Common Weal head of policy and CommonSpace columnist Ben Wray says the radio silence from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the Spanish State’s repression of Catalonia is not good enough
SPANISH tennis star Rafael Nadal has spoken out against the Catalan referendum: “Everyone has to respect the laws, and there are some laws that are there and they cannot be skipped because you want to skip them.”
Is Nadal right? If so, much of the bloodshed and brutality of history can be excused, acting as it did under the guise of legality, not least in Spain itself for much of the 20th century under the murder and terror of Franco’s “legal” dictatorship. The Spanish state’s repression of the Catalan’s planned referendum on 1 October has left many wondering how much has changed.
Nadal should know that there is laws and then there is rights, and the former does not override the latter. The right to self-determination has been enshrined in the UN’s Charter after the Second World War, just because the Spanish constitution does not respect this does not mean that it is not so.
More important than the response of a tennis player is the political response internationally to what is increasingly looking like the usurping of autonomous regional government in Catalonia to be replaced by rule from Madrid.
“Is Nadal right? If so, much of the bloodshed and brutality of history can be excused, acting as it did under the guise of legality, not least in Spain itself for much of the 20th century under the murder and terror of Franco’s “legal” dictatorship.”
Is the shutting down of Catalan government websites, the armed police seizure of ballot papers and other referendum related materials, the threat of imprisonment to Catalan politicians and seizure of Catalan state finances by the Spanish Government acceptable in the 21st century to our great European defenders of democracy and freedom?
Most of them are looking the other way, with the notable exceptions of the Estonian Prime Minister who has said Catalonia has a right to self-determination and cross-party Danish MP’s who have signed a letter saying they are concerned about the Spanish Government’s actions. Even European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said he would respect a Yes vote.
But of all the radio silence from leaders across Europe – usually so quick to condemn repression of democracy in countries far beyond Europe – the most disturbing quiescence has come from our very own First Minister and leader of the Scottish independence movement, Nicola Sturgeon.
Surely a politician seeking statehood for her European nation would be quick to defend the democratic rights of another to do the same?
Instead, the First Minister, the SNP (I understand their press office hasn’t responded to requests for comment), the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament are yet to say a word. (Sturgeon has found more time for singing the praises of Hilary Clinton’s book than she has for the Catalans…)
“This isn’t even fundamentally about whether you are in favour of Catalan independence or not – it is about the right of Catalans to decide themselves, free from persecution. The First Minister could seek cross-party support in Scotland for the right to self-determination for Catalonia.”
The arguments in favour of Sturgeon’s silence do not add up. “We shouldn’t interfere in another country’s referendum,” some have argued – but at this rate there will not be a referendum in Catalonia, as the Spanish Government will have stopped it from ever occurring. This isn’t even fundamentally about whether you are in favour of Catalan independence or not – it is about the right of Catalans to decide themselves, free from persecution. The First Minister could seek cross-party support in Scotland for the right to self-determination for Catalonia.
‘Diplomacy requires not giving the Spanish Government a reason to block an independent Scotland’s EU entry’, others say. But wait a minute: a vote on Scottish independence isn’t even on the agenda right now, never mind a hypothetical yes vote and a hypothetical entry request (the noises from Sturgeon and Salmond recently have increasingly been towards at least starting off in EFTA, not the EU). There is so many hypotheticals in this position it is amazing it is taken so seriously, never mind the fact that it is the worst kind of cowardice to turn a blind eye to the repression of another country’s independence so as to advance your own in some unspecified time in the future.
Furthermore: does anyone seriously think the UK establishment will not be watching to see if the Spanish Government can get away with this? We already know that the days of the Edinburgh Agreement are long gone. A section 30 order will not be won easily in the future.
There was a three month window from April-July when the Scottish Parliament had voted for an independence referendum and the UK Government refused to respond to that request, before the First Minister decided to withdraw the request for a section 30 order. It would be the height of naivety to think that post-Brexit UK is going to get more respectful of democracy in the future.
And if the UK does act to prevent a Scottish referendum in the future, who will come to our aid internationally if we did not come to theirs? There is a basic matter of principle here: international solidarity between stateless nation’s and their right to self-determination. But this principle also serves a long-term strategic purpose: we know we have international supporters who will stand up for us when we need them most.
This is the Catalans hour of need – Sturgeon must support them.
Picture courtesy of Byronv2
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