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By Jason Michael
Saying that Catalunya and Scotland are not the same has become quite fashionable in the Scottish independence movement. Of course those who say it are correct, but there is more to it than this. We are also very much the same.
“Catalonia and Scotland are two very different political contexts,” I keep hearing. “They have absolutely nothing in common.” Those repeating this set of opinions – or revolutionary mantras as I prefer to think of them – are perfectly correct. Catalunya’s current bid for independence from Spain has next to nothing in common with Scotland’s experience from the 2012-14 independence campaign until now. Other than Barcelona, Tarragona, and Girona having somewhat more clement weather than Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, Catalunya – an autonomous community of Spain – and Scotland – a national member of a 310 year old political union with England – are vastly dissimilar constitutionally and have entirely unique arrangements within their respective states.
Ever since the signing of the Acts of Union in England in 1706 and in Scotland in 1707 Scotland has had, at least theoretically, the right to rescind the treaty on account of it being, at least legally, a consenting party. In the years immediately following the union Scotland almost gained its independence due to the unpopularity of the union among English MPs in the House of Commons. Sadly, for us, that fell through. Owing largely to the successful unionisation of Scotland through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and to the fact that Scotland became useful to England another like opportunity never presented itself to us until devolution.
Scottish devolution was designed to fail. Twenty years on we're moving it successfully towards independence.—
Butterfly Rebellion (@Butterfly_Reb) September 14, 2017
Devolution, although designed to fail, never – thanks to accommodations made in Whitehall to the Scottish National Party – came with a glass ceiling making independence legislatively impossible. Thus, with the growth in support for the SNP and its arrival into government in 2007, we were able to legally mount a constitutional challenge to the union and vote on independence. Admittedly this is a rather rudimentary outline of Scotland’s present political reality, but for the purposes of this discussion it will do.
Catalunya, in the extreme northeast of Iberia, has its own unique story. It was not fully incorporated into what we know as Spain until 1516 when Charles I – the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella – became the first monarch to rule the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon simultaneously and by his own right. This arrangement never lasted long. The Catalans revolted in 1640 and became a republic under the protection of France, but this didn’t last long either. Soon the French took full control of the nation, and then in 1659 – under the terms of the Treaty of the Pyrenees – control was passed back to the Spanish Crown.
From 1914 the four provinces of Catalunya formed a commonwealth, becoming an autonomous government during the Second Spanish Republic. This ended with the victory of Francisco Franco – helped by Nazi Germany – in the Civil War (1936-39). Wildly popular as el Generalísimo can be even today in cities like Salamanca in the northwest, the Catalans never quite took to him. With its own national identity, culture, and language, and its staunch republicanism, Franco saw the nation as a threat to his vision of a fascist Spain. He thoroughly and violently repressed everything Catalan. Only after the death of Franco and Spain’s transition to a quasi-democratic constitutional monarchy did Catalunya regain its autonomous Generalitat de Catalunya within the constitutional makeup of Spain.
Spanish Military Assoc statement today warns that role of Armed Forces is to defend the 'indissoluble unity of Spanish nation'. #catalonia—
James Mates (@jamesmatesitv) November 20, 2012
Where – in this potted history – Scotland is British by consent, Catalunya is Spanish by conquest. As, according to the general rule of such things, the victors make the rules. Madrid wrote the constitution of the Spanish state. Resultantly, article two of the Constitución Española (1978) is a bit of a doozy and, for the Catalans and other autonomous communities, a serious bone of contention. It reads:
La Constitución se fundamenta en la indisoluble unidad de la nación Española, patria común e indivisible de todos los españoles, y reconoce y garantiza el derecho a la autonomía de las nacionalidades y regiones que la integran y la solidaridad entre todas ellas.
In a word, the Spanish state is founded on the principle of the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation” and is the “common and indivisible fatherland (‘patria’ in Spanish) of all Spanish people.” There are, as you can see, a couple of notable problems here: The Catalans are not “Spanish people” – ergo they are legally unentitled to their land, and their independence is definitively, constitutionally – according to an imposed and foreign law – illegal.
So, yes, Scotland and Catalunya are entirely different contexts. So different are they to one another in fact that any comparison between our respective independence campaigns is almost impossible. But I reserve a small similarity which proves, at least in my thinking, to be a powerful adhesive, binding our movements and campaigns one to the other – as is the case with all national independence struggles.
By emphasising the dissimilarities between Catalunya and Scotland, those who fixate on this idea of their unrelatability are failing to see altogether what is perhaps the single most important point of connection – the absolute sameness and predictability of the response of power to challenge. Right now Spain is behaving towards Catalunya in a manner which has sent shockwaves around the liberal democratic world. It is doing this because the Catalans have forced it into a position wherein it has no options left in which it can both win and maintain its pretence of enlightened civility.
Men interned by Brits in Ireland were hooded & thrown to the ground from helicopters. They were told they were hundreds of feet in the air.—
Crimes of Britain (@crimesofbrits) August 24, 2017
Would England do the same? That’s a silly question. Disrobing itself of the pressed silks and cotton shirts of gentlemanly decorum to break the bones of rebellious presumed subalterns and subjects is England’s best known party trick. Scotland was granted an independence referendum because in its arrogance the Westminster government assumed we would lose. Its behaviour modified rapidly as it looked as though we might win. Our democracy – like that of Catalunya – is part of Britain’s performance of gentility.
It is not in our histories, political structures and institutions, or even our experiences that we are the same. It is that in our difference we are subjected to the exact same dynamic of power and domination; the will of the stronger to beat down and own the weaker. In every context, in every nation – due to our shared human and instinctual will to power – this dynamic is the same – it is identical. So too then are the strategies of resistance and the wars of liberation, because always and everywhere the behaviour of power is mechanical and predictable. Catalunya’s struggle and Scotland’s are the same in this regard; we are battling the same awful beast.
Malcolm X “We’re non-violent with people who are non-violent with us.”