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.Views: 3336
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