Letters from Catalonia: Part 1


If Scotland ignores the Catalan process we will miss out on a story from which we have so much to learn. Worse, we would be ignoring our friends in their time of need.

I have come to Catalonia with two aims. One: to observe the similarities and the differences between the Scottish and Catalan independence movements. Two: to encourage Scots to take interest in the Catalan process.

I have a lot to see, and very little time to write, so please excuse my brevity. If you would like to follow my journey find me on twitter using @AndrewRBarr.


Catalonia Day #1

Today I met Liz Castro, editor of the book ‘What’s up with Catalonia?‘, an English-language guide to the Catalan process from the voices of the people who live here.

I asked Liz what she thought of when she thought of Scotland.

Green, castles, rain and the accent, which I love!”

I asked if she thought independence would benefit Catalonia from a cultural perspective.

Yes, Catalonia suffers from a lack of self-confidence, like Scotland. People will speak to you in Spanish automatically instead of Catalan. I think independence would make us feel validated. We weren’t allowed to speak Catalan for 40 years, it was banned, people would get fined, or beaten up for speaking it. People learnt to keep their Catalan identity to themselves. I think independence would mean an acceptance of who we are.”

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Andrew Redmond Barr
National Collective

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There are 8 comments

  1. Captain Scotland

    I would like to point one inaccuracy and political things you may like to explore while you are there.
    1) The Diada (Catalonia National Day) does not remember the day that Catalonia lost its independence to Spain. Catalonia, unlike Scotland, was never really independent. If I remember right (and I think I do) Catalonia was part of a Kingdom (Aragon, which apart from Catalonia included the current Aragon, the Balear Islands, the current Valencian Community and at some point more than half of the current Italian territory). Catalonia had its own Courts as some (but not all) the rest of the territories of the Kingdom of ARagon. The Catalan Courts had nothing to do with a Parliament in current terms, since the members weren’t elected in free elections, but they were there chosen among Church, Nobles and representatives of the cities (which meant rich merchants, mainly). I didn’t manage to find how they were elected, but I bet you a bottle of Laphroaig it wasn’t using ballots.

    The King of Aragon was also King of Castile (the rest of Spain) and the crowns had been joined (by marriage) since the end of the 15th century. When the king Charles II (of Spain) died without descendants, a French king was taken as king in a relatively dodgy process. The Courts accepted the King at first, but the King decided later to suppress all parliaments, both in Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon, and run the show by himself. Those who were against (mainly the elites in the Courts, but also England (soon Britain, after the Treaty of the Union), together with Austria, Portugal, Prussia, and a long list of countries) started a war to put an Austrian king, which they preferred due to the promises made. The war took place in the whole of current Spain, but Catalonia lasted the longest. In the end Philip won, and the other countries signed a treaty, which among other things included Britain keeping Gibraltar. This treaty happened way before Catalonia was taken, by the way. In the end, on the 11th of September of 1714, Barcelona (the last town left to be conquered in Catalonia) was taken after a 14 month siege with thousands of deaths. Oh, and Parliaments stopped existing in the whole of Spain. Majorca would fall in 1715.

    2) The Diada is not only celebrated by independentists but also by unionists. In fact, until recently almost every party celebrated together (more on this later).

    3) Those 40 years in which Catalan “couldn’t be spoken”, should be “couldn’t be spoken in public”, in TV, in the cinema… there were some works published in Catalan and very few schools that taught Catalan. In the Basque Country, for instance, the repression to Basque was stronger. But it isn’t just that it wasn’t permitted to speak Catalan: there weren’t working unions, you couldn’t speak about politics, work on Sunday… in the whole of Spain, because it was a really hard and terrible fascist dictatorship.

    4) Many unionists and independentists give biased versions of History to support their points of view. This appalling behaviour is very common in the whole of Spain and it is a constant source of controversy (read the WP article Historical Memory Law). Partly this is due to the depiction in the media, that exaggerates always 10fold.

    5) Catalonia has several parties in Parliament. The current one (CiU) is a coalition which has run for elections together since the late 70s. Apart from 7 or 8 years, they have always had the power in Catalonia, often with the unionist right wing party support, often with the unionist social-democrats. CIU never had campaigned for independence, until last year. What happened? Social grass-roots organisations for independence and the independentist left party (ERC) organised a rally for independence that brought many people. Then, the current President of Catalonia (CiU) who hadn’t support decided in a fortnight, that he wanted independence. He had a mock meeting with the Spanish PM for more devolution, and after failing, convoked elections asking for a strong vote to run a referendum. He lost 12 seats. Many (including myself) think that he went independentist in order not to lose support to ERC. CiU could have done this in its 30 years in Government, but didn’t.

    6) The independentist left party (ERC) has only been in power those 7 years I mentioned, when in coalition with the unionist social democrats and the radical left-greens. Their support in votes is not very big (21/135 seats in the current parliament), but they have a strong grassroot support, although the actual campaign for last year rally was run mainly by others.

    7) Rallies in Spain (Catalonia or not) always appear in the media with huge numbers in the rank of 1 million. While rallies have stronger support than in the apathetic Britain, you can’t believe those numbers, they are not realistic. If you doubt me, check the amount of people who fit into Barcelona stadium. People arrive there hours before the event to make sure they make it on time. Logistically it is impossible to put 1million people in the streets in any Spanish city at the same time.

    8) Catalonia (and the rest of Spain) has a fallout with politicians due to corruption claims, privatisation and defunding of public services. Unlike in Scotland, the current Catalan (now independentist) Government pioneered those policies. Therefore independence in Catalonia is not (unfortunately) about preserving public services but more about national and cultural feeling and the particular reasons are unclear, it is a very heterogeneous movement. For that reason I really like your tweet: “Scotland has a referendum but isn’t organised. Catalonia is organised but doesn’t have a referendum.” I would also add, “Scotland has independentists who share a reason for independence, in Catalonia almost everyone is independent, but for completely different reasons”.

    9) Spanish Law (like UK’s) doesn’t allow this kind of referendum unless approved by the Spanish Parliament. The Spanish Parliament, run by the claw-tight right wing party, has already said no (Cameron is far more democratic that Rajoy, believe it or not). The current CiU President has said that if there is no referendum, he will have elections again, and people should vote him if they want independence (really cheeky, hey?).

    Well, here are my two pence. I look forward to more of your experiences :-)

  2. Classic Campers

    The problem with tweeting is that it isn’t always obvious to readers what the author means. Let’s look at the tweet about ‘organisation’. Scotland has a referendum but isn’t organised, Andrew claims. Really, so the hundreds of street activities and canvassing events that take place every week, the millions of leaflets delivered, the public meetings that are being organised all over the country are merely examples of spontaneous generation are they? Honestly, this is just not good enough and insulting to campaigners the length and breadth of Scotland who are working their socks off organising our campaign. Must try harder!

    1. Andrew Redmond Barr

      Thanks for the feedback. You’re right, it’s difficult to get the whole message across on Twitter. I’m very busy and won’t have time to write properly until I get back. Our campaigners work very hard but I think Scotland would benefit from adopting some of Catalonia’s campaign tactics: cultural events, public gatherings, music concerts, literature etc.

      1. Classic Campers

        They’re happening too, Andrew. Of course it’s easy to be glamourt – to use a Scots word – when you’re abroad and in the Mediterranean sunshine by an entrancing, warm and extrovert culture. But that doesn’t mean their campaign is better than ours, just appropriate to their circumstances. I’m all for learning from others but that shouldn’t involve underplaying the enormous effort that huge numbers of people are putting in to get us into a winning position. Anyway, it’s been good to have this discussion because it’s made me aware of just how much we are all doing. Enjoy the trip!

        1. Captain Scotland

          Also, the motivations and situations for independence and one place and the other are not comparable. Nor is comparable the way each campaign is run. Knowing well both campaigns, I was very happy (until recently) how positions in Scotland had been kept civilised, something that hasn’t happened in Catalonia: for instance a radical right Spanish nationalist TV filed a plane ad which said something like “Spain: together better” or something like that, to piss off those in the rally. Or Duran, one of the leaders of CiU (and many before them) have called those from Andalusia “lazy people” in several occasions.

          It makes me sad that in the last month or so, both campaigns in Scotland have become less respectful towards the opponent and his arguments. I hope it doesn’t go as bad as in Catalonia/Spain.

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