Independence & Internationalism: Discussion
Videos of the talks by Catalonian Sergi and Palestinian Jalal will be posted on YouTube shortly. Following the talks, there was a lively discussion. I’ll try to capture the flavour of the debate and summarise it here. Many thanks to all the people who participated!
I have deliberately not named any of the contributors except those on the panel, as I have not sought permission. My apologies in advance if my notes and memory fail to capture the sentiments that those people, or indeed the panel, were trying to get across. Feel free to correct me in the comments below.
Audience Member: Have you reached the end of the legal road in Catalonia?
Sergi: The people are pushing for a referendum in November and they are looking at using local election results as a kind of semi-plebiscite. The left in Catalonia wants to push for a referendum even if the government in Madrid won’t recognise it.
Audience Member: Is there any credence to the idea that a Yes vote in the referendum would be bad for the Palestinian cause as it would remove the UK’s permanent seat on the security council and the influence for good that this could have?
Jalal: Scotland can’t make a difference at the minute to what the UK says at the UN and currently what the UK says is largely not helpful to the Palestinian cause.
Audience Member: What comparison can we make between the situation in Scotland and that in Catalonia?
Sergi: Local elites in Catalonia are against the referendum due to economic links with the Madrid elite. They are worried about losing links to the central power. There are many immigrants from the rest of Spain who have a “sentimental link with Spain” and are not convinced of the case for independence. Left wing parties are convinced of the right to decide, but not necessarily of the idea of independence. Economically the two situations are also different.
Audience Member: What is the attitude of Catalonia to NATO and EU membership?
Sergi: The situation is similar to Scotland in that the political centre are in favour of the EU. The left see the EU as a neo-liberal club. The example of Iceland, which is outside the EU but has a far lower unemployment rate shows that being outside the EU could be a good thing.
Audience Member: The UK position on abstaining on recognising Palestine and the fact that the UK sells so many arms to the region is an even more pressing reason to vote Yes. What are Trade Unions’ position on independence in Catalonia?
Sergi: Catalonia produces 20% of the GDP of Spain. The Trade Unions are in favour of a referendum but the have no official position on the result. They support the “right to decide.”
Audience Member: During the Wilson Labour Government, there were no UK troops in Vietnam. In 1964, without the Scottish Labour MPs we would have had a Tory government and possibly a different result. The same is true of Syria recently. Are we “doing away with a layer of moderation?” Also, we are voting for an independent country to be a member of NATO. Ireland allowed rendition flights despite being neutral. The USA coerces countries to vote and follow their agenda. We’re not voting for a Socialist Scotland.
Jalal: We’re not going to get a utopia straight away but NATO needs Scotland. From a Palestinian perspective the Scottish MPs aren’t making much difference. It’s better to be independent and have an independent voice. The situation in Syria is complex and it is had to see what the end result will be.
Audience Member: We’re not voting for the SNP, we’re voting for the chance to examine our relationships with a whole range of international institutions and situations.
Audience Member: We are voting for the possibility of change.
Audience Member: Are a couple of examples of moderation of foreign policy worth having to put up with Thatcher, the Poll Tax, Bedroom Tax and ATOS? All I have known is British Prime Ministers who are essentially war criminals.
Audience Member: Blair, Brown, Murphy and Darling voted for the Iraq War.
Audience Member: The British Empire is not going to be over until Scotland leaves, then England can wake up and smell the coffee.
Audience Member: The British Empire has constantly re-invented itself over the decades. London won’t be too worried about losing Scotland, they may even be relieved. Thatcher abolished Strathclyde RC and the GLC as they could have been sources of opposition to her policies. British Imperialism will re-invent itself with or without Scotland.
Audience Member: Things will change in England in the event of a Yes vote. A successful and progressive Scottish economy will be a beacon for the people of England. People are aspirational and this gives us a chance to aspire and to change things.
Audience Member: At least folks in Scotland won’t be involved in foreign wars. We will have the choice to stay out.
Audience Member: Is the status quo the way to get change? Probably not. Independence will not solve everything but it can be the spark that makes us ask what sort of society we want to live in, what sort of society we want to make.
Audience Member: I am not a nationalist, and I had my doubts until recently when I spoke to an Anarchist in the North of England. He said, “You have the potential to lead by example, you can be a fairer greener state and have policies that don’t exploit people. You can give a lead to show that you can change things.” Scotland is the next natural step after Iceland, we can be a step up from there as we try to create change on a bigger scale each time.
Audience Member: The loss of a large chunk of real estate would be an enormous loss of prestige for the British establishment. Yes is a vote for change. Only if people see a real chance for change will they vote Yes.
Audience Member: Will we get the SNP governing and Independent Scotland or Johann Lamont? We have a duty to think about forming a party to contest elections and force real change.
Audience Member: A Yes vote isn’t a vote for NATO. It is better to have the potential for change than no change at all.
Audience Member: There has in the past been massive good done by the Labour movement across the UK. If we vote Yes are we giving up on the Labour movement in the UK?
Audience Member: There was change in the past but then there was Thatcher and from 1997 on Labour did nothing to help. The UK Labour movement needs a kick up the arse and independence might just give it one!
Audience Member: My vision is of independence is to move towards a neutral republic. Question – “What does Catalonia do next?”
Sergi: The Spanish constitution doesn’t permit a referendum, and the government is completely opposed. There are lots of disputes and nobody knows what will happen. The Scottish reference is important, we are talking about similar cases and it has implications for Catalonia.
Audience Member: Young people forming this RIC group in Aberdeen is important as it shows there is an appetite for change. The UK government is not fit for purpose, we have to get in the lifeboat that Independence gives us.
Audience Member: Do the Panel see there being interference from abroad in Scotland?
Sergi: What will happen in Scotland will be a mirror for countries and regions around the world and across Europe.
Jalal: No one is going to veto Scottish EU membership. It’s the Scottish people who will decide.
Audience Member: What arguments are advanced against Catalonian independence?
Sergi: The Spanish government is completely “blocked”, there is no debate, they ignore it.
Audience Member: When the Edinburgh agreement came out I was nervous and thought the loss of the referendum could be a terrible blow. But now, the whole process is creating a dynamism, and the effects of this dynamic energy are hard to predict. It’s a good thing; it allows things to break out. The EU will be confronted, by an idea that is present all across Europe.
Audience Member: Are there other independence movements across Europe?
Panel: Basque country, Flanders, Venice.
Audience Member: Someone said that to get on at Westminster you need to be a Zionist. What do you think?
Jalal: David Milliband said “I am a Zionist.”
Audience Member: British politics stinks.
Audience Member: Is there a guarantee on the removal of Trident? And is there a case to say we should be staying with the Union to redistribute wealth to poorer areas of England?
Sergi: Catalonia contributes a lot to the rest of Spain…
Audience Member: The Labour party in Scotland is part of the UK Labour party machine and is corrupt. Milliband is scared to be seen as siding with scroungers. Aberdeen City Council are totally out of touch, they are tribal, petty and prejudiced as can be seen from the letter they sent out with the council tax bills. In Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, parts of the city see one in three children growing up in poverty. Nationally the Labour movement haven’t done anything good for 50 years. I could never forgive myself if I didn’t vote Yes.
Audience Member: Palestine has been waiting 60 years. We have a chance for change.
Audience Member: There have been some progressive reforms with the Scottish Government and we could do more with independence.
Audience Member: There are going to be lots of issues with the SNP going forward, will it fall apart?
Audience Member: We need to demand a seat at the negotiating table. If we don’t get this we will be screwed over in the negotiations by England’s money. If we get a Yes vote we must be at the negotiating table.
Audience Member: Even the 1945 Labour Government didn’t give us home rule in Scotland. The whole thing is to do with democracy. From a democratic point of view there is no argument for the union. We have zero influence why do we have to justify it economically when the case is clear democratically.
At this point the discussion came to and end and RIC’s representative Sean closed with comments on how people can get involved with the group locally.
My apologies again if anyone feels that I have misrepresented what they were trying to say, any mistakes are entirely my own.