Democracy and Catalonia

I recently lodged two motions in the Scottish Parliament on Catalonia or, more specifically, the actions of the Spanish state in Catalonia. The 2017 referendum resulted unprecedented international media attention for the Catalan independence movement, but while the world’s eyes have since turned elsewhere the fallout from that vote continues to this day.

In the run up to the referendum and on the day, itself saw Spanish Civil Guard raiding the offices, polling stations and doing everything possible to prevent the people of Catalonia from expressing their wishes democratically. While those scenes of peaceful voters being systematically beaten by the Spanish police are no longer on the front pages of newspapers here, or leading television news bulletins, the authoritarian campaign against those whose only crime was to organise a ballot continues apace.

It is clear the aim of the Spanish authorities is not simply to win the argument on Catalonian independence but to systemically crush a peaceful movement. These are not the actions of a state with any regard to democracy. Rather they are visible manifestations of Franco’s legacy and should be the cause of deep concern for democrats across the globe.

My first motion concerned the recent sentencing of members of the Parliament of Catalonia’s bureau for the crime of disobedience. To convict democratically elected politicians for “disobedience” is a deeply sinister move and can’t help but call to mind the memory of fascist regimes gone by. Four of those convicted received a fine of 30,000 euros and all were banned from public office for 20-months.

The bureau of the Catalonian Parliament is responsible for organising the business of the chamber and allocating time for debate. These bureau members have been made criminals simply for allowing debates on Catalonian independence to proceed in the Catalonia’s own parliament. Wherever you stand on the issue of independence, either here or abroad, you must surely recognise that criminalising debate is not something that happens in any democracy worthy of the name, not least as the right to self-determination, the legal right of people to decide their own destiny in the international order is a core principle of international law enshrined in a number of international treaties.

Indeed, in a recent report by the World Economic Forum on the independence of the judiciary from government, corporate or individual influence Spain ranked below such bastions of liberal democracy as China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The second motion related to the recent arrest of several supporters of Catalonian independence, including Josep Alay, who served has head of office for former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont. The Spanish police operation in which these people were arrested was named “Volkhov”. This is a reference to a battle in which a brigade of Spanish volunteers fought alongside Nazi forces in Russia. The links to Spain’s fascist past could hardly be more explicit. These recent arrests simply underline the fact the Spanish Government is carrying out a vindictive campaign against peaceful democrats. These people aren’t terrorists, nor have they ever threatened violence. But simply because they wish to ensure people have access to the democratic right to determine their own future they are criminalised.

Sadly, the UK and the EU look on in shameful silence. In contrast, the Scottish Government’s External Affairs Secretary, Fiona Hyslop “we understand and respect the position of the Catalan government,” adding that the people of Catalonia, “must have the ability to determine their own future”. Make no mistake, if a Government in South America or Africa behaved in the same manner as Spain there would undoubtedly be strong condemnation from the UK Government. The issue isn’t simply Catalonia’s constitutional future but about the dismantling of democratic rights in a country at the heart of the EU and very close to home. An injustice is being done to the people of Catalonia. By tolerating it quietly our supposed ‘leaders’ set a dangerous and worrying precedent.