Long distance relationships aren’t easy. But distance can provide the time and space to reflect inwardly and quietly about ourselves. To reflect on the things that really matter. To reflect on what a new identity might look like and ‘to see oursels as ithers see us’. This cautious contemplation suits the Scottish way of things.
Over the last twelve months, I’ve reflected on a personal homage to Catalonia. I’ve met new friends and observed another independence campaign.
The Catalan campaign for home-rule after over 300 hundred years of union with Spain is well documented and has gained in populist support following the economic crash of 2008. There is a growing belief that the comparatively rich Catalan State of 7.5 million is propping up a flailing and inept at best, or corrupt at worst (depending on your political standpoint), centralist government in Madrid. Last 11 September, on the National Day of Catalonia, a 480-kilometre (300 mile) ‘human chain’ of linked arms stretched across the ancient Via Augusta from the French border on the Pyrenees down to Alcanar in central Spain. Seemingly every motorway flyover, railway sidings, or rock-face is suitable canvas for ‘independencia’ or ‘liberta’ graffiti. Barcelona balconies proudly cascade with red and yellow stripes and star flags. This is the via Catalonia, or Catalan way.
Catalonia boasts year-round sunshine, historic and cosmopolitan cities, and internationally renowned cuisine. Yet Catalans look on with envy at the choice facing Scots this September. Earlier in April, after months of constitutional debate and seven hours of debating a Parliamentary motion, Spanish MPs voted overwhelming to deny a referendum vote on Catalan independence with the Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, warning that a referendum would be “an economic disaster” for both Spain and Catalonia. Catalan authorities plan to press ahead with a regional referendum in the autumn of 2014 regardless. Meanwhile Rajoy, anticipating the winds of change across the North Sea, is lobbying against prospective EU membership for an independent Scotland.
When visiting Catalonia, I am frequently asked about the Scottish Referendum. It is unusual to find dissenting pro-independence viewpoints amongst Catalans. At times, and with the ignorance of an outsider, it can seem a bit of a blinkered world view. This is a country still weighed down by the living memory of a military dictatorship, civil war and economic ruin. There is strong anti-Spain sentiment in the press and media, in a way that I’m relieved and proud we haven’t much tread (aside the unfortunate colonists and settlers arts debacle) regards anti-England in the Scottish context. Thatcher, the bedroom tax, and even the lop-sided BBC weather map do not equate to decades of Franco. He banned their language, murdered their poets and separated families. Progressive and positive politics in Spain will require forgiveness on an entirely different scale.
One of the most positive outcomes of a Yes vote in Scotland would be to let go of our own underdog mentality. For me, waking up to a Yes vote on 19 September will not herald in a Caledonian honeymoon but the beginning of reconciliation and greater understanding between former constituent parts of the UK. If we aim high, we must lessen the gap between have and have not, and commit to relationship-building with those on all sides of the IndyRef debate.
Relationships that last are about responsibility; taking the decisions that affect us most locally, taking the initiative to change unjust laws and policies; not waiting for handouts, put downs and naysayers. We know this to be true in Scotland because we have had the experience of devolved government and political maturity for nearly sixteen years. The Scottish Parliament – designed by Catalan architect, Enric Miralles, and bearing striking resemblance to the Santa Caterina market in El Born, Barcelona- has housed our national coming of age.
The world will be watching Scotland this 18th September. Watching most closely and cheering from the side-lines will be the Catalans. Homage to them, and the many others seeking the right to self-determination, means engaging in the debate, registering to vote and casting a vote in the ballot box whether a yes or a no.
Some relationships last, some don’t, but we are forever different as a result of the experience. The people of Scotland will be forever different as a result of the present independence debate. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about recently when daydreaming in the pine forests of Gaia, northern Catalonia; smelling the scented drifts of thyme and rosemary and listening to the cowbells of cattle gently passing by the start of a new season. And that is why, in order to be better together in our constitutional relationships, I’ll be voting Yes to Scottish Independence in five weeks’ time and supporting my Catalan friends to take the long, pragmatic road to ‘Si’.