Breaking the Law

Well, it was ‘against the law’ right enough, and the point about constitutions is that they proscribe what you can’t do as well as clarifying what you can. The constitution – and remember, one day we’ll need one – limits a citizen’s actions as well as validating his rights. The state of Spain and its government has a duty to uphold the constitution on behalf of all citizens. Spain has a justified position to maintain and has every justification for resisting the demands of a political movement agitating to breach the national law.

But of course it isn’t about the law at all. The constitution is being used as a political shield to hide the government’s failure of courage to engage constructively with the Catalonian leadership.

Now, let’s not be naïve. Trying to assuage the highly charged demands of the nationalists will be like dealing with the SNP – they will take whatever they can meantime and will not stop agitating for their ultimate objective. That’s just how it works – on both sides. They will compromise but never drop their principal position, be they nationalists for independence or unionists wedded to the UK.

Politics is a process. It just stops occasionally to draw breath and then starts up again.

Rajoy has been in denial rather than in discussion – the same place the British Tories were over Scotland before someone pointed out that the polls showed a decisive win for No if a referendum was held. That gave the green light to the Edinburgh Agreement on the basis that ‘We’ll agree to play you as we have a ten-goal start.’

I wrote the other day how fear drives much of what our politicians do (and don’t do). And it appears that fear of getting caught up in a complicated argument that he might not win proved too much for a limited and fearful hardline right-winger. The result has been estrangement and resentment, easily fuelled by populism into a powerful sense of being denied a fundamental right.

Yet it has been open to Rajoy to separate out the issues. The deeply-rooted wave of Catalonian desire for self-government is one aspect of events that won’t go away but the demand for a referendum is another. Behind the mass street demonstrations and noisy celebrations of identity the opinion polls have been showing independence as a minority interest – usually around 45 per cent Yes, but down to 41 per cent in July.

With significant numbers declaring they would not vote at all because it is not legal and a potential No vote among those who would, the ground looked set for a Castilian win.

In fact, if you were dealt Rajoy’s hand, you might smile at your cards. You can watch as they struggle to get enough votes. You can point to the abstentions and you can play your ace: it is unconstitutional.

The problem does not go away but then it never was going to. But you have maintained the dignity of the state, you have allowed a democratic expression, albeit a flawed one and you have parked the problem. Even a Yes vote can be challenged on the same grounds and will be supported by the EU and the UN. It’s uncomfortable but it’s perfectly do-able. It does little more than lay the ground for further talks on devolution without resolving the issue.

Instead, it is clear that an old falangist impulse took hold in Madrid. Catalans ceased to be Spaniards and were viewed as enemies of the state (shades of the British mindset over all Scots in the indyref). They were not only to be stopped but taught a lesson. Under the old fascist front of the law came the violation of rights. This was authoritarianism Franco style. This was manifestly not how the civilised nations of modern Europe do politics. It wasn’t just Spain that was humiliated by helmeted riot police out of control against the defenceless, it was Europe.

Images of women being hauled by the hair, pensioners bloodied and students repeatedly battered by clubs stains the impression of what politicians like to describe as Western values and ‘our way of life’.

Put it this way. Would Putin be smiling in the Kremlin? Or put it another way. What message is sent to every disaffected loser contemplating a terrorist act to express his anger?

The slow, measured – and in some cases invisible – response from the EU institutional leaders was another let down for democrats everywhere. Shuffling off responsibility for a member state is dismal politics when Article 7 allows for suspension from membership if the state abuses the rights of citizens.

No one who watched the scenes on social media which gave a much stronger flavour than those I witnessed on television could be in any doubt that this was repression of a kind we have seen in Russia or Venezuela and it demanded unequivocal condemnation. Sadly, the first reaction from the much of the British left was silence or, in the case of Brian Wilson and Duncan Hottershall, outright criticism of the voters. It took too long and thousands of online entreaties before Jeremy Corbyn swung into action and then it was initially to condemn violence rather than endorsing democratic rights. Some Labour figures stuck to the illegality line forgetting that there wouldn’t be a Labour Party without people challenging the law.

The British government failed too in its bromides about rule of law and close allies. Given the situation in Scotland, the least we could have expected was a strong complaint that police violence was a mistake when democratic means are available. Much that London cares…Scotland and Catalonia are afterthoughts as they strive to stay in power against the gale of Brexit.

It seems obvious now that the collective government of western nations through its states and alliances, needs a new approach to the fracture of sovereign nations. A way is needed of allowing localised expression of political outlook and cultural identity to be channelled without bringing to bear all the might of the state against people. It seems to me the EU itself is the template for a new order because it already presumes that sovereign states are prepared to share rights and responsibilities among themselves, weakening the absolute power of the indivisible state. The existing nations already recognise differences in scale by allocating weighted voting rights so the larger countries  have more say. Such a system can be extended to give voting rights to micro nations too – nations which may not wish to have a full range of national powers such as defence, if this is to be arranged on a pan-European basis. As a member of the Eurozone Spain already outsources much of its macro economic policy to Brussels.

Ironically for a Scottish Nationalist, I’m presaging the end of the nation state as we have known it. The EU has already altered the meaning by the pooling of sovereignty while leaving unscathed the separate identities of each country. By doggedly holding to an 18th century design, Spain is putting history before progress. You can’t batter people into agreement with riot police. The rejection of the restrictions of the past opens the way to imaginative solutions – do you need to be a sovereign state to be successful? Is there still collective dignity in sharing – properly sharing – powers between Barcelona and Madrid? If a co-operative solution was possible, might it work in the UK? When you look at so many of the problems facing our world, they have their genesis in the unyielding national state.

We’re already inching along that path with some tax powers in Edinburgh along with social security. Why not start again and agree that everything in theory can be transferred and only those powers that by agreement are best left conjoined, do so? We may for example share currency but diverge on public spending and taxation.

There will always be a difficulty even after a Yes vote because a very large number won’t accept it. Indeed we can anticipate a concerted drive to derail independence. A creative atmosphere and a genuine desire to reach an accord could deliver the goods that would satisfy a majority – that’s always been true in Scotland, in my view.

But, no doubt like you, I know the cold reality in Spain is nightsticks and big state propaganda to retain power and here it is unionist sabotage and No Surrender at any cost. Compromise is weakness. The only way to get the country you want is to throw out the old order. In other words, you have to fight for everything you get.

The disgraceful scenes in Catalonia confirm that while Europe postures on progress, government offices of Europe are still shrouded in 1930’s darkness. To grip on to power, they are ready to grip the throat of the population.


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29 thoughts on “Breaking the Law

  1. Oooh – comment bait – i feel it 🙂

    As they line up Ruth for power daaan saawff they forgot to mention EVEL to her. Legislate that PM!

    Tax power? No NO NO NO. Its not power until you can collect, until you can refactor and change, until you can divert corruption into your coffers. its like having one key for a door with 30 locks. And 24 of those keys only work for the rich.

    Welfare? No again. You now know why, holistically connected to the tax system that England’s Tories and stupid Labour align to. It punishes, it kills. Its ‘handouts’ – not help.

    We’re inching along the wrong path.

  2. A real feeling of what if, and how far are we from the same scenes we witnessed yesterday , it was like something out of one of a hollywood movie , like scenes from a kind of alien zombie invasion ,

    But this was not a movie but real people being bludgeoned by a out of control sadistic mob , not for causing a disturbance or destroying property , but just wanting to cast a vote .

    For weeks we knew this had the possibility of becoming a real disaster , a fascist regime at work going about its business unhindered ,

    The leaders of the EU states will wring their hands in despair and call for restraint ,possibly issue heartfelt sympathy to the seven hundred injured EU citizens who they are pledged to protect .

    A lot of people are starting to ask where was this protection on sunday it was obvious what the spanish government were intent in doing by drafting in these covered head to toe in black armour to disguise their identity ,and there to instigate trouble while acting like psychopaths .

    Why does a relatively peaceful country like spain need this type of paramilitary gang of enforcers , what is their government afraid of ? , are they afraid of their own people ? Maybe Franco hasn’t died after all .

    • Robert, apart from current issues, Barcelona has always threatened Madrid’s hegemony and with current drive for re-centralization the indy issue has been neatly turned into an excuse for the final crack-down that will restore the court in Madrid. Proof? Even in the days of ETA, the Basque Country was never crushed like this.

      And as to Rajoy, not such a dim old fascist, without moving a finger he’s achieved the corpses of most of his enemies – they mostly self-destruct as they walk into his traps.

  3. The EU’s weasel words on this shameful attack on peaceful protest is another reason why indy suporters like me are hoping that an indy Scotland tells the EU to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

    The EU made it perfectly clear in 2014 that they were not to be trusted when they stabbed the Yes movement in the back.

    If the SNP leadership could remove its nose from the EU rear, and offer a compromise such as EEA, or EFTA, for an indy Scotland, it would go a long way to win back indy supporters that voted for Brexit.

  4. It is disingenuous to call the Catalonian referendum “against the law”. It was carried out despite being banned by a constitutional court, not the same thing as “against the law” in the sense of existing statutes. It was a decision of convenience by the authoritarian powers in Madrid. Oh, we don’t like the idea of this so let’s make it illegal in a hurry!
    It may have had the force of a very big opinion poll and no more than that, had it gone ahead unhindered. (Are opinion polls illegal?)
    Instead it has had the effect of bringing in “foreign” troops to Catalonia, brushing aside the decades of devolved power and responsibility that Catalonia has had, and setting at naught the wishes of the Catalan parliament. Very similar to English troops and tanks in Glasgow in 1919.
    These actions will surely give some pause to those Catalans who were in favour of continued integration with Spain. “Play your wee games” Madrid said,” and we will smash heads and break bones without mercy with no distinction as to sex, age, or condition. We will smite and smite hard.”
    And they have. No people could take that and want to remain a part of Spain. Catalonia will be the Republic of Catalunya within the week and I will applaud.

    • “No people could take that and want to remain a part of Spain.” Surprisingly, not so. Unionists blame the indepes for everything, and now the big banks are moving their HQs out even more so.
      Next elections – full majority for the right wing in Spain on the back of hitting on Catalonia, and the Common Weal anti-independentists in Catalonia.

  5. The original articales of the union of parliaments has been altered out of all recogniton by westminster over the years. Rescind the treaty, we don’t need a referendum.

  6. The current impasse was started by Rajoy and Madrid, after Zapatera allowed a statute to Catalonia in 2006 recognising Catalonia as a nation and further enhancing its autonomy. Up to that point most Catalans seem to have felt that autonomy within Spain was very acceptable and many felt Spanish as well as Catalan. It wasn’t an either / or choice. Then Rajoy and the PP gets back into the saddle and revokes this statute, using the constitutional court. That then causes the minority independence movement in Catalonia to start to gain real traction. That, and the crash of 2008 and the austerity measures forced on Spain which saw Madrid clawing back and centralising power in order to pay its debts, using Catalonia as a cash cow. This seems to have prompted Catalans to re-examine their links with Spain.

  7. Democracy trumps a bad consistution any day. No one at the EU seems to want to use its pwn articke 7 to at least suspend Spain as a slap on the wrist.

  8. Once again, you have articulated my opinions and feelings perfectly, Derek. I’m sure I’m not alone! Thanks!!

  9. Good to see Nicola Sturgeon speaking out against Madrid’s actions.

  10. “Even a Yes vote can be challenged on the same grounds and will be supported by the EU and the UN. It’s uncomfortable but it’s perfectly do-able. It does little more than lay the ground for further talks on devolution without resolving the issue.”

    So why are we bothering then? Am I missing something?

  11. O/T or not? Why is newsnet.scotland suddenly blocked on both Firefox and Safari?

  12. What a relief those grand Labour gentlemen like Brian Wilson and Duncan Hothershall weren’t around at the time of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the General Strike or the Battle of Cable Street.

  13. Analogue politics in a digital age. Rajoy’s choices shamed and embarrassed Spain before the democratic world. The decision to send riot police to prevent a vote taking place in a supposed autonomous region in a 21st century democracy was always going to be glaringly visible in today’s social media environment. Managing the message and the media ain’t what it used to be and in this hi tech age, the world isn’t as big as it used to be either. You’re always one tweet, one post, one snapshot away from your next door neighbour.

    Hoping the EU have learnt a lesson or two from this themselves. The public are always watching and judging. Just so they know. It’s not enough to talk a good game about rights and democracy. You have to kinda walk the walk too.

  14. The European Commission regards the actions shown by Spanish police in Catalonia on the 1st of October as “proportionate”.

    If this is a true reflection of the Commission’s position then it is a disgrace. I have no real Catalan connections but I watched with my own eyes all the videos (and saw with my own eyes all the photographs) that showed armoured and armed police assaulting people who put up no fight and no resistance.

    Men, women, young, old – it mattered not – they were set upon and, in some cases, literally beaten senseless or had their fingers deliberately broken.

    The Commission says that the EU is based on democracy, civil rights and upholding the rule law. In Catalonia on 1st October we saw ordinary people wishing to express a democratic view and being told it was illegal. How, in any democracy, when a party has stood on a platform of holding a ballot and won parliamentary power on that basis, can it be illegal for ordinary people to peacefully express a position through the ballot box?

    So on the issue of democracy the Commission has come down on the wrong side here.

    What about civil rights? Does the Commission think it is acceptable for the law enforcement agencies of any member state in indiscriminately assault hundreds of its own citizens simply for doing something peaceful (putting a cross on a piece of paper) just because the Government of that country has deemed is unconstitutional? It seems that they do.

    So on the issues of civil rights the Commission has come down on the wrong side.

    How about the upholding the law? Does the Commission think it is in anyway lawful for unarmed, unresisting citizens to be clubbed about the head, have their hair pulled, be thrown down a flight of stairs, be sexually assaulted or have their fingers broken for not letting go of a bannister? If they do then they have a fairly warped view of what should be legally-acceptable in the EU.

    So on the issue of upholding the law the Commission has come down on the wrong side.

    I have always strongly supported the idea of the EU. I want Scotland to remain in the EU and have EU citizens living and working here. I support free movement and free trade and I was appalled (and remain appalled) that the UK as a whole voted to Leave.

    But the Commission’s response to what happened in Catalonia 4 days ago has, for the first time, left me seriously questioning whether this is something I want to be part of any more.

    The Spanish government could and should have said “we recognise your right to hold a referendum if that is what the majority in a freely elected parliament wish to do. However, we are not obliged to recognise the vote as binding, regardless of the result, as it would be unconstitutional”.

    But instead they sent in an armed paramilitary force who then resorted to base thuggery and intimidation as witnessed by the world.

    If the Commission don’t condemn then, by definition, they are condoning and that to me is shameful.

  15. I know its a taboo subject and a total no no , any thoughts on bbc scotlands weekend hatefest solely directed at the SNP ? ,
    I wonder what the bbc in scotland would report if there was no SNP , the mission they have embarked on ” save the union ” appears to take up an inordinate amount of their output ,to the extent its becoming an all consuming vendetta against one party and half the country , any and all good news is being activly buried under a tsunami of gloom and doom , what a bloody awful country we live in, nothing works and if it does they will well and truly make sure you dont find out about it , this must be depressing for those who have to shovel this shit on a daily basis .

  16. SteveAsaneilean

    Things go from bad to worse in Catalunya.

    Article 155 will be a reality next week. Police, public departments and media (the catalan Tv) will be “intervened” as Madrid takes action in such an aggressive way.

    Madrid continues pressuring companies to leave Catalonia in order to create a psychological effect on people.

    Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, the leaders of the main pro independence associations could be in “preventive” jail for 4 years; the Chief of Police has had his passport taken so he can’t leave Spain; there were allegations today of Spanish paramilitary police going round the towns and villages photographing houses and business premises with pro-independence stuff in their windows.

    All of us who support independence should be shouting loud about what is going on in Catalunya. I have already officially complained to the EU about their abysmal response and outrageous support of the actions of Madrid. I would urge all of you who care to do likewise.

    Democracy is on the line – we must not fail Catalunya.

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