Watching the bulls from behind the barrier: A view from Galiza

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By Pilar Fernández-Pazos

For years I have been watching the evolution of Scottish politics with interest, especially since the SNP gained its first victory, and with greater intensity and hope, since the absolute majority of Alex Salmond and the announcement of the referendum.

By Pilar Fernández-Pazos

For years I have been watching the evolution of Scottish politics with interest, especially since the SNP gained its first victory, and with greater intensity and hope, since the absolute majority of Alex Salmond and the announcement of the referendum.

In fact, I must be one of the few Galicians who follow First Minister’s Questions every Thursday, firstly because it’s good for improving my English and secondly, because nowhere in Spain or in Europe do there exist political leaders like Alex Salmond and it is always a pleasure to listen to him.

As I’m not able to live in Scotland (although I would love to) I try to do my bit by reviewing the Spanish press every morning and sending on all the articles that to me seem of interest via Twitter.

I think when Alex Salmond insisted that he didn’t want to be an example for any other independence movement, apart from the Scottish, he was particularly far-seeing and astute.

No sensible person can doubt the right of a people to self determination unless they are unfamiliar with the most fundamental right of international law, or just want to mislead with the intention of disinforming and causing confusion.  This type of behaviour is becoming more than habitual as much in the media as it is with mediocre Spanish politicians – and they get notoriously worse when they attempt to come across as sudden trail-blazing saviours for the rights of the people, but are actually nothing other than defenders of the most obstinate bourgeoisie.

With a view to what is happening in Spain, with elections in Catalonia due to take place on 25th November, the self-interested manoeuvres of Artur Mas (president of the Catalan government) and his sudden conversion to the independence cause, have no other objective than concealing the cases of Catalan corruption as well as the terrible social cuts that the CiU (Mas’s party) are carrying out.  It has no similarity to the SNP’s politics of defending social services.

The controversy of the Catalan referendum, despite its being a legitimate right of the people, is muddied by the intentions of the centre-right Catalans on one side and by the right-wing Spanish heirs to Franco’s legacy on the other.  

Artur Mas is asking for a fiscal pact for Catalonia, and that is no doubt correct and just, but he is using the referendum to create polemic and at the same time, as a smoke screen to avoid confronting the real problems.  In the middle are thousands of true independence seekers who have fought for years for the right to hold popular referendums, or the thousands of people whose health centres are closed and now have to pay more for their medicines, or the thousands of public sector workers and social services staff who were not paid this summer because there was no money for their wages …

Why does Scotland concern me?

Scotland doesn’t need enemies.  Between the Tories who only care about themselves, Labour’s anti-social politics and campaigns of confusion, and the media (another example in Europe of “plurality and objectivity”), Scotland’s already got plenty.

But reviewing the press every morning I have come to the conclusion that some have a clear interest in muddying the waters with the aim of undermining the possibility of independence in Scotland.  The conservative heirs of Franco have not the slightest interest in whether Scotland is independent; it therefore appears like the habitually dirty game of Spanish nationalism.

In January 2012, El Confidencial 1. mentioned an article in The Independent (which had already been answered and denied by Alex Salmond himself) and talked about the pressure on behalf of Spanish diplomats to paralyse the announcement of the referendum.  

Imagine the calibre of political ethics that the Partido Popular has – such news immediately brought back the memory of the attempted coup d’etat (2002) against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in which diplomats and politicians attatched to Aznar’s government [The previous PP administration] were more than implicated because Chávez didn’t suit Spanish economic interests. For Spain, anything goes.

During an interview with the paper La Verdad 2. Señora Maria Dolores de Cospedal, Secretary General of the Partido Popular, made a none too innocent appraisal of the Scottish referendum but forgot to mention the privileged post of her husband in Iberdrola, the owners of Scottish Power.

And the latest news to cause blisters was published in El Periódico 3., followed by a denial in La Vanguardia 4.

If we add to these the multiple declarations of Rajoy and Margallo, depending on where they were speaking, saying that they didn’t or indeed did have a problem with Scottish independence … voilà!  Here we have the typical strategies of distraction and obfuscation, to confuse and to conceal the real reasons why the Scottish case is so troublesome to the Spanish right.

Evidently, it is not just the fact that Scotland is setting an important precedent in Europe with the achievement and carrying out of a referendum.  But it doesn’t suit those sectors which defend the politics of cuts in social and civil rights that Scotland has its own independent government which prioritises university education and health, which doesn’t want nuclear arms on its territory, and which wants to enact a law for gay marriage …

When we get to that point, the Spanish politicians will have to negotiate as equals with the conditions set by the Scottish Goverment, without privileges or margin of manoeuvering that they would have with Westminster (Tory or Labour).  And of course it is those mediocre and Franco adoring Spanish politicians who neither defend nor are going to defend the same principles of the SNP or Alex Salmond, they are only trying to diffuse the debate and sanitise it, in an attempt to prevent the economic and social power they have in their hands, passing completely into the hands of the Scottish people.

Scotland is – fortunately – a bad example for a Europe that cuts social borrowing and fundamental rights.  And as Alex Salmond correctly observed, Scotland mustn’t be mixed with any other processes and especially not with Spain.  Scotland is not interested in seeing itself in these intoxications, Scotland has its own name and its people deserve to be treated with much more respect.

Pilar lives in the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela.  She is married to a Scot.  Galiza is the spelling of the country’s name preferred by many Galicians.

1. Article in La Confidencial reporting on the news carried by the British newspaper the Independent in January this year that unnamed UK Foreign Office officials had stated that unnamed Spanish officials had told them they would veto Scottish membership of the EU.  

2. María Dolores de Cospedal holds the post of the Secretary General of the Partido Popular and is president of the autonomous region of Castilla-La Mancha.  She is the second in the party’s hierarchy after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. In the interview with La Verdad cited in the link she was asked whether it was possible for a referendum like that in Scotland to be held in Catalonia.  She replied:  

“It must be made very clear that the referendum which is being planned in Scotland is planned as a one off in order for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, leave the European Union, and leave all international trade bodies.”

Ms Cospedal is married to Ignacio López del Hierro, whose brother is an aide to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.  In March Mr López del Hierro accepted a post on the board of Red Eléctrica Española, the Spanish power grid company.  The Spanish government owns 20% of the shares in the company.  Board members meet just once a month, for which they are paid between €130,000 and €180,000 annually.  Mr López’s appointment created controversy in Spain due to his close links to the ruling Partido Popular.  As a result of the controversy Mr López was forced to decline the appointment.  In May he was appointed as director of Iberdrola engineering and construction.  The Spanish electric company Iberdrola is the owner of Scottish Power.

3. Link to an article in the newspaper El Periódico which reported that the Partido Popular’s Vice-President for Studies and Programmes, Esteban González Pons, had met with “senior Conservatives” during the Conservatives’ annual conference last month in Birmingham.  The article quoted Mr González Pons saying he had reached an agreement with the Conservatives to give a common response to Scottish and Catalan aspirations to independence and to ensure that a Yes vote in either referendum would result in the newly independent country being forced to leave the EU.  The article adds that Mr González Pons has planned further meetings in Scotland in December with figures from the Scottish Conservatives and the Labour party.

The article also details the efforts by Mr González Pons and the Partido Popular to build a European alliance of anti-independence parties in order to secure a vote in the European Parliament ruling that any state formed out of part of an existing member state would be forced to leave the EU and its application to re-enter subject to a veto.

4. Article in La Vanguardia, a Spanish language newspaper published in Barcelona, detailing the denials of the British Conservatives that they had made any agreement with the Partido Popular to ensure the expulsion of Scotland from the EU, and insisting that they had no plans to make any such agreement at any time in the future.  However the Conservatives admitted in the article that Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson had met with a Partido Popular delegation headed by Mr González Pons at the Conservative Party conference.

Newsnet Scotland has now sent a number of requests to the Scottish Conservatives and the Labour party for clarification of Ms Davidson’s meeting with Mr González Pons and the meetings reportedly planned for December.  We have given Ms Davidson the opportunity of writing an article for Newsnet Scotland to explain her case.  We still await a response.