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Democracy

Scotland, Cameron and Rajoy

The ballots are in and Scotland has voted decisively to remain in the Union[1]. The results became clear in the early morning hours after 30 of Scotland’s 32 councils had reported in and the lead in the “NO” vote became insurmountable. By a slightly wider margin than I had previously predicted[2] Scottish voters agreed that they were “Better Together” and justified Mr. Cameron’s faith in democracy and the people. When the ballots were finally tallied, the “NO” campaign had garnered 2,001,926 votes against the “YES” camp’s 1,617,989 with 3,429 ballots rejected. Only 4 out of 32 councils had a majority vote in favor of independence: Glasgow, Dundee City, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire. This is a decisive victory for unionists and Alex Salmond recognized it as such; he has graciously conceded defeat, calling for unity and rejecting any talk of further plebiscites.

referendum results

Reflections

First and most important, this referendum is a triumph for democracy. The voter turnout was 85%, proving that when engaged in a meaningful fashion, citizens are not the apathetic herd that too many smug elites believe them to be. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is precisely this passion and enfranchisement that scares the devil out of the establishment. For so passionate a subject, involving a crisis of identity within and between individuals, the voting was organized, civilized and without the slightest hint of violence. I honor the Scots for their exemplary conduct and hold them to be paragons.

It is an important precedent as well. The right of self-determination is a foundation principle of the United Nations Charter and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; yet it is most often observed in its breach and the right has been left deliberately vague in international jurisprudence. The fact that established and honored democracies like Canada and the United Kingdom have recognized this right, and have implemented referenda to test the future of their national identities, is another step forward in defining this right and how it should be exercised.

The mass participation of Scottish voters should and must be a wake-up call for voters in the wider United Kingdom and in democracies around the world: the power is with the people. I think it is wholly salubrious that the politicians in London were scared to death in the run-up to the referendum: that is precisely how it should be. “When governments fear their people, there is liberty,” said Thomas Jefferson[3], and he knew a thing or two on that subject. It is to be hoped that more democratic governments, and the elites that purport to run them, recognize that the people will only suffer so much abuse, and that they will heed the calls for political reform before it is too late.

The best and safest repository for political power is the people.

David Cameron

Prime Minister Cameron spoke early this morning and thanked the people of Scotland for their demonstration of confidence in the Union and the government. He immediately spoke to assure them that the promises made of greater devolution to the Scottish Parliament would be fully honored and committed his government to detailing the new powers to be devolved by November with an initial draft reading of the legislation in January. He also announced that Lord Smith of Kelvin, the organizer of the recent Commonwealth Games and former Governor of the BBC, would oversee the devolution negotiations.

This is a very serious commitment: the announcement of a devolution chairman with such immediacy and the commitment of the government’s newly won prestige to a rapid fulfilment of the promises made means that careful thought has gone into the process. These were not idle electioneering promises to be reneged upon as soon as the votes were counted. The fact that Lord Smith is a proven organizer and a Glaswegian to boot[4] further shows the amount of thought that Mr. Cameron has invested. It is also a defiant challenge to the Labour Party and, more importantly, to his own Tory backbencher to move quickly, seize the opportunity, and not to let Scotland down – at your peril.

If Mr. Cameron had ended his speech there, he would have ended well; but he went much, much further. Mr. Cameron recognized the tremendous importance of what had transpired in Scotland and called upon the other nations of the Union to also demand a larger voice in their affairs:

“It is absolutely right that a new and fair settlement for Scotland should be accompanied by a new and fair settlement that applies to all parts of our United Kingdom.

And I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations.

In Northern Ireland, we must work to ensure that the devolved institutions function effectively.

I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England.

We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard.”[5]

I encourage everyone to read Mr. Cameron’s speech. It is a good speech, but more importantly, it is the speech of a statesman, one who recognizes and embraces a historic opportunity to open a constitutional debate and entrust it to the people without fear of the consequences. This is nothing less than a revolution from above and Mr. Cameron is calling for it to be debated and decided in a very short period of time: “in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland.” That might be too ambitious: after all, the Scots have had almost two years to debate these matters in the run-up to their referendum and it is proper and just that all sides of these difficult yet vital questions have a chance to organize themselves and present their case to the people for their debate and consideration.

Yet merely the fact that the Prime Minister has so fully made this opportunity his own, raises him very high in my ranking of world leaders; perhaps indeed to the very summit. I do not agree with many of his policies and I have been critical of him in the past – that’s all fair play in a democracy, after all – but I no longer have any doubt that David Cameron deserves the title of “statesman.” We have so few of those today. His comportment throughout this process should earn him the trust of the people of the United Kingdom, of his political supporters, and of his European partners regarding his promised referendum on participation in the European Union.

cameron

I have read many articles with the title: “David Cameron’s Gamble;” or stating that the government of the United Kingdom” is permitting the referendum” to go forward. Let me disagree with this presumption. Mr. Cameron has not gambled: he has trusted in the people. The government of the United Kingdom has permitted nothing: it has recognized the fundamental rights of the Scots. It is precisely for these reasons the “NO” campaign won the argument. I rejoice that the leader of a major Western democracy has so clearly demonstrated what Lincoln recognized 151 years ago. Government has no existence of its own; it is “of the people, by the people, for the people”[6] or else it is tyranny.

Mariano Rajoy

Someone who ought to be watching today’s referendum results and drawing the right conclusions is Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. The people of Catalonia are also demanding a referendum on independence on the 9th of November, and while the “NO” victory in the north will undoubtedly dampen their spirits somewhat, their demand will not go away. It won’t go away precisely because the Scots have made their decision in a peaceful and democratic fashion.

Mr. Rajoy has not risen to the challenge: he has not recognized the fundamental rights of the Catalan people; he has not entered into any negotiation with the elected representatives of Catalonia; he has attempted to use scaremongering, threats and intimidation to impose his will upon a significant segment of his restive citizenry. The Spanish “NO” campaign is not “Better Together”; it is “Together or Else”. The “or else” involves police batons, water cannon, arrest and the suspension of civil rights. Mr. Rajoy insists that Scotland is not Catalonia and the United Kingdom is not Spain. He is absolutely right: the Scots are free to decide their fate and the United Kingdom is a democracy.

Draw your own conclusions as to their antitheses.

rajoy

The problem with Mr. Rajoy and his colleagues in the cupola of the People’s Party is that, at heart, they neither trust the people nor democracy. The People’s Party was founded by the same people who were running the government at the end of Franco’s dictatorship. They made sure that as much political and economic power would remain in their hands as possible. Spain’s crony capitalism and skewed electoral system is a reflection of the compromises made with the ultraconservatives as Franco was dying in order to have any sort of democracy at all. For these lovely people,” democracy” – such as it is in Spain – is only the price of admission to the ECM and subsequently to the European Union. If any of them have read Jefferson or Lincoln, I’ll eat my copy of the Declaration of Independence.

The situation in Spain bears out this description: the electoral system is exclusionary and unrepresentative; the political apparatus is rotten to the core; politicians enjoy either real or practical immunity from prosecution thanks to the “aforamiento”[7] of tens of thousands of them and the lack of independence in the judiciary; the thousands of open corruption cases against elected officials and judges which have resulted in only a handful of demissions, much less prosecutions; the open alliance between the financial sector and political parties; the pressure tactics used by the government to silence media critics in a media that is already so heavily concentrated as to make laughable any claims to independence. The reaction of these establishment figures to the separate, but interlinked, challenges of Podemos and Catalan separatism is only further proof of Spain’s oligarchical government if any further were needed.

Mr. Rajoy would be more comfortable in a room with Tayyip Recep Ordogan, Alexander Lukashenko, and Viktor Yanukovych than with David Cameron or Angela Merkel.

Mr. Rajoy is sure to draw all the wrong conclusions from the Scottish experience; that has been a constant theme of his administration. So to avoid the inevitable misunderstandings, let me spell them out for him:

  • Agree to the organization of the referendum. Simply by agreeing to their right to decide, the “NO” campaign will win 10 points in Catalonia. The referendum should be delayed from November 2014 to May 2015; six months is sufficient time for both sides to argue their points in front of the public. Mr. Mas has already said he is perfectly willing to delay the referendum as soon as the government agrees to recognize their right to one.

 

  • “NO” can win in a straight up fight of ideas. If remaining in Spain really is so much better than risking independence, then make the argument and trust in the people of Catalonia to make the right decision and if it isn’t, then they don’t deserve to win;

 

  • If remaining in Spain really isn’t the better option, then make the necessary reforms to improve the situation: not just for the Catalans, for all of the people of Spain. But you had better lay serious proposals and a serious timeline on the table, because you have lied too often for anyone to give you the benefit of the doubt. Does this require you to relinquish your comfortable dominance of the electoral system and the economy? Yes, it does;

 

  • Don’t think small: Spain desperately needs a constitutional overhaul. Use this opportunity to solidify Spanish democracy and transparency. It would settle the Catalans and be the best response you could possibly make to Podemos.

The government’s current campaign of legalistic obstructionism[8], scare tactics and threats is doomed to failure. In fact, it is by far the most important and effective weapon the “SíSí” campaign could possibly hope for and it is being provided to them on a silver platter. Even if the government succeeds in holding on to Catalonia through a mixture of brute force and widespread banning of pro-independence politicians and parties, can a policy that places one fifth of Spain’s citizens under martial law really be declared a success? Does Mariano Rajoy really think Spain’s reputation and economy need her wealthiest region to be crushed under police boots? The Prime Minister is quickly on his way to becoming Vladimir Putin’s new best friend in the West.

I am not particularly sanguine about the outcome of this increasingly bitter confrontation between Catalonia and the Spanish government. Mariano Rajoy and the People’s Party simply have all of the wrong instincts for dealing with the situation. Positions are hardening and confrontation looms ever more likely. Europe may intervene, but Europe has its own problems: like Marine Le Pen’s growing popularity and the possibility of a Frexit. Yet hope remains; and that hope has been provided by Scotland. If only the Spanish would learn the right lessons.

The last word belongs to David Cameron:

This referendum has been hard fought. It has stirred strong passions. It has electrified politics in Scotland, and caught the imagination of people across the whole of our United Kingdom.

It will be remembered as a powerful demonstration of the strength and vitality of our ancient democracy.

It has reminded us how fortunate we are that we are able to settle these vital issues at the ballot box, peacefully and calmly.

We can all be proud of that.”[9]


 

Sources and Notes:

 

[1] “Scotland Votes No,” BBC, 19 September 2014

[2] I had previously predicted a 6% to 8% margin of victory for “NO” while the actual tally was 10.6%. Fernando Betancor, “Catalonia-Spain September Update: The Gift of a Thistle,” Common Sense, 11 September 2014

[3] The full quote is: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” There is some dispute as to the authenticity of this statement by Jefferson. The earliest recognized citation is from a 1914 debate on socialism in which John Basil Barnhill said, “Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.”

[4] Remember that Glasgow voted for Independence; this is a very savvy move on the part of Mr. Cameron.

[5] David Cameron, “Scottish independence referendum results: Read David Cameron’s speech in full,” The Independent, 19 September 2014

[6] Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address,”19 November 1863

[7] The legal immunity from prosecution for serving elected officials, sometimes extended after they leave office.

[8] The Spanish legislature has the authority to authorize a non-binding referendum and to review the wording of the same, if it so desired. It simply doesn’t desire, although the vote was highly partisan. Furthermore, the government’s refusal to recognize the right of self-determination, though completely consistent with Spain’s historic refusal to recognize this right regarding not only Catalonia, but Euskadi and Gibraltar as well, nonetheless flies in the face of the treaties and International charters Spain has ratified.

[9] See note 5

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Discussion

12 Responses to “Scotland, Cameron and Rajoy”

  1. Great article Fernando, I must say I’m impressed by the level of in depth analysis that is included.
    I’m a Catalan having lived outside Spain for 10 years now, I have seen how things have deteriorated and positions have become antagonistic, it’s not a pretty sight.
    The main problem is as you say that the PP still defends Franco legacy, they keep funding the “Valle de los Caidos” and the “Fundacion Francisco Franco” and also keep praising the regime, as an example which was very offensive to me as a Catalan they celebrated living members of the “Division Azul” that fought with the Nazis in Stalingrad in one of the army bases based in Catalonia.
    Catalans tend to be similar to the British in the sense that they prefer to talk and negotiate an outcome rather than being confrontational about it, this is why I find very interesting that a good part of the population (wether they want to be independent or not) want a referendum to happen, Catalans need to be really pushed into a corner to ask for such measures.
    Spain is still heavy divided after the civil war and the Franco regime afterwards where a privileged class wants to keep their privileges in a “faux” democracy, if you look at most of the main businessmen in Spain all are either sons or grandsons of people very close to the regime that got their bit of power when the civil war was won, this happens even in Catalonia although not as much as in the rest of Spain fortunately.
    Thank you for being such a reasonable voice in these unreasonable times in Spain!

    Posted by Marc | September 22, 2014, 18:41
  2. Hi Fernando,

    Regarding catalan process, I guess that it is a joke and a well thought strategy:

    – Referendum is not done: Rajoy shows strenght and Mas can keep crying.

    – Referendum is done: outcome is no. Rajoy ridiculises Mas and Mas show strenght because Catalonia has dared to vote against the spanish govt support.

    – Referendum is done: outcome is yes. Mas shows strength, Rajoy takes action or waits for talks about whatever. Talks that in benefit of Mas won’t ever last so they have an argument to use in electoral debates.

    Whatever is result, Catalonia will stay in Spain. Btw, why two questions and both understandable in different ways? Confusion because a clear outcome is not in the interest of neither Mas or spanish govt.

    Isn’t too difficult to ask: Do you want Catalonia to be independent of the Kingdom of Spain?

    On the other hand you talk about reforming constitution? They can touch whatever of the constitution if it is in their benefint somehow, but don’t expect more transparency or whatever thay show them as unpopular.

    ¿Are we talking of the same Spain? The one that to improve results includes prostitution and drug dealing in the GDP calculation? Just to put an example…

    I remember now that you said that solidyfing spanish democrazy would settle catalans and be a good answer to podemos. ¿What’s wrong with podemos? Now for now, is the only party who hasn’t had any corruption case, how could any other major party compensate this?

    Posted by ANALcyst | September 22, 2014, 05:27
    • Dear Sir or Madam (sorry for not addressing you by bane, but it doesn’t appear on the comment),

      First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to read the post and to write a comment. It is greatly appreciated, as polite debate on sensitive subjects always is.

      In response to your direct questions:
      1. I do not support Catalan independence; that is a question for the Catalans themselves. I do support the right to self-determination under certain circumstances; and just a many Western democracies have recognized this right for their citizens (most recently the UK, but also Canada and the US on multiple occasions).

      My point is more that the government, and here I refer specifically to the Partido Popular, has been the major factor turning a Catalan nationalist movement within Spain into a Catalan independentist movement seeking separation from Spain. I believe the chronology of events and the history of opinion polls strongly bear this out.

      The other major factor is the dysfunctional Spanish political system, which urgently requires reform for ots own sake; but which, I feel would also “settle” the Catalan question.

      2. As for Podemos, I have nothing against them personally. I said they were a “problem” because that is how Mr. Rajoy views them: as a serious challenge to the PP and the bi-party system. That is why I put the expression in quotations. I think the impact of Podemos has been very healthy for Spanish politics: it is the non-nationalist reaction to the dysfunction in the political system.

      3. I’m sure we are talking about the same Spain; for just as you can cherry pick metrics that tell the story you feel most favorable, I’m sure I can pick others that support my story of growing inequality, curtailment of freedoms and lack of representation and responsibility among politicians and institutions. Again, reform is the best answer to avoid disturbances, repression and strife.

      4. I am not so sure about your conclusion that “whatever happens Catalonia will remain in Spain”. These affairs are very messy and can lead to uncertain and chancy outcomes. They are never to be embarked upon lightly by either side. In any case, it is no joking matter, though perhaps I misunderstood your reference at the beginning of your comment.

      Kind regards,

      Fernando

      Posted by fdbetancor | September 22, 2014, 11:35
  3. Dear Mr. Betancor,

    For some reason I have arrived to your Blog, that it is quite interesting. I am a Spaniard living in London 10 years from Alicante. I would like make some comments to your recent post.

    In my oppinion your are taking very personal against Rajoy (I am not voting for him) but this question about Catalonia is simpler just go to the Spanish Constitution Article 1 that states the following “2. La soberanía nacional reside en el pueblo español, del que emanan los poderes del Estado”

    That means that the Sovereignty is in “All” the People of Spain not only the people of Catalonia, and Mr. Rajoy is not the owner of the Sovereignty or Mr. Sanchez or Mr. Pablo Iglesias.

    I think Mr. Rajoy and other political leaders should have stopped this situation much earlier and not arrive to this critical point.

    Kind Regards

    Francis

    Posted by Francis Londoner | September 20, 2014, 18:26
    • Dear Francis,

      I am hard on Rajoy because I consider him to be a complete mediocrity, utterly unfit for any role above School Headmaster; and beyond that, I consider him to be a thoroughly corrupt mediocrity who should be facing criminal charges for his knowledge of and probable participation in illegal financing schemes and undeclared payments to politicians in his party.

      As for your assessment of the constitutional questions at play here, I disagree with you that they are in the least bit simple. However, rather than go into a long explanation of a subject I have already written extensively on, I shall merely encourage you to read my previous articles that explore these issues (at least my point of view of them) more thoroughly.

      Thanks also for reading the post and taking the time to respond in a very civilized fashion. It is always a pleasure to entertain different viewpoints when expressed courteously!

      Kind regards,

      Fernando

      Posted by fdbetancor | September 20, 2014, 20:26
  4. Beautiful article.

    Personally, I would disregard the idea of Rajoy and the People’s Party acting against its own nature and its inherited anti democratic personality, and stop being who they are. Instead, I would suggest the following: should the europeans care about what happens in one of their neighbour nations and the touristic destination of 4 million French, 1.5 million German, 1.7M British, etc.? (http://www.idescat.cat/pub/?id=aec&n=569).

    Since when should the Catalan affair be an internal Spanish affair? Would it be okay that there would be no democracy at all allowed in Catalonia? Should the UK and Scotland support the right to vote outside their borders, or they do not care at all, even when it is just about 1,000km away? Wouldn’t it be better to advocate for measures inside the European Union that could start to convince that it is a union of people and not just a pact between elites and heads of states? Is there any kind of solidarity between europeans? Is there any feeling that we have a common identity, a lot of good things in our political organizations that are lacking in other parts of the world, and that we should defend each other from any sort of governmental abuse?

    Wouldn’t it be counterproductive to allow violence and a kind of undercover dictatorship inside the Union without doing anything about it, maybe even defending the president of Spain, as an ally? I think that not only the Spanish political and economical elites should be worried about the people. Some are starting to realize there is barely a trace of real democracy nor defense of the people’s rights in the european institutions. For what we know, Merkel is defending the right to territorial integrity, which is the supposed right of a state to retain all of their citizens against their will for all eternity. And we, the catalans, were firm defendors of Europe and the European Union as we were convicend it represented what we believed in and couldn’t find in the authoritarian Spain.

    Posted by Jordi | September 20, 2014, 00:05
    • Dear Jordi,

      The pattern of European interventions is well established: 1. Hope the problem goes away; 2. Once the problem has manifested itself, continue to hope it will go away; 3. Only when serious economic/financial damage is being sustained begin to take actions, so long as Russia isn’t involved; 4. Design a plan involving the maximum use of stop-gap measures that maximize the pain of the least protected sectors, while shielding all established interests, especially German ones.

      Based on this pattern, Europe will do nothing until the Spanish have declared martial law and the Catalan population has declared a permanent general strike, is blocking access to key infrastructure like ports, airports and roads, and the general level of chaos approximates that of Kosovo or Crimea (without the little green men, of course).

      Only then will the EU act and it will do so in such a fashion as will almost certainly not represent Catalan interests: it will not recognize any referendum, it will call for arbitration and negotiation under the existing Constitutional structure.

      So don’t hold your breath regarding a miracle EU intervention; there will be no deus ex machina from that quarter. Merkel has already made her agreement with Rajoy: support and a free hand in Catalonia in return for Spanish support for German positions in the EU, even those these are clearly harmful to the national economy and only exacerbate tensions within Spain. See my article: “Rajoy’s Quixotic Priorities”.

      Posted by fdbetancor | September 20, 2014, 09:41
      • Thank you Fernando for your response. Judging for what I have just read in previous articles in this blog, I guess Europe’s hypothetical “call for arbitration and negotiation under the existing Constitutional structure”, will be of no consequence in your opinion, and violence and repression will have its way.

        If this is so, and you are right, the utopian/defeatist bipolar personality of catalans will fall from the quasi infantile naive ilusion of this moment to the darkest and driest version of pessimist poet Espriu.

        Best regards,

        Jordi Luque

        Posted by Jordi | September 21, 2014, 15:50
  5. Excellent article Fernando and a true slap in the face to Rajoy. At least they practice democracy in the UK. Rajoy makes Spain look like the Franco era. The ANC says the vote is on for November. After seeing 85% turn out in Scotland the Catalans are ready to show they can turn out too. We’ll see.

    Posted by Mark Carr | September 19, 2014, 20:39
    • Thanks Mark. I wish it were otherwise; the break up of states is a serious business and not undertaken lightly or for transient reasons. I hope Rajoy will see the light; although he is a charlatan and a mere politico in my opinion, there are too many people with too much at stake for personal animosities to interfere. God grant him wisdom in his choices, there are 42 million people whose lives will be gravely affected by his choices: a sobering responsibility indeed.

      Posted by fdbetancor | September 19, 2014, 20:52

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