The Scottish media and half-truths about Scotland, Catalonia and the EU

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  By Paul T Kavanagh

On Tuesday the Scotsman newspaper reported that Joaquin Alumnia, vice-president of the European Commission, had warned that an independent Catalonia would be forced out of the EU and would have to re-apply for membership, the paper implied this would also apply to Scotland.

Although Mr Almunia did indeed make these claims, the report omitted certain relevant details which meant readers were unable to put Mr Almunia’s remarks into their correct context, and which seriously undermine the newspaper’s thesis that Mr Almunia and the European Commission would seek the expulsion of an independent Scotland from the EU.

The first omission, which may have been spotted by eagle-eyed readers who realised that Joaquin is a suspiciously Spanish sounding name, is that Mr Almunia was appointed by the Spanish government in Madrid as a Spanish European commissioner.  Mr Almunia represents Madrid in Brussels.

Joaquin Almunia is the former leader of the Spanish PSOE party, one of the two main “Unionist” parties in Spain.  He retains his party membership and remains a committed supporter of the party.  Like the governing Partido Popular of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the PSOE is viscerally opposed to Catalan independence, which it regards as illegal and contrary to the Spanish constitution.

Mr Almunia was speaking on Monday during a conference in Barcelona organised by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.  Asked about the status of an independent Catalonia, he prefaced his remarks by saying that he was speaking in a personal capacity, then went on to express his personal opposition to Catalan independence, saying: “I neither want nor will argue for an independent Catalonia,” and adding “the segrated part is not a part of the EU”. 

In making these remarks Mr Almunia was not speaking wearing the hat of a European Commissioner, but rather wearing the hat of a Spanish Unionist politician.  This was clear from Mr Almunia’s statement that he does not want an independent Catalonia, as the EU insists that the possible independence of Catalonia is an internal matter for Spain and is not a subject upon which the EU has a position.  These important, and very relevant facts, were missing from the Scotman’s report. 

Although presented by the anti-independence media as the neutral and authoritative voice of the European Commission, Mr Almunia’s personal comments have as much validity and political neutrality as former Labour defence minister George Robertson’s comments about Scottish membership of NATO.

Even more seriously however, the Scotsman omitted key facts about the legal and constitutional status of Catalonia’s as yet hypothetical independence referendum and a future declaration of independence in Barcelona. 

The Madrid government has consistently refused to recognise the right of Catalonia to self-determination, citing an article in the Spanish constitution which states that Spain is a single “indivisible nation”. 

Faced with this impasse, many supporters of Catalan independence are pressing for a referendum without the permission of Madrid, and if the referendum produces a Yes vote – as seems likely – Catalonia may then have little option but to make a unilateral declaration of independence. 

Under these circumstances, Madrid has stated that it would refuse to recognise Catalan independence, and would block Catalan membership of the UN, the EU, and other international bodies.  It is uncertain whether Brussels would admit Catalonia into the EU when an existing member state refuses to recognise it as an independent nation.

All this is very different to the constitutional status of Scotland’s referendum, although readers of the Scotsman’s article would be unaware of this.  It would not be in the interests of the No campaign to point it out.

Scotland’s referendum is legal and counts on the recognition of the Westminster Parliament.  Under the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, Westminster has pledged to accept the result of the independence referendum, which in turns means that Westminster would recognise and accept the future independence of Scotland.  Following such a process, no other country would have any legal or political grounds to block Scotland’s membership of the EU.

However Mr Almunia was stating his personal position on an independent Catalonia which has been forced to make a unilateral declaration of independence without the consent or recognition of Madrid. 

The difference between negotiated and recognised independence and a unilateral declaration of independence is key in any discussion about the membership of a newly independent state’s membership of international bodies, but this is not a detail that the Unionist media in Scotland wish to highlight.

Other European politicians see little difficulty in Scotland successfully negotiating EU membership during the period between a Yes vote in the referendum, and the official declaration of independence some 18 months later. 

Speaking in January this year, the Irish Minister for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, said that she was in agreement with the position of the Scottish government that Scotland will be able to negotiate EU membership during the transitional period between the referendum and independence. 

As reported in Newsnet Scotland, Ms Creighton’s remarks were misrepresented by the BBC.  The BBC Trust has now announced it is to investigate BBC Scotland’s inaccurate, highly selective and misleading report.

The governments of Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania have also stated that they see no difficulty with Scotland’s adhesion to the EU.  The Latvian Prime Minster, Valdis Dombrovskis, recently described the Scottish independence process as “ideal” in terms of its constitutional and legal validity.

This is also the opinion of Andreu Mas-Colell, the Minister for Economy in the Catalan government, who attended the conference in Barcelona when Mr Almunia made his remarks.  Mr Mas-Colell noted that Mr Almunia was making a “strictly legalistic” interpretation of EU rules, saying that the Scottish case is already being negotiated at EU level, and added that he does not believe that Scotland will be forced out of the EU. 

Mr Mas-Colell said: “I do not see Scotland outside the EU politically speaking, the same as I don’t seen Catalonia outside the EU politically speaking.”

Mr Mas-Colell added that Mr Almunia had previously admitted that there could be a “political” solution to the matter of Scottish membership of the EU, which was widely interpreted as meaning that he believes an independent Scotland will successfully negotiate EU membership.

Meanwhile, in response to Mr Almunia’s statement, the spokesman for the Catalan government Francesc Homs remarked that the European Commission has stated on several occasionas that it will not make any official declaration on the independence of part of a member state and its adhesion to the EU until such time as a member state makes a formal request about a definite situation.  Both the Spanish and UK governments have refused to make any request for clarification, preferring to maintain a situation they can present as “uncertain”. 

The Scottish media’s coverage of events in Catalonia is one-sided and heavily biased, reporting only those stories which present independence in a negative light, and omitting key facts and details which would enable the public to gain a true picture of events. 

This was evident when Newsnet Scotland revealed an interview in which EC Vice President Viviane Reding confirmed that there existed no law that would result in a newly independent Catalonia being expelled from the EU.  That story remains unreported by any Scottish newspapers or broadcast news programmes, as does our other exclusive story that exposed the Scottish Tories secret meeting with the Partido Popular that discussed plans to block newly independent nations from becoming EU members.

Compounding this suppression of news stories relating to Catalonia was the deliberate misrepresentation of later comments from Viviane Reding by the Herald newspaper and the Scottish Labour party.

The anti-independence case rests upon a selective reporting of the facts, and relies upon keeping Scots ill-informed about developments in other parts of the world.  The reportage of the Unionist media is a reflection of Scotland’s place in the world under the Union – isolated, misinformed, and viewed through the prism of Westminster.

 

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