Barcelona, #1Oct

With October came the rain hot and hard. It fell as strokes of batons, balaclavas and rubber bullets. A disfigured umbrella split a puddle into two, its spokes bent upward like jabbing fingers demanding of the sky Votarem! Votarem! Votarem!

At the entrance to Escola Pia de Sant Antoni steel shutters crumpled in on themselves- a fan snapped shut by assaulting hands and vain tongues. And I saw the ballot papers too- white slips raked, swept and counted. Then kicked along the streets and stuck to the soles of boot-blacks from Madrid.

Sunday morning joggers paused on the kerbside to take up arms on hips and knees. And to catch our breath- a breath punctuated by the rhythm of power ballads on shuffle. Our soft, sweating bodies making us believe that the people, the people must surely be sovereign.

A bedsheet stained in felt-tip pen We’re with you Catalunya hung from a balcony in El Raval and swayed to the tune of red, trumpeting geraniums. But who would be without her? Not the Basques, the Galicians or the Scots sitting back to back, en comu, banging pots and pans and shooting with cameras. Nor the wide-eyed hacks scrolling, lusting for a scrap.

In Placa Catalunya, independistas dressed in the flags of their grandparents- caped, accidental superheroes inheriting the Republic. Their clenched fists boxed the air and the air gathered in close and fat with tobacco, anxiety and the smell of damp dog. What folk songs from the Mosques, at the breasts of new mothers and from the one million estrangers without a vote? Still, the seasons rolled round as ever and Europe looked the other way.

At midnight, darkness came creeping, seeping through the city on strike. Hope held hands with hopelessness. It was a long look back and a short kiss goodbye. So I will remember Spain in my Autumn journal, glory veneered and varnished like an old, prized conker in a coat pocket. As if veneer could hold.

 

 

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Homage to Catalonia

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.

Referendum Si o Si, Girona

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.

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Cap de Creus Peninsula, Catalonia. A landscape of wind-swept trees and rocks that inspired Salvador Dali’s surrealist art.

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.

 

Santa Caterina food market, El Born

Santa Caterina food market, El Born (google image by en.urbarama.com)

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’.

Journey to Yes

On a recent journey, I read the historical romance ‘Winter in Madrid’ set in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 – 1939, where the central character, Bernie Piper, fights against fascism in the International Brigades. A chance conversation with my grandfather about the book revealed that three of my own ancestors – three brothers from Glasgow – also served in the International Brigades and all survived to tell the story. Except that their story wasn’t heard or retold down the generations because of the fear of association with perceived left-wing extremism in post-war Britain.

But here in Scotland in 2014, we aren’t shying away from our views. We’re starting to look around, at one another, and at ourselves and saying ‘Aye, yes’ a bit louder than ‘Aye, but’ or ‘I dinnae ken’.  Aye to welcoming new people to Scotland, aye to living in harmony with our natural environment, aye to free childcare, aye to ending the gender pay gap, aye to rural land reform, aye to better mental and physical health, and aye to a rich and diverse expression of self through arts and culture.

'Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland'

‘Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland’

Personal narratives are complex. We all have many. And feeling at home is an imagined construct of all these overlapping, interwoven and sometimes conflicting lived experiences. I want to live in a home country that welcomes multiculturalism, internationalism and generations of new Scots born of diverse heritage; not weighted down by the flag-waving, little-Scotlander tat of Brigadoon and Bannockburn.

My own journey to Yes has been one of slow, tentative steps. I went to my first National Collective session in April (network of artists and creatives for an independent Scotland). An evening of poetry, beat-boxing and storytelling with young and old alike is my kind of politics. It is a creative, playful politics where 5 minute plays and Lady Gaga spoofs can attract those of us that are instinctively turned off by aggressive, masculine party politics and the debating chamber.

Yestival, Edinburgh, 12 July 2014

‘Yestival’ event organised by National Collective Edinburgh, 12 July 2014

Yet this is serious stuff. Voting will be a head over heart decision. The Yes Scotland campaign momentum has won over the skeptical undecided like me to Yes with pragmatism over patriotism. It has been overtly Scottish in character – canny, cautious and creative. Contrary to how it is reported in the media, the Yes campaign is much broader than the SNP and a smug Alex Salmond, and includes the Green Party, many from Labour and those of no party political affiliation.

Among most declared ‘yes’ voters I know, the journey to get here has been a gradual one full of surprises and by no means a foregone destination. Scotland has changed forever in confidence, positivity and learning to let go since the start of the Referendum debate. But the Westminster bubble just doesn’t seem to get it.

It doesn’t get that devolution has brought internationally-recognised best in class policy making on human rights, climate justice and public health. The anti-immigrant, anti-disabled, anti-Europe blame culture of current UK politics that pits the poor against the prejudiced doesn’t resonate with our small, under-populated land of five million that famously boasts more pandas (2) than Tory MPs (1). And to northern England friends looking across the border with envy, you know that you’re welcome anytime.

It is time to recognise that small can be beautiful in a global, interconnected world.  A new Scotland, free from the collective angst of democratic deficit could refocus its energies on the areas where we can truly make an impact – a socially just welfare state, universal education, sustainable energy – and to cut free of nuclear weapons, disproportionate military spend, and tax breaks for the privileged.

These are all things that I think Bernie Piper from the Winter in Madrid book would have agreed worth fighting for. As would my grandfather, but he’s voting no. And that’s another story.

@jemma_tweets