Catalonia and Caledonia

By John Webber, Glasgow

The violent repression of Catalan voters by theSpanish police inspired instinctive feelings of solidarity in people around the world. The shocking brutality of the Guardia Civil against completely unarmed civilians only wanting to cast a ballot was considered unthinkable in a European country. In a few days, the events in Catalonia exposed the anti-democratic nature of both the EU and the Spanish State as the unity of Spain was ensured by force. In Scotland, hundreds of people attended protests in Glasgow and Edinburgh called by the Radical Independence Campaign. In the eyes of RIC and many supporters of Scottish Independence, Catalonian Independence is an inspiration and a fraternal cause. The SNP conference also heard speeches condemning the actions of the Spanish Government and moderate messages of support for independence activists.

The need to come out and show solidarity with Catalonia was obvious to socialists and Scottish nationalists. Clearly, many see a parallel between the independence movements in the two countries. The BBC even released a small feature specifically asking SNP supporters what they thought of the events in Catalonia. On examination, there are numerous similarities between the two. Catalonia and Scotland are both small, developed areas of larger European bourgeois democracies. Historically, they were independent countries that were integrated into a larger state. Scotland and England were united by the Act of Union in 1707, after decades of being ruled by the same royal dynasty. Similarly, Catalonia became a part of Spain through intermarriage of regional aristocratic families and was fully dissolved as a feudal territory by the Spanish Monarchy between 1707 and 1716. Both countries thus became a part of the larger state not through colonial conquest, but through the integration of their respective ruling classes. The formation of the united British and Spanish states thus largely pre-date industrial capitalist development, with a small but growing bourgeois class and only a rudimentary capitalist mode of production forming. The working class of Catalonia and Scotland thus developed as a part of the emergent Spanish and British working class, and not independent of them.In the case of Spain however, the backward Spanish ruling class could only base unity of the state on bureaucratic and police means and the Catalan ruling class, more industrial and economically developed, was always in conflict with it.

Both Catalonia and Scotland always retained their national identities, however. Both retained vestiges of independence, such as the Catalan language or Scots Law. Catalonia and Scotland have distinct cultural traditions as well. Despite this national identity, independence had been a minority view until recently. Though nationalist parties had support from petit-bourgeois layers, the major tendency among the working class were the parties of the Spanish and British labour movements. In Scotland the SNP were the party of the “Tartan Tories” in the Highlands. In Catalonia, the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois nationalists largely found support in the villages and small towns of rural areas or middle-class suburbs of Barcelona. Traditionally, Labour was dominant in the working class heartlands of Scotland. The Communist (PSUC) and Socialist Party of Catalonia (regional affiliate of the PSOE) held sway in working class Catalonia for most of the last 40 years. As the crisis of capitalism took hold in 2008, the traditional parties of social democracy around Europe were exposed as having no solutions and even being a part of the problem. In Scotland this resulted in the growth of the SNP, which had now abandoned its “Tartan Tory” platform and instead led a reformist minority government in the Scottish Parliament. Throughout Britain it meant a return to Tory government, as Labour’s right wing led the party from one defeat to another. This process was also reflected in Spain, with the decline of the PSOE and the rise of Podemos.

Scotland has been seen to buck the trend of British politics since 2014 in much the same way that Catalonia has diverged from Spain quite decisively as a result of this October referendum. These changes have been led by a rebellious working class, which in 2014 boosted the hopes of Scottish Independence as the last months of the Yes campaign became increasingly radical. Scottish nationalism was transformed in that brief time from the calculated, moderate argument put forward by sections of the Scottish bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie, to an outpouring of working class resentment against British capitalism and the British State. Class issues about austerity, jobs, war and public services rose to the fore as the bourgeois arguments about “Scotland’s wealth” or “Scotland’s oil” fell into the background. In the aftermath of the referendum, tens of  thousands of people were buzzing with enthusiasm for political action and joined the SNP, SSP and Greens. The SNP gained the following of the majority of the Scottish working class, while Labour became despised as untrustworthy and ineffective. This is due to Labour’s alliance with the Tories to campaign against independence, but also resentment against the right-wing  leadership and its weak, compromising left. Even the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has not saved Scottish Labour from the doldrums. The deep reserves of support for Labour that Corbyn draws on are not present in Scotland, due to the working class’ support for the SNP.

The situation is similar for Podemos in Catalonia. Having failed to make gains in the 2015/2016 Spanish elections, watering down their programme and vacillating between messages of compromise and confrontation with the rest of the Spanish political system, Podemos has stagnated. While they defended the right of self-determination in principle, their position was abstract and they rejected the October 1 referendum once it was called. Since then they have cast their lot on the side of Spanish nationalism and chauvinism, castigating the Catalan independence movement for “unilateralism”.

The fact that the perspective of fundamental change in Spain being postponed, has led to many in Catalonia seeing independence as their best hope. Parties of the pro-independence left, like the CUP and ERC, have thus grown in support, helping to secure the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament along with the bourgeois nationalists.

The anti-capitalist CUP is likely to see even more growth in support due to its active participation in the October referendum and its defence. Just like Scotland, the referendum process has unleashed the potential of the working class and given the demand for Catalan independence a progressive character. Traditional issues around Catalan culture, language and history became less important as people raised their sights to envision a Catalan Republic, free from the austerity and corruption of Spain. The demand for independence is now at the forefront of class politics in Catalonia, with the slogan of a Catalan Socialist Republic as the watchword of revolutionaries. Like Scotland, however, there is still no decisive majority for independence. Many Spanish-speaking workers in Catalonia, particularly in Barcelona, are sceptical towards the independence movement.

They have not forgotten how the bourgeois nationalist CiU/PDeCAT has happily implemented austerity, even in partnership with Spain’s ruling Partido Popular. Many will also be under the influence of Spanish nationalist delusions about the independence movement’s alleged “hispanophobia” or anti-Spanish identity. These layers of the Catalan working class need to be won over and can only be won over by the slogan of a Catalan Socialist Republic. The same is true for Scotland, where the uncertain or doubtful can be won over to a Scottish Socialist Republic. Both causes must put the struggle against all oppression and a clear commitment to internationalism at their heart

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