Scottish parliamentarians turn out in support of Catalan referendum


Figures from Scottish politics have joined with Catalan delegates to defend Sunday’s vote

THE SOLIDARITY between Scotland and Catalonia ahead of Sunday’s embattled Catalan independence referendum was further articulated on Thursday night, when figures from Scottish politics came together with a delegation from the Catalan Government to explain the unfolding situation and defend a right to democracy they claim has been imperilled.

Speaking at Edinburgh’s Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa, a panel featuring Sergi Marcén, chief representative from the Government of Catalonia to the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as former SNP MP George Kerevan, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, SNP MSPs Kenneth Gibson and Ivan McKee, and Green MSP John Finnie hosted a lively discussion on the background and potential future of the Catalan independence movement.

READ MORE: Scottish solidarity efforts intensify as Catalan referendum date approaches

The referendum has been declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court, and the Spanish Government has taken a variety of widely criticised actions against the Catalan Government and independence movement in an attempt to prevent the vote, including the seizure of ballots and election materials, shutting down referendum-related websites, the arrest of Catalan officials and threatened legal action against hundreds of Catalan mayors.

In his initial remarks, Kerevan argued against the Spanish Government’s legal and constitutional reasoning for suppressing the planned 1 October referendum, saying: “The Spanish constitution of 1978 was put together very quickly in the aftermath of the death of [fascist dictator General Francisco] Franco. At that point, the remnants of the Franco regime were still in charge, but they knew they had to have some semblance of democracy. So, they delivered a constitution that is in appearance democratic, but which has many deformations.”

Pointing to section 2 of the constitution, which emphasises the unity of the Spanish state, Kerevan said: “That was clearly put in by ex-members of the Franco regime, and it was accepted by the majority of people across the Spanish state. That was an understandable, acceptable compromise at that time, but nobody thought it was going to be there for all time.

“When the people of Catalonia are under siege by the Spanish state, I think we have to show solidarity.” SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson

“Certainly, nobody at that point – or anybody sensible now – would interpret the constitution as saying you can’t talk about changing the constitution, you can’t talk about independence, or you can’t talk about having a referendum.

“Hundreds of people are being charged with sedition and anti-constitutional activity, simply for wanting to talk about having an independence referendum. That is an extreme interpretation of the ’78 constitution, and anyone who thinks you should knuckle under to that kind of interpretation doesn’t understand what democracy is all about.”

Kenneth Gibson followed this by saying: “In this instance, when the people of Catalonia are under siege by the Spanish state, I think we have to show solidarity with the people of Catalonia.

“What’s always impressed me about the Catalan struggle for independence has been that it’s been a dignified struggle, it’s been a peaceful struggle, and despite the provocations of the Spanish Government, which have been many and have become more profound with each passing day, the Catalan people refuse to rise to the bait.

“I think that the Francoist elements within the Spanish Government, which it seems to me have started to re-emerge, would like nothing better than a violent response, and I think many people across Scotland, Europe and beyond have been deeply impressed by how the Catalan people have responded.”

“I do wish the Labour Party would have the guts to speak up in support of the Catalans.” SNP MP Joanna Cherry

Joanna Cherry, who will be in Catalonia along with Kerevan as an observer during the referendum, said: “The pictures we’re seeing on social media – we don’t seem to be seeing them on the BBC – to me have very frightening echoes of the Franco era.”

Cherry also made reference to the silence of Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party on recent developments, saying: “I do wish the Labour Party would have the guts to speak up in support of the Catalans.”

After highlighting the human rights concerns recently expressed by the UN over the situation in Catalonia, Cherry said: “I see many parallels between the Catalan movement for self-determination and our movement for self-determination in Scotland, because like us, their nationalism is not about race, or nationhood, or language – although Catalan language and culture is very important, as are our languages and culture in Scotland – but their movement for self-determination is a civic nationalism, much as we have in Scotland, that’s very much about equality, justice and human rights.

READ MORE: SNP MSPs call on European Commission to condemn Spain and defend Catalan referendum

“Whatever we say about the Spanish Government’s reaction, it is not a reaction that’s compatible with a respect for human rights.”

Cherry went on to point out that while the Spanish Government are “trying to hide behind a cloak of legality”, some high-profile members of the Spanish legal establishment have questioned what the Spanish Government are doing, and have accused it of using legal persecution as a weapon.

John Finnie said that the actions of the Spanish Government are not what would be expected from a “so-called” liberal democracy: “The irony, of course, is these breaches of rights and freedoms are freedoms that are enshrined in the Spanish constitution. So as ever, the elites want to be very selective about what they want to preserve.”

Ivan McKee said: “This isn’t about independence, this is about the right to democracy.”

The SNP politicians all expressed pride and agreement with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s statement on the Catalan situation last week, in which she backed Catalonia’s right to hold a referendum, and emphasised the SNP’s commitment to defending democracy and human rights in Catalonia from the threats they now face.

“Last week, there were Catalan officials detained for 72 hours just for defending people’s right to vote. I could have been one of them.” Catalan Government delegate Sergi Marcén

Explaining those threats further, Sergi Marcén remarked: “At this moment, there is a judge in Spain saying, if you make a statement [on the referendum] in a public place, you can be prosecuted with sedition. Sedition means 15 years in jail. So, in this moment we don’t have the right to speak in public. I can’t repeat this in Catalonia.”

“Last week, there were Catalan officials detained for 72 hours just for defending people’s right to vote. I could have been one of them. They are my friends.”

The delegate went on to argue that international law, which allows for a right to self-determination, should take priority over constitutional law. He also emphasised: “We don’t hate Spanish people. We love Spain. Spain is a great country with a great people.”

READ MORE: Edinburgh demonstration planned to show solidarity with Catalonia

He was interrupted by the Scottish unionist and Daily Telegraph contributor Tom Gallagher, who yelled from the back of the room: “You have abused your constitutional rights to deepen the gulf between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.”

Gallagher went on to disrupt the event several more times, repeatedly refusing to abide by the question and answer format, and shouting remarks such as: “Two faced!” and “Easter 1916!”

A national demonstration in solidarity with Catalonia, organised by the Radical Independence Campaign will be held on 1 October in Edinburgh, outside the Spanish consulate on North Castle Street at 1pm.

Picture courtesy of Sean Bell

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