the Rubicon of independence has been crossed, Europe would have everything to lose by putting these states into quarantine: its businesspeople couldn't invest there any more, nor could its young people study there, its travellers move there freely, its fishermen sail there, etc.

A practical solution must be found.

The most reasonable solution would be to negotiate independence and EU membership simultaneously. It would thus be neither automatic membership nor going through the full procedures of Article 49. The absence of relevant precedents, legal uncertainty and the magnitude of the challenge will require the parties to negotiate. This is not the most illuminating answer to the question, but without a doubt it is the most realistic.

How Thatcher destroyed the coalition of nations

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge
Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge, a photo by dannybirchall on Flickr.

Did Margaret Thatcher create the current independence movement in Scotland?

I was intrigued by a blog post on the pro-independence blog Bella Caledonia, which quoted James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still:

One of the unintended effects of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution [...] was to destroy Scottish loyalty to the British State. If it didn’t provide you with a job, if it didn’t give you a decent pension or adequate health care or proper support when you were out of work, what was it for? It wasn’t for anything – except maybe things you didn’t want or believe in, like nuclear weapons on the Clyde, or the poll tax.

When you're trying to govern a coalition, whether of parties or of nations, it's important to keep them all happy.

Let's have a brief look at Danish politics. Just after the last general election there was an interesting interview with Henning Dyremose, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first of Poul Schlüter's Conservative governments (in my own loose translation):

What the Social Democratic Prime Minister needs to do is to create a situation where the Socialists win, where the Social Liberals win, and where she can ignore the Social Democrats. The latter are so delighted that she becomes prime minister that she does not have to give her parliamentary group and the ordinary party members any kind of concessions. If she can make a deal that makes both Socialsts and Social Liberals happy, she knows the Social Democrats will also be happy. If the Socialists -- who were weakened in the elections -- are also weakened in the government programme negotiations, their members will begin to ask whether the price they pay for supporting a Social Democratic prime minister is too high. If the Social Liberal leader doesn't get enough concessions, she could just as well remain outside the government. The Social Liberal Party would have more influence if they chose to remain outside the government. That's why they'll be expensive to include in the government.

I find it interesting to apply Dyremose's advice to the UK. That is, one should realise that the smaller nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have the ability to leave and realise their ambitions elsewhere, so England should give them more influence than strictly speaking necessary to keep them happy. Ultimately, English politicians (and to some extent English voters) will be content so long as England is leading a strong United Kingdom, even if the smaller nations sometimes get their own way. (This also applies to Spain, of course, where Catalonia is clearly not seeing the benefit of remaining within the Spanish Kingdom any more.)

It reminds me of my old suggestion to double the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster.

Anyway, I don't think anybody in Westminster is going to pay heed to the advice above. The Scottish loyalty to the British state has been broken, and the natural way forward now is to vote Yes in 2014.

The Day After

Catalunya triomfant (18/22)
Catalunya triomfant (18/22), a photo by . SantiMB . on Flickr.
As part of the Catalan independence campaign, a group of people have been raising money to allow Isona Passola to make a film about the consequences of independence, called L'Endemà "The Day After".

So far they've managed to raise €348,830 (£294,431).

I saw this mentioned in the Danish newspaper Politiken, but I haven't yet read anything about it in English-speaking media.

Here's what the website says about the film:

L’ENDEMÀ donarà arguments clars, sòlids, fiables i contrastats, amb dades objectivables, per boca de les figures nacionals i internacionals més tècniques i més ben informades, a través del mitjà més prestigiós dels mitjans de comunicació, el cinema. També s’editarà la web-sèrie Les píndoles contra la por amb respostes a les grans preguntes que resolen els grans temes de país, les respostes que necessitem per a decidir sense por i tranquil·lament.

My Catalan is a wee bit rusty, but I think it means something like this:

THE DAY AFTER will provide clear, solid, reliable and contrasting arguments with objective data, recounted by the most knowledgeable and best-informed national international figures, through film, the most prestigious form of communication. We will also release a web site, The Pills against Fear, with answers to the major questions to solve the great national issues, the answers that we need to decide calmly and without fear.

Viviane Reding on Catalan independence

Viviane Reding's recent words about Catalonia's continued membership of the EU has attracted a fair amount of attention in Scotland (see for instance the SNP's press release).

However, this is important enough that it's worth going back to the source. It appears she made her comment in an interview with the Spanish (not Catalan) newspaper El Diario de Sevilla. Here are the interesting bits together with my translation:

[DdS:] Cataluña plantea actualmente la posibilidad de independizarse. Pero si lo hace debería abandonar la UE y negociar su ingreso. Además, desde su salida habría un agujero en la libertad circulación de personas y bienes en la Unión. [Catalonia is currently raising the possibility of becoming independent. But if it goes ahead, it would have to leave the EU and negotiate its entry terms. Moreover, as soon as it left there would be a hole in the freedom of movement of people and goods within the Union.]

[VR:] No querría inmiscuirme en asuntos de política española, pero no pienso ni por un segundo que Cataluña quiera dejar la UE. Conozco a los catalanes desde hace mucho tiempo, he sido una de las pocas personas no catalanas en recibir la Cruz de Sant Jordi, y sé que su sentimiento es profundamente europeo. [I would not want to interfere in matters of Spanish politics, but I do not think for a second that Catalonia wants to leave the EU. I have known the Catalans for a long time, I was one of the few non-Catalan to receive the Cross of Sant Jordi, and I know that they feel profoundly European.]

[DdS:] No le pregunto por la posibilidad de que Cataluña quiera o no ser parte de la UE, sino por el proceso que se abre cuando dejen de serlo. Lo dice la Convención de Viena: el Estado resultante de un Estado matriz abandonará todos los organismos internacionales en los que la matriz esté representada. [I am not asking whether Catalonia wants to be part of the EU or not, but about the process that begins when Catalonia ceases to be a member. The Vienna Convention says this: the state resulting from a parent state leaves all international organisations in which the parent is represented.]

[VR:] Vamos, hombre, la legislación internacional no dice nada que se parezca a eso. Por favor, resuelvan sus problemas de política interna en España. Yo confío en la mentalidad europea de los catalanes. [Come on, international law does not say anything like that. Please solve your internal political problems within Spain. I trust the European mentality of the Catalans.]

I'm finding the leading questions by the Diario de Sevilla almost as interesting as Viviane Reding's answers. If they're typical of the Spanish discourse outwith Catalonia, it's clear the Catalans are facing a monumental struggle to become independent.

International support for Scottish independence

The March and Rally for Independence in Edinburgh last Saturday was full of people from all over Europe supporting Scotland's quest for independence: There were fifty Flemings, a large group of Venetians, and smaller groups of people from Catalonia, the Basque Country and Padania (North Italy).

However, there were no Danes (apart from me and my daughters, I presume), no Estonians, no Croats.

In other words, the international supporters were all from other non-sovereign nations seeking their independence, not from countries that are already internationally recognised independent states, even if that independence was only achieved within the past twenty years.

I guess it's natural -- Scotland, Euskadi (the Basque Country), Catalonia and Flanders all face similar obstacles, and they can help each other overcome them.

However, it's a bit of a shame that the sovereign countries don't want to get involved.

In the case of the neighbouring countries, such as Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark, the emergence of an independent Scotland would have a significant impact on their world, and they might well find Scotland easier to work with than the current UK, so it could be in their interest to support the Scottish independence movement.

In the case of the countries that gained their freedom within the last couple of decades, they must have gained a lot of experience in the process, experience which could benefit us in Scotland.

I suppose sovereign countries will get in trouble if they support other countries' independence movements openly. However, I don't believe there's anything that would prevent private citizens in other countries from forming groups to support Scottish independence.

Perhaps I should simply start up Danes for Scottish Independence on Facebook?