Friday, 5 January 2018

Clink the Difference

What’s the difference between Catalonia and Scotland?

The weather? Well, yes. The food. Yes, again. The beaches? Hmmm. There are those lovely beaches on Coll…

But the big difference?

The big difference is that Nicola Sturgeon is not in exile in Brussels, and Patrick Harvie is not in the clink with Ross Greer, Robin McAlpine and, say, Lesley Riddoch.

Because that is what is happening to Catalonia. Spain has four people locked up for their opinions: prisoners of conscience, or political prisoners. Two of these people – Oriol Jonqueras and Joaquim Forn – are elected politicians, re-elected in the ballot imposed by Spain on the 21st December. The other two, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart are the leaders of two charities, yes charities, that promote Catalan culture and democracy. Omnium Cultural, the charity led by Jordi Cuixart, was set up in the 1960s amongst Catalan exiles to preserve and promote their culture in the face of the onslaught and assassinations of the Franco regime.

All four – Jonqueras, Forn, Sànchez and Cuixart – are prisoners on remand. They have been charged, but not tried. They are innocent until and unless proven guilty. The Spanish state has gone back to its origins, and is charging the men with ‘sedition’ and ‘rebellion’, accusations that would have resonated in the 15th century but which nowadays seem antediluvian. In an extraordinary piece of invention, the state has also decided that the men should be charged with creating a violent, ‘tumultuous’ affray. The charges relate to the various pro-indy demonstrations in Barcelona and Catalonia; demonstrations that have attracted a million people each year…and which have resulted in zero arrests, zero charges, and zero police claims (at the time) of violence. Now the Spanish state is trying to portray these peaceful, warm, friendly, demonstrations as ‘violent.’

Meanwhile ‘our Nicola Sturgeon’ is in exile in Brussels. ‘Our Nicola’ is Carles Puigdemont, chosen as President of the Generalitat (the Catalan Parliament) after the September 2015 elections, and selected again as the leader of the biggest pro-indy party at the December 2017 election. He and four other elected members of the Generalitat fled the country in early November to escape imprisonment by Spain.

Spain’s militarised Civil Guard have now decided to extend the assault, by charging more than 30 more people with crimes against the state. These new charges – amongst which the militarised police have included charges of ‘violence’ – could see many more elected politicians locked up.

Spain has used a paragraph in its Constitution – para 155 – to take control of the Catalan government and civil service. Just like in Scotland, Catalans thought that they lived in an ‘autonomous’ region, with its own parliament, its own rules and its own civil service. But as Scotland discovered during the court case over Brexit and the Sewel Convention, ‘autonomy’ is an empty word. You can have your autonomy, but only with our say so.

Imagine that Westminster had decided to lock up, or drive into exile, our elected politicians. Imagine that Westminster had taken over the Scottish parliament, closed websites, used armed riot-police to break up queues of people voting in Scottish elections, had trumped-up charges against civil leaders, politicians, police officers. Imagine the affront to democracy that would represent.

And then work out just how stupid this policy would be. Stupid (from Westminster’s point of view) because it would drive many more people into the arms of the SNP. Many more people would vote for independence, exactly as happened in the 21st December 2017 elections in Catalunya, where 106,013 more people voted for pro-indy parties than in 2015. We’d have ‘martyrs’ to the cause in jail or in exile. We’d have cases heading for the European courts and the international justice system, and campaigns at the UN. We’d be the Palestine of northern Europe.

That’s the clink of a difference. Scotland is not Catalonia; Nicola is free to speak her mind from her Holyrood office. But as you hear her speak, think about Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Cuixart, Joaquim Forn, Clara Ponsatí, Antoni Comín, Meritxell Borràs and Meritxell Serret, who are either exiled or jailed for speaking out.

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