The Catalonian defence: Adrenaline for Scottish separatists

The Catalonian defence: Adrenaline for Scottish separatists

by Jill Stephenson
article from Monday 2, October, 2017

THE SCOTTISH NATIONALISTS have been energised by the illegal referendum in Spain – the one that has been declared illegal by the UN chief Ban Ki-moon. They seem totally uninterested in the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, for reasons that are not apparent. Catalonia, however, is close at hand and no doubt some of them have been there on holiday. It is western European and therefore familiar. Not for them a Natalie McGarry-style excursion to the Turkish border with Syria – resulting in Ms McGarry’s arrest and then release thanks to the British embassy.

Whatever may be said about police heavy-handedness in Spain – which is par for the course and not reserved for referendums – Catalonia is not a dangerous region like the Middle East. The Catalonian separatists have welcomed the Scottish separatists effusively, for many have travelled there to witness the referendum of 1 October, and to lend a hand on the separatist side.

The Spanish government has been angered by Scottish intervention in the internal affairs of Spain, including pronouncements by Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish parliament.

We have seen Ms Sturgeon abuse her position as First Minister by interfering in the internal affairs of a friendly (if it still is friendly) country as if she had some locus in foreign affairs. She does not. Foreign affairs is reserved to the UK government, as she well knows. This is simply another salami slice in the process of exceeding the powers of the Scottish Executive, with the intention of one day slicing the whole salami to pieces.

Ms Sturgeon is, of course, entitled to speak freely about whatever she likes. But she is not entitled to speak about foreign affairs as First Minister in the Scottish Parliament. She could have chosen another location and spoken as leader of the SNP, making it clear that it was in that capacity that she was speaking. That would not, of course, have suited her strategy.

The SNP presence in Spain for the referendum is so great that Councillor Mhairi Hunter tweeted on Saturday: “Looking at twitter am beginning to wonder if there are more SNP folks in Catalonia tonight than in Scotland!”. There are SNP MPs (including Joanna Cherry, pictured, and Douglas Chapman), and former SNP MPs, including Paul Monaghan, Margaret Ferrier and George Kerevan. In addition, there are MSPs like Sandra White and ex-MSPs like Tricia Marwick. SNP Youth has a presence in Catalonia, and sundry other nationalists have travelled there. The three from EnglishScots4Yes begged some money from supporters (this is politely called ‘crowdfunding’) to fly there.

So what are they doing? Well, as separatists do in Scotland, they are congregating in public places with flags. Indeed, there was a motley group, including SNP people, with their flags and banners outside the Spanish consulate in North Castle Street, Edinburgh, but being a Sunday it was no doubt closed. In Barcelona, they pose for photographs and try to assist the Catalan separatists. Joanna Cherry tweeted about having “occupied a school” that was to be used as a polling station, presumably to try to prevent Spanish police from closing it down.

All of this is grand for nationalist morale: there’s nothing like a bit of activism to get the pulses racing. And nationalist morale needs to be lifted. As is evident from social media, nationalists are becoming rather desperate. After the EU referendum, Ms Sturgeon spoke of another Scottish referendum and of Scotland having a separate deal with the EU. The EU countries that she visited, along with the EU Commission, politely told her that there could not be a separate deal for Scotland while it was part of the UK.

Ms Sturgeon then increased the rhetoric about holding another referendum. Her summer of ‘wooing’ pro-union voters in 2016 came to naught, partly because it was to be led by Stewart Hosie, who had to retire hurt. Her ‘national survey’ of Scottish opinion about another referendum disappeared into the Bute House vaults. We have never been told the results of it, suggesting that they were not favourable to her schemes. In the meantime, Andrew Wilson, the chair of her Growth Commission, publication of whose findings was said last March to be imminent but has yet to occur, let it be known that the White Paper of 2013 had been, er, misleading. “Oil was baked into it”, said Wilson, giving the lie to SNP claims that oil was simply a ‘bonus’.

Finally, Ms Sturgeon cobbled together a slim majority, with the Green list-member MSPs (first preference votes in 2016 – 13,000), in favour of holding a Scottish referendum in later 2018 or earlier 2019. The fact that a commitment to such a referendum was coyly hidden away in the SNP’s manifesto in 2016 and did not appear at all in the Greens’ manifesto was overlooked. Ms Sturgeon claimed a ‘mandate’, but was rebuffed by Theresa May, on the grounds that “now is not the time”.

Threats of pressing on with a referendum continued. But then the unthinkable happened. At the general election of June 2017 the SNP lost 21 seats and 500,000 votes. Its vote share of 49.9 per cent in 2015 shrank to 36.9 per cent in 2017, and among the SNP casualties were big beasts – Angus Robertson, SNP leader at Westminster, and the former First Minister Alex Salmond. It was clear from that election that significant numbers of former SNP voters did not share Ms Sturgeon’s enthusiasm for EU membership.

Ms Sturgeon is now in a bind. She is clever enough to know that she would lose a referendum if it were held now – and she knows what leaders do when they lose a referendum. Salmond and Cameron have shown the way. She still talks about holding a referendum as a possibility, but is vague about the time-scale. That would not matter had she not marched her troops to the top of the hill. They are stuck there, abandoned by her - and they expect action. They keep shouting that they have a ‘mandate’ for another referendum, and that ‘independence is inevitable’. Yet they are increasingly shouting to keep their spirits up.

The SNP conference later this year will be very interesting. Will it be possible for the SNP high command to suppress, as it usually does, any suggestion of discontent or dissent? Will the SNP members who voted Leave be silenced? Will those who want a referendum (or, on the wilder shores, a UDI) be held in check? Watch this space.

No wonder the Catalonian referendum has provided nationalists with a shot in the arm, an opportunity for joyous campaigning zeal. When they return to the reality of Scotland in October, it will be like the kind of let down that can be felt after a wonderful holiday abroad.

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