Saturday 28 October 2017

The Catalan handkerchief

Spain isn’t greatly liked in Britain. This has been particularly noticeable in the past few weeks as the crisis in Catalonia has developed. Quite a few writers have indulged in the pleasures of Spain bashing and for a variety of reasons. Some Eurosceptic Brexiteers have sympathised with the Catalans and used the crisis to complain about democracy in Spain and the EU. Some people have just found another underdog to champion. Plucky little Catalonia up against nasty Spain only needs Francis Drake to come to the rescue after he has finished his game of bowls.

 I’ve always taken the view that I shouldn’t encourage secession in someone else’s country if I don’t want it in my own. It is grossly hypocritical to do so. One of the features of the Scottish independence campaign that I remembered most was how people from other countries either resident in Scotland or not began taking sides. I lost count of the number of Germans who were desperate for my country to be broken up. When I asked them how they felt about Germany breaking up once more into Saxony, Bavaria etc. they became rather less enthusiastic about German forms of nationalism and didn’t at all like the idea of going back to the days prior to German unification.

Unless you have gone through this an independence campaign and felt the effects of full blown nationalism you don’t really get it. For Pro UK Scots the ongoing campaign to break up the UK is traumatic. We just want to get on with our lives without the constant fear of yet another threat from Nicola Sturgeon. It looks for the moment as if support for the SNP is in decline. The likelihood of another independence referendum happening anytime soon is decreasing by the day. If the SNP loses its overall pro-independence majority at the next Scottish Parliamentary election, which is likely, then we will more or less be safe for the foreseeable future.

But it’s been tough. Australians don’t have to worry about their country breaking up, nor do Japanese. Most people around the world don’t have this worry. It may all be good fun for the Scottish nationalist. They may enjoy this process of trying to break up the UK. But I don’t enjoy it. Out of all of the bad things that have happened in my life I would put Scottish nationalism somewhere near the top. I would rather see bubonic plague in Scotland than the disease of nationalism as the former is far easier to cure.

It is partly for this reason that I am not one of those Scottish writers who tries to see the good side of Scottish nationalism. I don’t want to play fair with these people. I don’t feel sorry for them when they keep losing. I don’t feel sympathy for their pain. I just want to defeat them and see them fully recognise that their defeat is permanent.

Nationalism is the best political card that you can play. Appealing to people’s sense of identity is tapping into something very basic and very powerful. Successfully playing this card can lead to almost anything. For the sake of their identity people are willing to lie, cheat, steal and kill. The only card historically that is stronger than nationalism is religion. Until a few hundred years ago in Europe people were willing to kill in order to make someone else believe one thing about Jesus Christ rather than something else. Most of us now believe in freedom of religion. We have put theocracy behind us as something primitive. But we haven’t yet put nationalism behind us.

The fact that nationalism is the strongest card in the deck means that responsible politicians should never play it. When things go wrong you get Spanish police bashing in the heads of people trying to vote. When things go very wrong you get Yugoslavia or Ukraine.

What have we learned?

1. There is no right to secession in European democracies. Anyone who doubts this should reflect that no-one will recognise a Catalonia that has achieved independence illegally. Therefore Catalonia is not independent. Just because I declare something to be so, it doesn’t make it so.

2. There is no right to have an independence referendum. This may be granted as was the case in the UK or in Canada. It may also be refused.

3. It is not undemocratic to refuse to allow a vote on independence. Germany, France and the USA would not allow their constituent parts a vote on independence and would certainly be willing to use force to prevent secession. They are all democracies.

4. Going down the illegal route to independence leads to capital flight and businesses deciding they no longer wish to have their headquarters in your territory. We don’t yet know if this capital will return to Barcelona and if these businesses will go back. Events are unfolding and markets don’t like uncertainty. Some capital will return as will some businesses, but some won’t.

5. People vote with their feet. Nationalism is very unpleasant for those who are not nationalists. Catalonia has many people who feel Spanish, or both Spanish and Catalan. If Catalan nationalism becomes unpleasant enough they will relocate. The same obviously is the case in Scotland. People who feel British or both Scottish and British will eventually give up on Scotland if we continue down the divisive path. Why spend your life with this sort of unpleasantness and uncertainty? The last thing either Catalonia or Scotland needs is the loss of people who don’t share the feelings of Catalan or Scottish nationalists. If nationalism makes either place unpleasant enough, these people will leave. Many of those who will leave will be those with the most talent and the best brains. If they could reflect this just might give the Scottish and Catalan nationalists the chance to reflect on the damage that they do.

6. Nationalism is a disease that is spread by nationalists. This is why I encourage the use of “Typhoid Nicola”. Scottish nationalists hope Catalonia gains independence, because if it did it would make Scottish independence more likely. Secession gives rise to secession. Yugoslavia starts with one and ends up with many. Nationalists see the example of someone else gaining independence and immediately think why not us. If you let this disease get out of control it, will come to your country eventually.

7. The European Union does not want to encourage independence movements. An independent Catalonia would start life outside both the EU single market and the Spanish internal market. Catalans may be better off now than most other Spaniards, but how much does this depend on them being part of Spain?  

8. Using force to prevent people from voting, even if this voting is illegal is stupid. Spain should simply have told pro Spanish Catalans to boycott the illegal referendum. They should have allowed pro-independence Catalans to vote freely hoping that they would win 100% of this illegal vote. Spain should then have pointed out that the vote was illegal and ignored it. All nation states have the right to enforce the law in their territory, but writing a cross on a piece of paper is not violent and need not be prevented by force.

9. There is a balance between the forces of unification and secession. We should not try to unify that which is too dissimilar. This leads to empires. Nor should we attempt to split that which is nearly the same. This leads to fragmentation. The sovereign nation state is the foundation of our security, wealth, freedom and democracy. It arose from the conflicts of early modern Europe and was developed as a means of solving these conflicts more peacefully. It is the only thing that prevents us from descending into barbarism. The sovereign nation state has rights which we all must respect or else “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

10 Nation states have the right to defend themselves against those who wish to destroy them. They have the right whether these enemies are internal or external. For this reason it is crucial that nationalists are not too relentless in their struggle. Catalonian independence hasn’t happened and won’t happen. It may take a while to sink in, for many Catalans are at present deluded by the zeal of their nationalism, but really it is best soon to accept defeat and get on with your life. All you have achieved is the temporary loss of devolution. Would that the British Government had the guts to do the same next time Typhoid Nicola started issuing one of her threats. It would require a simple majority at Westminster to repeal the Scotland Acts of 1998 and 2016 and it would take just a few bulldozers to rid us of her place of work.  Edinburgh would have one less eyesore and she could be sent homewards to think again.

Catalonia will still be a part of Spain one hundred years from now. Spain has made misjudgements. But the amount of blood spilt in defending Spanish unity while unfortunate should not be exaggerated. Leroy Pope Walker a politician from Alabama thought that the secession of the Confederacy would spill no more blood than could be wiped up with a handkerchief. He rather underestimated. Did the USA have the right to defend its territorial integrity? Yes. Does Spain have the right? Unquestionably. If sense prevails, no more blood need be spilled in Spain. But if Catalan nationalists show the same relentless refusal to give up and accept defeat as their Scottish counterparts we will need rather a lot of handkerchiefs.