Friday, 22 August 2014

The Catalan Question

We are "a party divided" no longer "united in our diversity."

The words of Pere Navarro, leader of the PSC (Partit dels Socialistes del Catalunya, in his resignation speech earlier this month.

The cause of his sudden departure? The Catalan Question, mainly. The nationalist movement here is led by the left. As a result the PSC, the mainstream socialist party, has haemorrhaged votes to the nationalist left. Like Gordon Brown in Scotland, the PSC has tried to outline a federal future, but like Mr Brown's version it sounds neither clear nor likely. Voters are not buying it.

The Catalan Question is dominating Madrid politics. Our new king, Phillip VI, made an oblique reference to it in his coronation speech on Thursday. The Catalan Question seems more important in Madrid, than the Scottish Question is in Westminster.

In part this is because of different ideas of nation and thus nationalism, defined here by language, by street protest, by youth participation in Assembleas and Casals. Catalonia has suffered from a history, still in living memory, of bloody oppression.

The images of the nation are different, too; there is no equivalent here of the postcard-packaged image of Scotland (castles, lochs and kilts). Catalonia is harder to package.

Language is central to the debate. In the village in which I live almost everyone speaks Catalan. Our kids go to school in Catalan: a teacher in Mallorca has just finished a hunger strike as part of a mass protest against the imposition of Castellano in state schools there. Catalan is the starting point in any debate. Open your mouth and we know which side you are likely to be on. Harder to do that in Scotland.

We have a generation of protesters to rely on. At the village festas, and most other mass events you'll see a busy wee stand, the Catalan Senyera fluttering, surrounded by a group of older people talking animatedly. This is the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC,, the campaign of signatures for a referendum. The ANC volunteers are, many of them, people who were case-hardened under the 'porres' (batons) of the oppressive Guardia Civil under General Franco. There have been hilarious scenes at demonstrations of the modern police trying to move them on, caught between respect for the elderly, and their orders.

Protest seems much more natural here. People fly the Estellada (Catalan independence flag) at every Barcelona FC match. We couldn't understand why Alex Salmond was criticised for doing the equivalent when Andy Murray won Wimbledon.  Extraordinary numbers of people here join the mass protests. For the Via Catalana 1.6 million people held hands along 480km of our coastline on 11 September 2013.

The great gasping maw of a difference is that in Scotland you can vote. Here, we can't. The Madrid Government refuses to give the Catalans a vote, and both the main parties agree. Artur Mas, Catalan President, has laid plans including ordering 6,000 ballot boxes for the referendum he plans to hold on 9 November.

But Madrid will not allow Catalans to vote and refuses all talk of a referendum. We can expect a summer of discontent followed by an autumn of protest, with the 11th September, Catalan national day, a special focus.

The Catalans will celebrate their day just one week before the people of Scotland vote for their independence.  We’ll be watching, with envy.

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