SPANISH SIGHS

A day after around 350,000 anti-independence Catalans (or non-Catalans bussed in from out of town) swamped the streets of Barcelona to declare their unity with Spain, France has declared it will not recognise an independent Catalonia and that it should be expelled from the EU. Would that be expulsion free from the divorce fees demanded of Brexit? If so, go for it! Rumours of big businesses discussing relocating from the Catalan heartland in the event of the autonomous regional government proclaiming separation from Spain will be familiar to anyone in this country; powerful corporations imagining issuing threats will somehow force the people round to their way of thinking is a futile exercise that will only strengthen pro-independence sentiments in the same way Madrid’s response to last week’s referendum did.

At the height of the Civil Rights movement in the mid-60s, white residents of America’s Deep South were prone to remarking the rest of the US didn’t understand their corner of the country; it’s true that the old Confederate States retained their archaic identity well into the twentieth century, in defiance of the self-image the USA had created as an international export, and the same could be said of both Catalonia and the Basque region in relation to modern-day Spain. Enforcing the authority of the National Government by dispatching the militaristic wing of the Spanish police force and battering anyone in sight is not the best way to send out a message to either Catalans or the watching world that the rest of Spain is Catalonia’s friend.

The remarkable sight of local fire-fighters protecting the public from outside policemen supposed to be on the same side was one of many startling images to emerge from the chaos of referendum day. From the pictures most of us saw, it seemed those wishing to exercise their democratic (or illegal) vote were largely non-violent, whereas the police regiments were the ones throwing their weight around; the Catalan constabulary, standing alongside the fire-fighters to shield the crowd, looked stunned by the level of force their Madrid counterparts were employing to prevent the referendum from going ahead. The region’s chief of police has even been charged with ‘sedition’ for failing to protect the invaders from protestors. But the EU responded by declaring ‘reasonable force’ was perfectly fine as a means of the National Government keeping the country together. Bring on that expulsion from Brussels now.

There are right ways and there are wrong ways of dealing with a troublesome neighbourhood of a nation that was pieced together from constituent parts over a century before. As a response to three years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Ted Heath’s Government granted a plebiscite to the people of Ulster in 1972, offering them the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted to remain in the United Kingdom; when the vote took place the following year, the result was a landslide for ‘remain’, though this was probably aided considerably by the fact that the majority of Nationalists boycotted the referendum. In 2014, when the Scots were finally given their chance to decide once and for all if they wanted their independence, they also voted to stay with the rest of us; as we all know, the losers continue to whinge about the result, but Westminster didn’t dispatch riot police to Edinburgh. If it had, chances are Alex Salmond would not now be out of a job.

During the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85, many local constabularies maintained cordial relations with strikers in the early stages of the dispute; it was only when Mrs Thatcher sent in the Met, foreign troops looking upon the inhabitants of the communities they invaded as sub-human pond-life, that the picket-line violence escalated and the likes of Orgreave occurred. The Guardia Civil appear to exhibit the same contempt towards Catalans as the Met exhibited towards the miners in 1984, and in the process have probably boosted separatist support when previous polls had suggested, though close, most Catalans didn’t favour independence after all.

The latest statistics from the disputed referendum suggest 90% of Catalans voted for independence, though the turn-out was 43% and it’s believed the majority of ‘No’ voters didn’t visit the polling station; perhaps they were exposed to the same level of intimidation as Scots wishing to remain in the UK allegedly experienced in 2014 and opted out as a consequence. Some of the pro-Spain protestors that made their voices heard at the weekend may well have been sponsored by Madrid, but it’s equally possible many of them were genuine Catalans who don’t buy into the separatist agenda. If we again cast our minds back to events north of the border three years ago, the independence crowd certainly shouted the loudest, giving the impression they were speaking on behalf of the majority if one recalls the amount of airtime they received. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the same applies in Catalonia.

The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will be addressing the region’s parliament tomorrow, and though there are no signs of any diplomatic compromise with Madrid yet being reached, the anticipated declaration of independence hasn’t appeared either. Lest we forget, however, the economic stability of the region in comparison to many areas of Spain post-2008 is a valuable bargaining chip for the Catalans, something that makes the National Government’s approach to dealing with the separatists a baffling blunder. If Madrid wants to keep the country intact, it’ll have to devise a different method of doing so.

© The Editor

6 thoughts on “SPANISH SIGHS

  1. It is interesting that Catalonia has a population 50% greater than Scotland and, in the view of many economists, a far more promising outlook if accounted as an independent entity. You might have expected Nicola Fish to have sent her own ‘international brigade’ to help a fellow oppressed region against the dictatorial state – but that might have upset her EU string-pullers.

    This is a very complex area where, within my living memory, that nation was long controlled by a broadly fascist dictator, having earlier undergone a desperate and damaging civil war, again still within living memory of some. Old scores remain unsettled and old tribal loyalties remain beneath the surface, they emerge when the time is right and they think that time is now.
    The behaviour of the Spanish Government has been clumsy and puerile to say the least, offensive and anti-democratic to be more accurate – but they’ve not had that much experience of democracy, at barely 40 years they’re not yet out of nation-nappies. The comparison to how the UK handled the separatist voices in its own provinces should have been a lesson, but that only happened on the back of hundreds of years of slow maturing, and you can’t develop that depth of experience overnight.

    The attitude of the EU is fascinating to observe: it finds itself conflicted because, on the one hand it wants to appear to be supporting the ‘sovereign’ EU state of Spain but, on the other hand, it has its own long-term goal of breaking up its member nation-states into smaller, more controllable, regional units, none of which could then ever amass the strength to challenge the mighty EU Superstate, so would rather like the separation to happen and become a beacon for others. A true rock-and-a-hard-place of their own making.

    All this current peak is, of course, a direct consequence of Brexit – that monumental result has given succour to many such ‘separatists’ that it really is possible to break away. What they fail to recognise through their rose-tinted independence-spectacles is that, whilst the UK is the fifth biggest economy on the planet and is perfectly capable of surviving and thriving alone, those micro-states like Scotland, Catalonia, Wales, Basque Country etc., don’t have a snowball in Hell’s chance of mixing it with the economic big boys, so the outcome of their campaigns will be more poverty all round, just independent poverty this time.
    Be careful what you wish for, Manuel.

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    1. Britain is a small island off the coast off a continent. It used to run an empire, but that was quite some time ago.

      Time to get real.

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  2. I live in a small group islands in the Caribbean (it has been democratic longer than Spain). The problem is every small region has a number of activists that want independence (maybe being king of a small island is better than being an also ran in a larger group). So a large number of islands of the Caribbean are failing independent states with many not having a population bigger than a town in the UK. Perhaps Yorkshire should have an independence vote – might be quite interesting!

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    1. Yorkshire has a similar population-size to Scotland (around 5m), has twice the GDP of Wales and would have finished 12th in the Olympic Medal table – despite that, it still doesn’t have the scale or resilience to operate as a successful independent state.
      There may be an emotional thrust for independence but those hard-nosed Tykes know which side their bread is buttered, where their flat-caps live and who feeds their whippets. They may have modernised in some ways (the sparrows no longer fly backwards to keep the industrial-dust out of their eyes and the bath is now occasionally used for other than storing the free coal from t’pit) but nose-cutting and face-spiting are still beyond them. They have a Yorkshire Day (1st Aug) and a Yorkshire flag – that’ll do them for now.

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