Last week I argued that the Scottish Government couldn’t follow the lead of the Catalonian Government and call an independence referendum in defiance of Westminster. At least not as things stand.
My reasoning was simple. Scotland has a pro-Union broadcast and print media. This media machine would immediately swing right behind Westminster.
Nicola Sturgeon would be attacked relentlessly by the same outlets that acted as conduits for Project Fear during the first Indyref. The referendum would be delegitimised by the fourth estate.
It wouldn’t be a risk worth taking to call a second referendum without obtaining a Section 30 order from the UK Government. Sometimes though risks have to be taken. Principle requires it.
The Catalan Government will officially announce the result of its independence referendum in a few days. That result will confirm an overwhelming vote in favour of independence from Spain. Following this, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will declare Catalonia independent.
Madrid will of course ignore the declaration. The Spanish Government has already deemed the referendum illegal. In a speech on Tuesday, King Felipe VI backed the actions of the Spanish Government and implicitly threatened to invoke Article 155 which would suspend the Catalan Parliament. Catalonia would in effect become a colony of Spain, its citizens indefinite prisoners of a constitution written in 1978 that denies them free democratic expression.
If and when the declaration of independence is made by Catalonia, I would hope to see a message of support from our own First Minister. That message needs to recognise the right of the Catalan people to choose their own destiny, even if that involves a unilateral declaration of independence.
Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Government cannot formally recognise Catalonia as an independent state. Scotland is not yet a state in its own right. Any message of support will thus be couched in carefully worded language. But any statement needs to make clear that Scotland’s Government recognises the result of the referendum and that the Catalan President is now obliged to declare independence.
Why obliged? Because the Catalan Parliament has mandated President Carles Puigdemont to make such a declaration. Under the referendum legislation passed by the Catalan Parliament, the Catalan Government has 48 hours after the result is finalised to declare independence from Spain. If Puigdemont does nothing, he is effectively accepting the referendum was not legitimate. His people were beaten for nothing.
The pro-Union Scottish media will of course seek to attack the Scottish Government should any statement appear to endorse the Catalan declaration of independence. The BBC is already pushing the line that the referendum was not legitimate because of a poor turnout.
Two things to say about the BBC reporting. Firstly, turnout for the referendum was not 42%, it was nearer 57% according to initial estimates. The reason for the drop was that Spanish police seized ballots. They stole around a quarter of the votes. To achieve 57% in the face of such police brutality and while some polling stations were sealed off, is incredible.
Secondly, a 68% majority on a turnout of 42% was deemed acceptable when the UK Government held the ‘Alternative Vote’ referendum in 2011. If it’s OK when people are being encouraged to vote then it’s OK when people are being beaten in an attempt at preventing them from voting.
The indications are that official figures will show Catalans voted by over 90% for independence. It’s likely that this result would have been replicated had the stolen votes been counted as well. Extrapolating these results and it’s clear that even with a turnout approaching 80%, the pro-independence vote would win.
Many Unionists in Scotland have been critical of the Scottish Government’s pronouncements on the Catalan referendum. Some have actually sided with the Spanish. To them the rule of law takes precedence over the right to vote. I’d argue that this is a debate the Scottish Government should be happy to bring out into the open.
By standing with the Catalans the Scottish Government will be standing with democracy and standing against fascism. By backing President Puigdemont’s right to declare independence the Scottish Government will be recognising the mandate of another devolved parliament.
If Scotland’s Unionists want to stand alongside Madrid then let them do so openly. Let them defend the violence. Let’s hear then back a government that refuses to let people vote. Let them attack Scotland’s devolved government just as the Spanish Government suspends Catalonia’s Parliament. I think their actions might backfire.
Let’s be on the right side of history.
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