Democracy in jeopardy

I have only an academic interest in the issue of Catalonia’s independence. There are no direct parallels to be drawn with Scotland. The constitutional circumstances are entirely different. Set aside the question of whether or not Catalonia should be independent, however, and what we are left with is a situation which must be of profound and immediate concern, not only to the people of Scotland, but to anyone who values the fundamental principles of democracy.

Set aside the specific matter of Catalonia’s constitutional status and what remains is something which has direct and serious implications for Scotland. What is in dispute is the essential question common to democracy wherever it survives – the question of who decides.

The Charter of the United Nations refers to “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. Self–determination is not the same thing as independence; although the concepts are all too often confused. Self-determination may be defined as the right of peoples and nations to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference. US President Woodrow Wilson stated the principle thus,

“National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. ‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”

Self-determination is the right of people to choose the form of government which best serves their needs, priorities and aspirations, and to do so free of external coercion or interference. By extension, it has come to mean freedom of choice and absence of compulsion in a more general sense.

The question of who decides is unambiguously answered in international law, common convention and individual conscience. The people decide. That’s it! That is all! In any polity which claims to be democratic, in all things, and at all times. the people decide. The people are the ultimate and only legitimate source of political authority. Distil it down and there you have the essence of democracy is. And it is this essence of democracy which is being threatened in Catalonia by the Spanish state and in Scotland by the British state.

The threat is precisely the same in both cases. However much difference there may be in the particulars of the constitutional arrangements, in both Catalonia and Scotland established power is setting itself against the most basic principle of democracy. Democracy absolutely requires that the people decide. The ruling elites in both Spain and the UK reject this and insist that the state decides. Never mind the fact that the challenge to democracy is at different stages in each place. The challenge is the same. The threat is identical.

If we have not yet seen in Scotland the kind of state-sponsored brutality witnessed in Catalonia, please do not be so naive as to imagine that this demonstrates some principled reluctance on the part of the British state. Established power will always resort to main force when other methods of control and manipulation prove inadequate. The structures of power, privilege and patronage will be defended by any and all means. The most certain way to ensure that violent repression can happen is to suppose that it can’t. The savagery of the Spanish state is merely an extension of the less ‘explicit’ methods currently being deployed by the British state in an effort to break the wave democratic dissent risen in Scotland.

We bemoan the role played by the British media in Scotland and deplore the fact that they are no more than the propaganda tool of the British state. But we would do well to consider what the consequences might be of a successful effort to counter the pernicious influence of the BBC and the mainstream press. What would the British state then turn to?

Scotland’s increasingly distinctive political culture is anathema to ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists. The progressive nature of that political culture is an embarrassment to the British state with its prevailing neo-liberal ideology. Our situation may be very different from Catalonia, politically and constitutionally, but the response of established power to perceived threats does not vary. Which means that democracy is in jeopardy here in Scotland every bit as much as in Catalonia. Democracy must be defended wherever it is challenged by established power.

That is why the people of Scotland must stand with the people of Catalonia and people everywhere who seek to assert and exercise their right of self-determination. Not because we necessarily support their claim to independence. But because we permit denial of their right to decide at our own peril.

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10 thoughts on “Democracy in jeopardy

  1. Geacher

    “The question of who decides is unambiguously answered in international law, common convention and individual conscience.” Wrong. The constitution of each country decides.
    “….in all things, and at all times. the people decide” “Democracy absolutely requires that the people decide. ”
    And we did, in September 2014.

    1. Willie John

      “If we have not yet seen in Scotland the kind of state-sponsored brutality witnessed in Catalonia.”

      Some of us can still remember the miners strike, and the (brutal) response from the government.

    2. Peter A Bell Post author

      Democracy is a process, not an event. Anti-democratic British Nationalist fanatics such as your slow-witted self are unable to comprehend even something so fundamental. But this ignorance does not excuse the imperious ambition to obstruct and deny the democratic process simply because you got the result you wanted.

      I am confident that democracy shall prevail, and that cringing forelock-tugging useful idiots who pander to established power while holding the people in sneering, supercilious contempt will suffer the rebuke they so richly deserve.

  2. Doug Porteous

    Peter this is powerful writing it’s about time that someone acknowledged that the Westminster Government is not about to let us walk away. The reaction or rather the lack of it by the EU and the UN to the recent events in Catalonia will only serve to make Westminster think that they have Carte Blanch to take what ever action that they think necessary to stop the Sun finally setting on their empire.

    Only the Scots can free Scotland from the clutches of those who would rule over us, first by demonstrating by voting at the ballot box that we who call ourselves Scottish want to govern our own country. However, we should also be prepared to take to the streets and show the world that we are a free Nation should it be necessary. I’m not advocating violence that at the end of the day will be down to Westminster we should however be prepared for it, hopefully the sight of Scotland’s streets full of men women and weans will be enough to bring the international community on to our side.

    Distractions such and in or out of the EU should be put on hold till the people of an Independent Scotland can decide our first and indeed our only concern should be independence.

    1. Phil Orchard

      The sight of Catalonia’s streets full of men and women and weans doesn’t seem to have brought the international community to the side of Catalan independence.

      Meanwhile the dwindled, straggly YES marches of recent months in Scotland have hardly registered at home, never mind abroad.

  3. Proud Cybernat

    Excellent article once again, Mr Bell. Nail, hammer and all that.

    “‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action” and Mayhem’s “Now is not the time” are entirely at odds. The key word here is ‘self’. It is not for Mayhem’s government to tell ourselves when IS the time. We must not allow WM to determine the timing of IndyRef2 – WE decide, WE determine these matters. If we allow WM to continue to block IndyRef2 with “Now is not the time” then we allow them to undermine democracy and to take from us what is rightfully OURS not theirs – the right to decide our own future, including the timing of that decision.

    These decisions are OURS and it is wrong that WM or anyone else should attempt to obstruct our right to decide as and when we please.

  4. m boyd

    Didn’t the Western allies disavow Wilson’s right to self determination for Germany and her allies after WW1 and their colonies hence the USs position re the league of Nations and his disappointment thereafter. And the seeds of WW11?

  5. Phil Orchard

    Post-Franco, the people of Spain voted to adopt a democratic constitution, which did not permit the division of the national territory. The vote was over 90%, including in Catalonia.

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