Sunday 29 October 2017

Why the British Government Is Failing With Its Catalonia Policy

This famous cartoon from an August 1864 edition of Punch pretty much sums up how the British government should respond to the Catalan crisis. Punch and the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston pass Jefferson Davis on the street, and Punch asks Pam if he recognised Davis. Palmerston, ever the politician, replies that he doesn't, but may have to one day.

The joke with its play on words works very well because it has always been British government policy not to recognise secessionist entities until the day arrives when the entity shows that it can stand on its own two feet. At that point, it is recognised and ceases to be a secessionist entity and joins the family of sovereign states. The Confederate States of America was never quite able to reach that point, although it came very close, so Britain never recognised it. 

In the case of Catalonia, the jury is still out on whether the newly proclaimed sovereign state will be able to maintain its independence, but that does not explain the rather fatuous, almost cringing statement that was put out by a Downing Street spokesman:
The UK does not and will not recognise the Unilateral Declaration of Independence made by the Catalan regional parliament. It is based on a vote that was declared illegal by the Spanish courts. We continue to want to see the rule of law upheld, the Spanish Constitution respected, and Spanish unity preserved.
All that was needed was a holding statement from the British government calling for calm and stating that HMG had no plans to recognise Catalonia, but instead, we have been treated to this drivel. The government is going to look very silly indeed if Spain does no offer any goodies as a mark of her gratitude, which she won't and why should she? London has already given Madrid everything and asked for nothing in return.

Looking silly is something that Theresa May should be used to by now, but there are two issues at stake, here, which make the statement even more incomprehensible than it would otherwise have been.

The first is that the UK does not owe Spain any favours. The issue of Gibralter is still outstanding, with Spain sending naval vessels into the waters around the Rock as an irritation to Britain. If Spain is bogged down in an internal conflict then Gibraltar is safe for another generation at least and we are not going to see a repeat of the Falklands War in 1982 when Argentina, another international joke of a country, decided to distract attention from a looming internal crisis by creating a foreign one. 

Secondly, and far more important even than Gibralter, is the fact that as part of the Brexit negotiations, it is not in Britain's interests to have a confident, united, European Union on the other side of the negotiating table. On the other hand, it is in Britain's interests to have an EU that is divided against itself, with Britain siding with one faction or another on the basis of her self-interest in getting the EU to sign up to most of what London wants.

Looking at the Eastern Marches of the EU we can see countries like Poland and Bulgaria that are totally opposed to the influx of Muslim migrants. That attitude has brought them into conflict with Germany and that is a further issue that Britain can use to her own advantage. It is not a case of supporting Poland, merely that London should be more neutral in the dispute between the outer reaches of the Empire and its central heartland.

So it is with Spain and Catalonia. By doing nothing Britain could help ensure that the crisis continues to rumble. A continuing crisis is not good for Iberia, but it might just be good for the United Kingdom.

This is all something that Britain once understood, but doesn't seem to today. Ending this piece as I began it, with the Americans in the 1860s, the British blockade runner captains, had a toast that pretty much sums up how Britain has historically behaved in times like this:
Here's to the Southern planters who grow the cotton; to the Yankees that maintain the blockade and keep up the price of cotton; and to the Limeys who buy the cotton. So, three cheers for a long continuance of the war, and success to the blockade runners!
 Theresa May and today's government would do well to remember that.

Friday 27 October 2017

Catalonia Declares Independence: What Happens Next?

By all accounts, Barcelona and other Catalan cities are awash with the Estelada, the national flag of Catalonia, which declared herself independent of Spain today. Within an hour of that declaration being made the Spanish government announced plans to strip Catalonia of what autonomy she enjoys and send colonial administrators in to run the country at the behest of Madrid.

It is unlikely that we would have reached this crisis had the European Union not thrown its entire weight behind Spain. A more relaxed, neutral stance from Brussels might have given the Neo-Falangistas in Madrid pause for thought, but Brussels has in effect told Madrid to do as it pleases so Spain appears to be about to do just that.

One would have hoped that the British government could have adopted a more hands-off approach, but Theresa May has already pledged full support for Spain. Given that this is a European Union crisis that does not involve us, it might have been a better idea to offer no statement at all and then await events. As it is, London has given up a valuable piece in its own chess match with the EU for no return that is visible to this writer.

What happens next really depends on events on the ground in Iberia. If the Spanish do nothing then Catalonia will become independent by default. If the Spanish send their army into the country and Catalonia does not resist then the country will go back to being a region of Spain. The notion of rights does not enter into the equation: all that matters is the respective willingness of young men in Catalonia and Spain to be willing to die in the cause of one side or the other. 

Given that Spain has an army and Catalonia has to build one from scratch, the advantage is clearly with Madrid at the moment, but Catalonia does have two valuable cards to play.

The first is that one of the causes of the Spanish Civil War which broke out in 1936 was Catalonian independence, an independence that was crushed by the Spanish Republic's defeat in that war. Until 1975 the Catalonian language was suppressed, the country's Estelada flag was banned, and Catalonia was basically run as an occupied country. Post-1975 and no government was willing to make the surviving fascist rebels from 1936 pay their dues, so it is quite likely that one of the issues that motivate today's Catalonians is revenge for those past injustices. If that is the case, then Catalonia might just have a population that is willing to pay any price to achieve independence. 

Secondly, we need to ponder on the reaction of Latin-America to all this. There are rumours swirling around that Venezuela and Bolivia may recognise Catalan independence, so we need to keep an eye on developing attitudes in Caracas and La Paz. If countries do start to recognise Catalonia as an independent republic then that will encourage the country to resist Spain to the utmost of her ability.

Sadly, to reach the stage where countries with issues of their own with Spain give support to Catalonia, an awful lot of young Catalonian men will have to die first to show that the people are serious about this declaration of independence.

Thursday 5 October 2017

The Repression of Catalonia Makes Scotland Less Supportive of the European Union

The Spanish repression of Catalonia has given a boost to Brexiteers in Scotland since it is obvious that the EU has little or no interest in trying to prevent the Neo-Falangistas who currently hold power in Madrid from continuing to turn loose their goon squads. The end result of this is that supporters of Scottish independence are starting to see that the EU is actually a handicap to their aims, rather than a help. 

To be fair, it always seemed to me that Scottish support for the EU was skin deep and tactical, rather than being a deeply held ideological commitment to Brussels. The SNP used the EU during the IndyRef as an argument in favour of the notion that Scotland could leave the UK, but everything would remain the same, via the EU.

During the 2016 Brexit campaign, a lot of Scots were moved to support Brexit having seen what the EU had done to Greece, and more than a few SNP activists defied their party's leadership and campaigned for Leave. However, Catalonia is far more important to the Scottish mindset than Greece will ever be and the sympathy for that occupied country is palpable here in Scotland.

During the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign, Edinburgh was awash with Saltires, of course, but running a close second to the Saltire in terms of popularity was the Catalonian Estelada. On the weekend before the vote, central Edinburgh seemed to have more Esteladas than Saltires as thousands of Catalans came over to Scotland to see the country's referendum first hand and make plans for their own.

So close are the two peoples that in 2016 when the Madrid government decided to ban the Estelada from being waved by Catalan supporters of Barcelona football club, the supporters announced that they would carry Scottish Saltires instead. In the end, the Madrid Fascists decided to back down and the Catalan flag was allowed in the Madrid stadium, but the story is illustrative of the strong, warm feelings that exist between the peoples of the two small countries.

At the time of writing, we still do not know what the outcome of the crisis in Catalonia will be. However, we can be pretty sure that Scottish support for the European Union has taken a hit and the SNP is now pretty much unable to use the EU as a club that can be used to beat Westminster with.

That alone is good news for Brexit.
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