Spain’s courts averted partition. Will Scotland’s courts facilitate it?

Spain’s courts averted partition. Will Scotland’s courts facilitate it?

by Tom Gallagher
article from Monday 2, April, 2018

GIVEN THE STATE of Scotland’s public sector, from collapsing urban roads to lengthening waiting times for life-threatening illnesses, who can blame the SNP for putting the constitutional question front and centre at every opportunity?  

An unexpected opportunity arose when a European Arrest Warrant was issued for Clara Ponsati on 24 March. As minister of education during the bid by fellow Catalan separatists to secede from Spain last autumn, she ensured that the schools under her control played a key role in the illegal referendum staged on 1 October last.   

After a 4-month-long investigation carried out by the Supreme Court judge Pablo Llorena she was charged, along with six other fugitive politicians with ‘violent rebellion and the misappropriation of public funds’.

Her leader, Carles Puigdemont was detained in Germany on 25 March. The next day Chancellor Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, declared: “Spain is a democratic state where rule of law exists. It remains the conviction of the German government that a solution to this Catalonia conflict has to be found within Spain's legal and constitutional order.”

Asked whether the quality of Spanish justice might thwart Puigdemont’s extradition, he said: “It is our conviction and our daily experience that Spain is a country where the rule of law exists’.

In Scotland, members of three influential sectors, the media, the academic community, and the legal establishment were raising concerns even before Ponsati surrendered to the police on 29 March and was given bail. On account of its opposition to Brexit, the SNP has strengthened its appeal in each of these opinion-forming pillars. Over the past week key allies in the campaign to keep Ponsati out of the clutches of the Spanish state soon sprung from the liberal professions.  

Right across the Scottish print and broadcasting media, the story was interpreted as a plucky and scholarly Catalan lady fleeing heavy-handed repression. In the Times and theHerald the story was not framed very differently from the daily separatist paper, the National.  

George Kerevan, the ex-SNP MP, has frequently talked and written about the durability of a fascist spirit in the Spanish state.

But he was chided by a more subtle and effective nationalist Andrew Tickell, known by his nom-de-plume @peatwarrior. Decrying any militant move, the legal academic suggested there was a real case that the Catalan politician’s ethnic or cultural rights might not be guaranteed if she was returned to Spain and on that basis she should stay.

£200,000 was rapidly raised in a crowdfunding effort as Nicola Sturgeon expressed her sympathy with Ms Ponsati, and Tickell and the media created the mood music to tell Spain that ‘You can’t have our Clara!’ Previously, she had been an obscure figure (teaching economics at St Andrews University) who only became  prominent when she facilitated the illegal referendum after her predecessor as education chief refused to do so.   

Even if there is astonishment at the way the SNP interferes in the affairs of a democratic state like Spain, the genuine anger of many nationalists has to be acknowledged. Marco Biagi, the ex-MSP and SNP minister, tweeted on 25 March: ‘There are no words to express how significant it would be if Clara Ponsati is arrested by Police Scotland and extradited, both in moral and political terms.’

Some have speculated that if he was still running the SNP, Alex Salmond would have taken a more robust line than Sturgeon. On his LBC radio show, he slammed the EU’s unwillingness to take the side of the Catalan separatists. Absent from his discourse, has been any recognition of how grave the challenge to the democratic order has been in Spain.  

As they plunged Catalonia into schism, Puigdemont and his allies showed contempt for democracy, starting with their illegal passing of the ‘law of secession’ granting autocratic powers to the new state, the illegal referendum, the ordering of the local police force (Mossos) to disobey the central authorities including the judiciary. These actions explain why Ponsati is seen as an accessory to a coup d’etat and why a huge counter-mobilisation occurred against the separatists.

On 26 March Roger Torrent, the president of the Catalan parliament repeated the view of Puigdemont and Co that they could not be touched by Spanish law, they and not the judiciary could determine the law as applied to them. 

The SNP government and its allies have refused to call  for a retreat from such entrenched positions. (It is only Spain which should retreat, granting Catalonia the right of ‘self-determination’). Key communications links were blocked  by the shadowy Committee for the Defence of the Republic (a left-wing action group praised by Kerevan). Pro-Union opposition politicians are now under police protection due to threats.     

Is it unreasonable to express concern that hotheads in nationalist ranks here will derive the wrong lesson from the SNP’s exploitation of the Catalan crisis, namely that direct action can work in Scotland to?    

I think not.  After six years of non-stop agitation directed at ending the British Union, a lot of people have concluded that the virtue of their cause entitles them to take unorthodox short-cuts to victory. In 2016-17 it was the illegal encampment outside the Scottish parliament which the SNP winked at. But it could be something rather more forceful in the future.     

Articles such as that of the ex-BBC political editor Iain MacWhirter on 28 March, saluted rebellion by a privileged elite of ethnic malcontents and may in time help to normalise the conditions for a similar revolt by nationalist diehards in Scotland. But despite the hype in the media, there is massive indifference in Scotland to Catalan nationalism. The attendance at rallies has been pitiful. I suspect that most Scots find it hard to equate the free-and-easy democratic Spain that they have got to know and love on countless visits with the grim neo-Franco state described by Joanne Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South-West. 

But the SNP has had success in getting Labour figures like the MEP Catherine Stihler and Kezia Dugdale to play along on Catalonia.  They have strongly protested at the arrest warrant against Ponsati and prefer to view her as a politician persecuted for her beliefs rather than as a key player in an uprising against a democratic state.

I am convinced that the SNP will seek to detach such politicians from Labour and make much use of them in any agitation for a second referendum on independence. It has already as good as succeeded with David Martin, the Labour politician over thirty years in the European parliament. 

The BBC News reported on 28 March: ‘Clara wishes to thank @NicolaSturgeon, the Scottish government and politicians for their solidarity. Scotland has been a true friend to Catalonia in her darkest hours’. But leading Catalan nationalists were disappointed that Sturgeon held back from endorsing independence last autumn. If Scotland was independent then, it is unlikely that a President Sturgeon would have broken ranks with the rest of the world to recognise Catalonia under Puigdemont.  

Despite the windy rhetoric about a global destiny for Scotland from external affairs ministers like Humza Yousaf and Fiona Hyslop, the SNP remains a deeply parochial movement. Its abiding goal is to convert Scotland into a centralised tightly-run state where freedom is interpreted as solely meaning freedom from oversight by the rest of the island.

Its relations with foreign entities is based exclusively  on the extent to which they can assist the SNP in accomplishing the break-up of the UK.    

The SNP is hoping to use the Ponsati affair to expand its already growing influence over the legal profession and the courts.  It will hit the jackpot if a Scottish court confirms the view – manufactured within the media – and rules that her human rights cannot be upheld in Spain. An appeal to the Supreme Court in London is likelier than not to reverse such a verdict. With a court in the English seat of power confining Ponsati to a Spanish dungeon, then the Auld Enemy is once again in the stocks.   

Just like the Continuity Bill, which is meant to allow the SNP to misuse powers which the Sturgeon government never wanted to leave Brussels in the first place, the separatists are using Catalonia to power their own non-stop breakaway-bid.  

Separatists, perhaps rightly, think that after perverse verdicts on issues like the Named Persons Act, that the senior Scottish courts are a weak link for the Union.  They can perhaps soon be persuaded to interpret the devolution legislation in the opposite way it was intended, allowing the devolved government to hold legally-binding referenda on independence.    

Catalonia has gone from being the economic locomotive of Spain to a drag on its recovery. This is in no small measure due to the irresponsibility of Ponsati and her fellow rebels. 

On 31 March, several dozen Spanish academics based in the UK and Spain felt it necessary to write to Sally Maptstone, the Principal of St Andrew University to argue that the claim on the official university website that the professor was being ‘targeted for standing up for her political beliefs’ is unfounded.

Most Catalans, like the majority of Scots, abhor the damage to their tenuous economic security done by egotistical firebrands. But if the courts join the media and large swathes of academia in rejecting common sense and humouring implacable nationalists, stormy times might lie ahead.          

Tom Gallagher is a retired political scientist who lives in Edinburgh. He published ‘Scotland Now’ A Warning to the World’ in 2016. His 14th single-authored book and debut novel, ‘Flight of Evil: A North British Intrigue’, came out in March.

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