Sunday, 21 September 2014

A View from Catalonia


Here you have the leader of the pro-independence Catalan Government, Artur Mas, commenting on the Scottish independence referendum (partly in English, from about 10 minutes into the video).
"I would like to congratulate the Scottish people and the British people for the strong and powerful message of democracy which they have sent to the entire world. The vote in Scotland has taken place, and the Scottish people have chosen to renew their relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, with more powers given to their government, with more dignity given to the Scottish people within their existing state. They made a positive choice. The strong vote for creating a new state, a minority this time, is still so large that it cannot be ignored in the future.
The United Kingdom has shown today that it is a mature society, where difficult subjects can be resolved through civilized dialogue and through democracy, real democracy. Nothing is more normal than to talk about the future of your state and then to decide by asking the people concerned. We seek nothing more than the chance to make a similar choice for our people, for the Catalan people. That is, let me say, the European way. That is the way, the good way, the right way of the 21st century.
I would also like to add that, after seeing the strong message which the Scottish (and British) people sent to the world, we think that the Catalan political process will be reinforced in the next few weeks, and, in fact, as President of the Catalan Government, let me say that the Catalan political process will go on and will go ahead. And my message to Madrid and to the central institutions of the Spanish state is that, when you allow people to vote, this is something which strengthens the unity of that people and reinforces the concept of democracy.
This is the way, this is the right way, this is the only way to resolve differences and to try to resolve problems that may arise in a society but that can be channelled through the ballot boxes. And this is what the British people understood a couple of years ago. This is what Scottish people asked for some years ago. This is what they agreed a couple of years ago. And now today we can see the success of this way, and we can see that the Scottish people decided to stay united with the rest of the United Kingdom. This is their decision. We fully respect that decision, of course, and we also would like to point out that prime minister David Cameron said: "I could have blocked the referendum in Scotland, but I'm a democrat." And this is something that should be heard in Madrid.
Is it possible to block a referendum? Maybe, but a real democrat refuses to block a referendum when the majority of the people asking for the right to decide try to resolve this difference through real democracy."
On the same day the Catalan Parliament passed a referendum Act (Llei de consultes populars no referendàries i participació ciutadana), in accordance with which a non-binding Catalan self-determination referendum or consulta is to be held on November 9th, in conformity, it is argued, with an Article of the 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy. The Spanish government, however, considers these proceedings to be in breach of the 1978 basic law of the Spanish constitution, maintaining that in Spain no proceedings are democratic which are not in conformity with that law.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A Serious Warning

Whatever else may be said about the extraordinary exercise in energetic participative democracy which has just drawn to a close in Scotland, it can hardly be said to have gone un-noticed, as it has disturbed the neighbours by inspiring dissenters of various stripes throughout Europe and beyond.
One of the more interesting foreign commentaries on the Scottish independence referendum (and the alarums and excursions to which it gave rise) is to be found in the influential French-language blog of the Belgian anthropologist and financial expert Dr Paul Jorion, of the Free University of Brussels, where he lectures on the stewardship of finance. The author of the blog post in question is Jean-Michel Naulot, and it is entitled The Scottish Referendum: a Serious Warning for Europe.
According to Mr Naulot, the people of Scotland have just scored a victory over the UK state (and its neo-liberal austerity regime) and are allowing it an opportunity to reform itself before deciding whether to give it the coup de grâce:
"In the end the Scottish referendum was won by the unionists. The victory of the No camp was secured after very important concessions were extracted from David Cameron in the final days of the campaign. It is as if the Scottish people have just said to him: 'All right, you can have a stay of execution to give you a chance to prove yourself . . .'
Towards the end of the campaign the British authorities seemed at last to take seriously the silent revolt of a people who have just demonstrated once more, in an exemplary manner, with a massive voter turn-out, that the referendum is a magnificent instrument for forcing a ruling elite to sit up and take notice and for enabling a society to take its destiny into its own hands. This is what is lacking just about everywhere in Europe at the present time.
This referendum is a serious warning for all the European states which are paying scant attention to inequality inflicted on various territories as a result of the financial crisis and which pay little heed to inequality in general. From the era of Margaret Thatcher through to the administration of David Cameron the British political class has focused its attention on the City of London. Its solidarity with the financial-services industry has grown since austerity was imposed in 2010, but the pigeons have now come home to roost. [...]" (Référendum écossais : un sévère avertissement pour l'Europe, par Jean-Michel Naulot, Blog de Paul Jorion, September 19th 2014)
To read on (in French) click here.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Tide Will Turn

Being of a sceptical, not to say pessimistic, disposition, I would have to say that I would have been surprised if Yes had come out on top in the Scottish independence referendum yesterday, just as I was surprised when the Scottish National Party (only just) won more seats than any other party in the Scottish parliamentary general election of 2007 and then secured an overall majority in 2011.
I had hoped to be surprised again, needless to say, but when on Monday I happened to turn a page which had not been turned for many a long year, I found a message from the year 1915, written in a notebook in my dear grandmother's fair hand as if addressed to me for this moment almost a century later. Here it is:
"The tide will turn if the thing you mind
Is worth the waiting, and worth the cost.
If you seek and seek until you find,
then your labour will never be lost,
For waiting is often working, you see,
And, though the waters may now be low,
The tide will turn if you bide a wee,
And you'll get 'Yes' where you got 'No'."
With 45% of the Scottish electorate having voted for independence yesterday and the UK political establishment unlikely to heed the warning which this sends, the tide will certainly turn, for those who know England well know that there will be no federal re-organization of the UK constitution. Nor will there be devo max. What there will be is a return to anglo-complacency and a long debate, out in the long grass, on minimal additional powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament, a reduction in the power of Scottish members of the inferior chamber of the Westminster parliament, and, in all probability, a referendum on UK membership of the European Union, resulting in differing outcomes in Scotland and England and, in consequence of that, a demand for a further referendum on Scottish independence in due course.
Back to the long grass
A Punch cartoon on Home Rule undertakings given to Scotland . . . in 1912:
"It's true I promised you I wouldn't let the grass grow under my feet; but - well, you know what grass is."
(UK PM Asquith)

The constitutional question is not settled, any more than it has ever been. It has merely been established that almost half of the Scottish electorate desire independence at the present moment under the present circumstances.
Anglo-unionists may feel entitled to breathe a sigh of relief this morning, but, if substantial autonomy is not delivered, particularly if Scotland is forced out of the EU by England in a referendum on UK membership of that organization, the tide will turn.
"[...] the 1707 Treaty of Union is already over - it's dead. It was soundlessly blown up, like a Red Road tower block, at the moment in 1999 when Winnie Ewing said: 'The Scottish Parliament is hereby reconvened.' For the last 15 years, we have been living in an informal, low-rise, lower-case union, its ever-changing skyline made up by Westminster and Holyrood as they go along. The sweep of transformation - now become a torrent since the referendum campaign began - heads towards the completion of self-government. [...] The Yes side may well not win the vote in September. But it has already, overwhelmingly, won the campaign. In the long term, that may come to matter more." (Neal Ascherson, The Sunday Herald, July 6th 2014)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A View from Spain



In the above video you see a report on the Scottish independence referendum from an EU state which refuses to allow referendums of this nature and which is consequently embarrassed by the exemplary exercise in democracy that is taking place today, which in itself should qualify an independent Scotland for EU membership. If any EU country deserves to be excluded from the European Union, that country is Spain, whose shallow democracy shames it, as events in Catalonia over the next few days and weeks seem likely to demonstrate.
Tomorrow, after the announcement of the result of the Scottish referendum, the Catalan Parliament is expected to pass a Bill enabling a non-binding referendum or consulta to be held on whether Catalonia should be a state and, if so, whether that state should be independent. The Spanish government is understood to be going to suspend the statute by immediately referring it to the Spanish Constitutional Court for a ruling on it.
If the President of the Generalitat of Catalonia nevertheless proceeds to authorize a referendum, to be held on November 9th, Madrid may take further action to prevent it, possibly suspending Catalan autonomy.
Alternatively, President Mas might choose to hold a snap parliamentary election, in the form of a plebiscitary (or single-issue) general election, which might also meet with disapproval in Madrid. All of this, needless to say, would stand in stark contrast to the orderly democratic proceedings which are unfolding in our own fair land today.

It is little wonder that douce little Scotland is not flavour of the month in Spanish government circles, where it has been historically axiomatic that the Castilian state cannot be governed effectively without coming down hard on Barcelona every fifty years or so.
By way of compensation, Scotland undoubtedly is flavour of the month among pro-independence members of the Spanish parliament representing constituencies in Catalonia and the Basque Country, seen below giving a press conference today on "the lesson in democracy" which Scotland (and, indeed, the UK) is giving to the notoriously inflexible regime of Mariano Rajoy, who is, of course, not appreciating it, as was only to be expected.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Let's Do This

In these final hours of this historic campaign I want to speak directly to every person in this country who is weighing up the arguments they have heard.
I have no doubt people in Scotland will look past the increasingly desperate and absurd scare stories being generated daily from Downing Street.
Those have no place in a sensible debate.
So in these last days of the greatest campaign Scotland has ever seen I want to ask you to take a step back from the arguments of politicians and the blizzard of statistics.
For every expert on one side there is an expert on the other.
For every scare tactic there is a message of hope, opportunity and possibility.
The opportunity for our Parliament to gain real job-creating powers, the ability to protect our treasured National Health Service and the building of a renewed relationship of respect and equality with our friends and neighbours in the rest of these islands.
But for all that, the talking is nearly done.
The campaigns will have had their say.
What’s left is just us - the people who live and work here.
The only people with a vote. The people who matter.
The people who for a few precious hours during polling day hold sovereignty, power, authority in their hands.
It's the greatest most empowering moment any of us will ever have.
Scotland's future - our country in our hands.
What to do? Only each of us knows that.
For my part, I ask only this.
Make this decision with a clear head and a clear conscience.
Know that by voting ‘Yes’ what we take into our hands is a responsibility like no other - the responsibility to work together to make Scotland the nation it can be.
That will require maturity, wisdom, engagement and energy, and it will come not from the usual sources of parties and politicians but from you, the people who have transformed this moment from another political debate into a wonderful celebration of people power.
Does every country make mistakes? Yes.
Are there challenges for Scotland to overcome? Undoubtedly.
But my question is this. Who better to meet those challenges on behalf of our nation than us?
We must trust ourselves.
Trust each other.
In Scotland we've always had the wealth, the resources and the talent.
We know that with independence we would immediately be in the top twenty of the richest countries in the world.
But what has emerged in this campaign is something very new.
It has changed Scotland for ever. I have met it in every community I have been in the last weeks.
An understanding that, if we work hard, Scotland can be a global success story.
A beacon of economic growth and a champion of social justice.
That's who we are as a nation.
We are the land of Adam Smith, who said that no society can flourish and be happy if too many of its people do not benefit from its wealth.
We are the land of Robert Burns, who loved Scotland dearly and also celebrated humanity the world o'er.
It's what we can be.
It's why this opportunity is truly historic.
Women and men all over Scotland looking in the mirror and knowing the moment has come.
Our choice, our opportunity, our time.
Wake up on Friday morning to the first day of a better country.
Wake up knowing you did this - you made it happen.
This vote isn't about me, it isn't about the SNP, the Labour Party or the Tories.
It's about you. Your family. Your hopes. Your ambitions.
It’s about taking your country's future into your hands.
Don't let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
Don't let them tell us we can't.
Let's do this.

UPDATE, September 18th

A View from Germany

At last a German report on the Scottish independence referendum without a kilt in it:

In the above ARD report, in which we see UK politicians running around like headless chickens (Project Panic, Project Fear apparently having failed), we have a classic illustration of the ineptitude which goes some way towards explaining why the UK is, as Professor Tom Devine has just been arguing, a failed state:
"Sir Tom Devine, the leading historian, has claimed the UK is a 'failed state', as he predicted the SNP would continue to thrive in an independent Scotland. The Edinburgh University professor argued the 'inept' governance of the UK was a key reason leading to Thursday's vote on independence." (The Herald, September 16th 2014)
Ineptitude and inadequate governance are also the themes of a highly readable Guardian article by Linda Colley:
"The litany of miscalculations and unforced errors is a depressing one.
Margaret Thatcher's decision to use Scotland as a testing ground for the poll tax was arguably the most disastrous attempt at fiscal engineering since London slapped the stamp tax on the American colonies in the 1760s. Thatcher did not understand that the union with Scotland had in practice always been a limited one. From the outset, Scots retained their own legal, educational and religious systems and were traditionally governed by way of their own indigenous grandees and operators. It was sadly ironic that the arch-prophetess of a limited state appeared to want to rip up this formula for indirect rule and to impose on Scotland in radically new ways, one reason why so many people there still detest Thatcher's memory.
Tony Blair's New Labour tried harder, in part because its leaders knew Scotland better and needed it more. Nonetheless, in formulating its devolution measures in the late 1990s, his government fudged. It pursued ad hoc measures in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but declined to adopt a systematic federalism that might properly have embraced England as well; and it created a new Scottish Parliament and local electoral system that helped the SNP to acquire a degree of power that it had never previously possessed. And Blair did more. One of the strongest arguments for the union has always been that it helps defend the component countries from attack from without. But by pursuing his unpopular war with Iraq Blair allowed nationalists to argue that the union was instead a machine that sucked Scotland into profitless and expensive exercises in overseas aggression.
As for the present prime minister, David Cameron, some of the strikes against him in regard to the current crisis are well known. He refused to include a third, devo max, option in the referendum ballot, and thus failed to win credit in Scotland for a policy that he has now belatedly felt compelled to espouse. He allowed Alex Salmond to draft the referendum question and shape the timetable." (Linda Colley, The Guardian, September 16th 2014)
It is not for nothing that one of the most amusing moments in the Dad's Army film (which I am embarrassed to admit to having seen) is when the German general planning the invasion of England says: "The English have one thing in common with us. They are great organizers." That gets me every time, having frequently had to endure English functionaries wittering on lethargically, and, of course, superciliously, about there being no need to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut or make a mountain out of a molehill . . . or in fact deal with any apparently intractable problem before it has grown to such enormous proportions that nothing much can be done about it any more . . . apart from running around like headless chickens.
For those who may be interested, the latest ARD report on the referendum is here.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Think Carefully

Much is made of the uncertainty factor which is said by the nay-sayers to be inextricably associated with voting Yes in the Scottish independence referendum on Thursday. Even Her Britannic Majesty is understood to be so concerned about an unamusing outcome that she is reported to have been advising her Scottish subjects to think carefully about what the Dickens they think they are up to.
So let us think carefully, as if we had not already been doing that for the past few years of constitutional debate while England slept, and let us be jolly British about it by examining a precedent, for this is not the first independence referendum concerning the question of whether a union of northern European countries should be dissolved, such a plebiscite having been held in 1905. One presumes that voters thought carefully about what they thought they were up to in that instance. Having thought carefully, how did they vote? And what consequences ensued?
Irreconcilable differences had led to unilateral Norwegian dissolution of the union with Sweden on June 7th 1905:
A cartoon published in Söndags-Nisse on February 12th 1905,
representing Norway as an angry cat and Sweden as a stolid dog
tied to one another by a bond which is in flames,
which Swedish Prime Minister Boström strives unsuccessfully to extinguish.
"The dispute between Norway and Sweden has reached a dramatic, if not a tragic, stage. By the resolution which the Storthing passed yesterday, the union of the two Kingdoms was dissolved, and King Oscar practically deposed. In spite of the assurances of loyalty to the House of Bernadotte, with which this step was taken, and the supplication or, at all events, the earnest request that King Oscar might transfer his regality to the youngest of the Royal Princes, it is impossible to disregard the fact that the Norwegian people are in the mood to proceed any length in support of their claim to complete independence. Nor is it easy to question their attitude or refute their arguments. With the menace of Bernadotte's army to compel their acquiescence, it is quite true that they entered into an involuntary union with Sweden. But they did so on the basis of the Constitution of May 17, 1814 [...]" (The Glasgow Herald, June 8th 1905)
Norway went on to confirm its decision by voting Yes in an independence referendum on August 13th. On the 'Yes' campaign post card below it says "Yes, we love this country", which is the title of the Norwegian national anthem.

Yes Norway

The plebiscite resulted in an overwhelming 99.95% in favour of independence against 0.05% opposed. The population of Scotland's northland neighbour thus asserted emphatically that to love one's country is to wish it to be free to truly be itself and that this requires sovereign independence, which provides a nation with the means to realize its potential, as the Norwegians are doing, and as the Scots will be able to do if they vote Yes on Thursday.
Following its independence from Sweden, Norway was transformed in the course of the twentieth century from a poor agricultural country into a model democracy possessing a vibrant economy, with an engaged if somewhat reluctant international presence.
It has topped the United Nations list for human development for several years. Unemployment, inequality and population growth are low among the country's 5,033,675 inhabitants (2012).
Norwegians enjoy long life expectancy, a high education level, high health expenditure, as well as high income and a high gross domestic product per capita. As in the rest of Scandinavia, the electoral supremacy of social democracy has been pronounced. The Norwegian state has been described as both corporatist and based on an ideology of welfare capitalism, where free-market activity is balanced against government intervention.
Norway is also famous for its highly beneficial oil fund:
"Everyone in Norway became a theoretical krone millionaire on Wednesday in a milestone for the world's biggest sovereign wealth fund that has ballooned thanks to high oil and gas prices.
Set up in 1990, the fund owns around 1 per cent of the world's stocks, as well as bonds and real estate from London to Boston, making the Nordic nation an exception when others are struggling under a mountain of debts.
A preliminary counter on the website of the central bank, which manages the fund, rose to 5.11 trillion kr ($828.66 billion), fractionally more than a million times Norway's most recent official population estimate of 5,096,300." (Reuter's, January 9th 2014)
Where is Scotland's oil fund? You may well ask. The answer is, of course, that the UK state has squandered all the income from our oil and gas so far, leaving us with nothing. This melancholy state of affairs can and will be rectified if Scotland votes Yes on Thursday.
Think carefully by all means. And then vote Yes.