Tag Archives: Independence

SCOTLAND AND CATALONIA

Catalan_2409385bThere’s a little church and it’s in one of Barcelona’s many pretty little squares. Like many historic building in central Barcelona the walls are pock-marked with the many bullets that were discharged during the Spanish Civil War. On inspection you can see the bomb damage inflicted by one of the first ever air raids carried out by the Italian Air Force in support of Franco’s Nationalist forces.

History is important and complex in Catalonia and it runs through every aspect of current political life. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the debate about Catalan independence. The debate about independence can perhaps be best characterised as a commentary on the uneasy historic relationship between Catalonia and Spanish Castile. The many disputes and grievances between these two parts of the Iberian Peninsula are deeply felt and encompass culture, language, national identity and an almost unbelievable volley of national insults.

It is now reckoned that 1.6 million people took to the streets to demand independence, this from a nation that has just over seven million of a population. The preparation to celebrate the tri-centenary of the defeat in the Spanish Wars of Succession (when Catalan independence was effectively lost and which remains Catalonia’s national day) is likely to see millions link in a human chain the length of the Catalan coast. It is reckoned that this may be the biggest ever protest for national independence seen anywhere in the world in modern times.

Opinion polling on independence isn’t particularly scientific but what exists shows some 55% or so for independence with only just over 20% for remaining in the Spanish state. Buildings now proudly display the flag of an independent Catalonia and it is about the only source of conversation amongst the commentariat and civic society.

So what is fuelling Catalan independence and why is it demonstrating such passion, enthusiasm and commitment? Yes, grievance certainly, but it is also the view that as the economic engine of Spain, Catalonia contributes so much more to the Spanish economy than it secures in return. What has stoked it up to max, though, is Madrid’s refusal to even countenance the prospect of further significant constitutional change.

Catalonian independence remains a total no-go area for Madrid with their very real fear that independence could mean the end of what would be left of the Spanish state. Their refusal to even talk about constitutional change is pretty much about what they see as Spain’s very survival.

So what exists is an unbridgeable stand-off and the future remains almost dangerously uncertain. This uncertainty even seems to be infecting the curious state of the Catalan Parliament. In Barcelona we have the almost bizarre sight of the independence movement being split along ideological lines with competing left, right and centre independence parties. Politicians in Catalonia find it almost impossible to agree on a way forward. So step forward civic society and it is here that we find the leadership in the independence movement. One of the most unkind distinctions you hear about Scotland in Barcelona is that the Catalan independence movement is led from the bottom up whilst in Scotland it is from the top down.

What are the other comparisons and lessons for Scotland? Well, not many really. The two independence experiences are very different. When you ask the Catalans how they respond when unionists ask them, for example, what sort of defence forces an independent state will have they just look at you blankly and chastise you for asking such a stupid, irrelevant question. Indeed, the team preparing the equivalent of our white paper is only sixteen strong and is only getting ready to write the first paragraph. Where the Catalans feel oppressed by every utterance of the Spanish state, we can only feel oppressed by the very reasonableness of the UK Government and their co-operation over the Edinburgh Agreement.

It’s what happens next that is really interesting. It does look likely that there will be enough Catalan political unity to proceed with a consultative referendum next year. This is a referendum that is likely to be overwhelmingly won. What Madrid does following that will be the key event. Right now, though, there seems little scope for any discussions, far less agreement, between Barcelona and Madrid.

So where there may be two independence referenda in Europe next year, they really couldn’t be any more different, with entirely different contexts and backgrounds.

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The Ghost of Too Wee, Too Poor, Too Stupid

“Too wee, too poor, too stupid”. This was the former staple diet of unionist propaganda in the old days, when the independence debate was composed of much simpler fare. Then there was no need for the scare story. We were simply subsidised Scotland, surviving off scraps from the ruins of our former industrial decline. “What would we do without the generous largesse of the UK state?” was enough to confirm our diminished status and spike any ambition to run our own affairs.

“Too wee, poor and stupid (too wp&s)” was the orthodoxy until it became apparent we contributed more to the UK state than we received. “Scotching the myth”, well, scotched it, and now only the Westminster Tories and sections of the metropolitan press still ramble on about a subsidised Scotland

No unionist involved in the referendum debate would now say directly that we are “too wp&s”. Even they know that to insult the very people they’re trying to recruit is simply not good campaigning tactics. So now “too wp&s” is simply hinted at. It’s disguised in all the uncertainty they’re trying to present in their doom-laden version of an independent Scotland. “Yes” they say, “Scotland could be a successful independent nation,” then in the next breath we get the multitude of reasons why the Scots, uniquely, wouldn’t make a success of independence.

Even our inbuilt advantages have to be a negative. We are, in fact “burdened” with our oil resource and when it runs out, the ghost of “too wp&s” returns to suggest we aren’t creative enough to prepare for this and ensure our future prosperity.

The narrative of a “separate” Scotland is the theme that is being compiled and a lot of thinking is invested in delivering this crushing vision. They have to convince the Scottish people that we will be bereft of, and incapable of creating, the infrastructure of state. Currency, partnerships, defence and even culture are all under threat. This vision of the “separate” Scotland is being carefully constructed and the impression they are trying to create is one word – unviable.

“Too wp&s”, therefore, underpins this “separation” and “unviability”. Of course we’re not “too wee”, but according to Michael Moore, we would be in a diminished state and a “bit player” in the world. We’re not “too poor”, but even with our fantastic oil resource we’re still going to be impoverished without the UK to manage our affairs. We’re not “too stupid”, but uniquely we don’t have the wit to effectively defend ourselves and make a success of our independence.

We cannot let the unionists suggest that we could not be a success as an independent Scotland. It is independence that believes in Scotland, and the people who live and work here. It is the unionists who continue to imply that we’re still too wee, too poor and too stupid with every bit of their narrative of a “separate” Scotland.

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This is an article Pete wrote for the Scots Independent Newspaper

NATO – A brief summary of my position

I want an independent Scotland.

I want nuclear weapons off Scottish soil and out of Scottish waters.

I want an independent Scotland to co-operate constructively with international partners on defence.

I want an independent Scotland to have a meaningful role in the debate about world nuclear disarmament.

I want an independent Scotland not just to be safe and secure, but also to feel totally safe and secure.

For all these reasons I will be supporting the resolution by Angus Robertson at conference on NATO.

That is all.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Devo-Max?

What do we do about devo-max? This peculiar, but simple, constitutional option seems to be causing a great deal of consternation amongst all sides in the independence debate and no-one seems to know what to do with this most impertinent of proposals.

Devo-max is either a legitimate aspiration of the Scottish people, or it is an evil nationalist ploy. It is either, what most people seem to want, or it is a sinister “nat-filled” Trojan horse.

It is, of course, the anti-independence parties that have the greatest issue with devo-max. For them, devo-max has become a totally toxic proposal, which must not get anywhere near a constitutional ballot paper. They are prepared to give up all their other “conditions” to get this removed and they have poured scorn over any suggestion that it be considered.

Their main contention is that devo-max is a consolation prize if the main goal of independence isn’t achieved. They want no succour or comfort for us in the SNP in the event of a failure to secure independence.

But we’re supposed to all be for more powers aren’t we? Eh, well yes, but just not now. The Unionists, as one, seem to put forward the consolidated view that the independence question has to be resolved before we can start to deal with the question of more powers. This, therefore, leaves them in the rather uncomfortable position of opposing independence, but offering what can only be referred to as “jam tomorrow”. This isn’t a good place to be and they know it. It would also mean a great leap of faith by the Scottish people who seem to be doing a collective “aye right” after having the hindsight of having been here before.

But what exactly is devo-max? “It is a proposal without a home, which no-one can define” are the usual well rehearsed gripes! Well, let me try and attempt a little clumsy definition of my own. For me, devo-max would be the devolution of all remaining powers at Westminster, barring defence, foreign affairs and international treaty obligations. We would remain part of the United Kingdom, but effectively run our own affairs, including all financial ones. Simple, and surely if this is what the Scottish people want, this is what they should have regardless of any constitutional niceties.

And what about devo-max and the SNP? It is, of course, not our position, we want independence. We also want more powers for our Parliament, so we don’t have the inbuilt hostility of the anti-independence parties to devo-max. We are also democrats, who believe that the Scottish people are sovereign and they are the ultimate masters of their constitutional progress.

I, therefore, have absolutely no problem about a devo-max option being on the ballot paper and would look forward to engaging with “devo-maxers” about the short journey between what we want with independence and the maximum powers they support.

But we are all bound by the Scottish people, and in the Scotland I believe in, they should always secure what they desire.

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This post is Pete’s new article for the Scots Independent newspaper. More information on the Scots Independent can be found on their website at http://www.scotsindependent.org/

Why Unionist Attempts to Politicise the Olympics Failed

Whilst everybody was enjoying the spectacle of the greatest Games on Earth there was one group of people who are doing their level best to spoil it for you.  Welcome to the UK Unionists. If there was a gold medal for petty political point scoring up there on the podium would be the anti-independence politicians and commentators. In rhetoric reminiscent of Labour claims that devolution would kill the SNP ‘stone dead’, time and again we heard claims the SNP are opposed to Team GB and that every medal marks a death blow to Scottish independence aspirations.

They condemned the Scottish Government for wishing our Scottish athletes well. They then criticised us for providing a Scottish showcase opened to fully engage with the Olympics. They scoured through ten year old speeches to misquote us out of context to prove that we’re pathologically opposed to the Games. They were even quicker off the blocks than Usain Bolt. Within five minutes of Danny Boyle’s fantastic opening ceremony, there they were, declaring game, set and match for the UK state.

All of it utter nonsense, and all of it grating with the Scottish people who just wanted to enjoy the Games free from politicians trying to hijack this spectacle for their own ends. And after all their incessant efforts, Guess what? Opinion polls show that if anything the Olympics have actually increased support for independence! Talk about getting it wrong and aiming that blunderbuss at the foot. Even when presented with this evidence they just can’t seem to stop. Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander are the latest senior unionist politicians to forlornly mine this empty seam, using the Olympics, because they can’t come up with any compelling or convincing case for the Union themselves.

How people vote in the Independence Referendum will be dependent on many things. Should the Westminster Tories continue to determine Scotland’s future? Would Scotland be better off in control of its own resources? Does Scotland want to make its own peaceful contribution to world affairs without being drawn into illegal wars? These are the issues that will determine the outcome of the Referendum, not a Games, regardless of their scale or success.

And anyway, Team GB is as much my team as it is the most enthusiastic fan from any other part of these isles.

While I would naturally like to see a Scottish team march round the Olympic stadium under the St Andrew’s cross as an independent nation, I cheered on Team GB till I was hoarse. I recognise the immense pride of Scottish athletes in representing their country and of course they should be able to stand under their current national flag and take great satisfaction in being a member of Team GB.

As an independent nation we will be represented by a Team Scotland in any future Olympics. That is what normal independent countries do in international sporting events. But for now we are part of the UK and all of us in Scotland are enjoyed our team’s success, regardless of how we vote or what we think about Scotland’s constitutional future.

But probably the most ludicrous notion is that the Games has shown that we in Scotland will have to choose between being Scottish or British. This is a theme that has gained much currency amongst these anti-independence commentators recently and shows a singular, probably willful, misunderstanding about what independence is about.

What we want with independence is to complete the powers of our Parliament and take responsibility for our own affairs. We want to recalibrate the political relationship of the UK state and it has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘Britishness’. That is the social union and none of it goes anywhere with independence. We will still share a British island and we will still enjoy our fantastic relationship, heritage and British culture.

But in cheering on Team GB did that mean that I was entirely happy or satisfied with all the arrangements for the London Olympics? Of course not. Like the Tories in opposition, and more recently like Labour in raising concerns about the G4S shambles, I tried as much as possible to hold the Westminster Government to account – that is my job as an MP.

But these issues have come and gone, and so, unfortunately have the Olympics. In two years time Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games where we will compete as Team Scotland. What is as certain as Scottish gold is that those self-same anti-independence politicians who have so valiantly tried to politicise these Games will be screaming blue murder at any perceived notion of nationalist politicisation.

But do you know what? Just as the London Olympics has absolutely nothing to do with the Referendum, neither will the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Politics and That Opening Ceremony

So that’s the Olympics up and running and the biggest show on earth is underway. Already it seems like the whole nation is gripped on the prospects for team GB and enjoying the spectacle of the world’s greatest athletes participating in the greatest sporting event in the world.
 
And what a treat Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was. In an emotionally charged, frenetic spectacle he seemed to sum up a cultural history of Britain that all of us were seamlessly able to relate to. In his vision of this new Jerusalem he took us on a cultural tour de force that united Brunel with the Arctic Monkeys. It was as audacious as it was breathtaking.
 
Almost predictably though some politicians couldn’t resist trying to politicise the event and use it to make their own observations about modern Britain. First up was a little known Tory MP, Aidan Burley, who took it as an opportunity to lament what he saw as the excesses of multicultural Britain. In a series of ill-considered tweets he found himself totally outside the mainstream popular response, bemoaning the show as a left wing, multicultural conspiracy.
 
Predictably, he was followed by Scotland’s unionist politicians who seemed bizarrely to suggest that this show undermined the case for Scottish independence. Unable to make any cogent case for the retention of the UK themselves they hijacked this show for their own narrow political ends. What they of course failed to appreciate is that what we saw was the social union in action. Danny Boyle produced an attractive culmination of the 300 years that we have shared and built together on these islands, and none of this disappears with Scottish independence. In fact it will instead be enhanced and re-energized as we rebuild new British partnerships based on equality and mutual respect.
 
These unionists also fail to appreciate that independence is all about recalibrating the political relationship of the United Kingdom. What we want is to complete the powers of our Parliament, bring decision making home to Scotland and make our own peaceful contribution to world affairs. Probably the biggest irony is that the strong social ethos of Friday, particularly the feature on the NHS, is being undermined by a Conservative Government we didn’t vote for and with whom Labour believes Scotland is better together!
 
We relate to what we saw on Friday because Scotland is culturally secure with a powerful sense of itself. Britishness is one of our many identities and one that will be forever cherished in an independent Scotland.
 
 

Ye See Yon Birky Ca’d a Lord

It may not be the issue that is most exercising the good people of Perthshire, but Lords Reform is the issue that has dominated the agenda in the House of Commons. Last Tuesday, it even led to the biggest rebellion we have seen since the coalition came to power. Forget double dip recession, rising unemployment, or even the conniving banks, it was the men and women in ermine that we spent the best part of two days debating.

Now, the House of Lords is a uniquely anachronistic institution. It is a blight on our democracy and is stuffed full of political placemen, cronies, donors and almost incredibly Church of England bishops! Somehow this assortment of patronage and privilege has a say on how this country is governed, and it is a democratic disgrace. There are now also almost 800 of these people costing the country millions and millions of pounds in the process. They call themselves Lords and the reek of privilege is something that should appall everyone in this country.

And, of course this should be addressed, and you would think that any democratic person would sign up to that mission- but not a bit of it. This is the House of Commons after all. The UK parties all agreed to address Lords reform in their manifestos and Nick Clegg indeed presented his proposal to the House last Tuesday.

Although Clegg’s proposals were pretty half baked (15 year terms for senators, and the retention of 20% of places for cronies), it was at least progress. But you should have heard the shrieks of protest from Tories rallying to the defence of their friends in ermine. This democracy would undermine our democracy was about the most ludicrous of claims. It would be a challenge to the House of Commons, as if the Commons doesn’t need a bit of a challenge. All of these modest proposals proved too much for 81 of these Tories and they rebelled in full conscience that they were doing the right thing.

Now, hopefully Scotland will be well shot of London Government and this won’t be our concern, but our proposal is just to get rid of the whole shooting match. The UK Parliament can get by perfectly well with one chamber and there are enough MPs to do the work. In Scotland we have demonstrated that with our beefed up committee system, scrutiny can be performed.

The House of Lords is just about everything that is bad about London rule and thank goodness we have a way out.