Twenty years ago, I spent some time in Scotland on a scholarship as a doctoral student at the University of Stirling (though I eventually moved to Glasgow). I have kept since then an interest in Scottish Literature (you’ve read here about my beloved Iain M. Banks), and, intermittently, in the matter of Scottish independence. I actually consider the comparison between Scottish and Catalan nationalism one of my research areas, though a very minor one. I have published some pieces, which you can find in my website. Now I’m waiting for the end of 2014… to go on.
The thesis I have been arguing is that Scotland and Catalonia are vastly different but share, nonetheless, major traits: a dislike for political violence (unlike Ireland and the Basque Country nationalisms, at least until recently) and a strong civil society used to achieving goals through dialogue and compromise. Roughly speaking, as regards recent historical times, the Scots learned very much throughout the 1980s from Catalan ‘autonomia’ about how to proceed in their quest for Devolution. When this came, courtesy of Labour’s Tony Blair, in 1996, the SNP vowed to stage a referendum for independence in 15 years time. 2011 did not bring the referendum itself, but it did bring the election as Scottish PM of SNP’s Alex Salmond. He fulfilled his electoral promise and the Scots will have a completely legal referendum on September 18 as we, Catalans, look on with envy.
Let me explain this envy, on very personal grounds. Yesterday I watched on TV3 the documentary ‘Homage to Scotland’, which I found tedious, predictable and conventional. I keep however, from it, two moments: one, the information about the White Book by the Scottish Government on the future of Scotland if the vote for independence wins (the .mobi file is already in my Kindle – where’s the Catalan White Book, I wonder?). Two: David Cameron’s campaign meeting, asking the rest of Britons to call their friends and relatives in Scotland to convince them to stay… because they love them. I know this is manipulative sentimentalism of the worst kind but, still, it’s nice when you’re asked by a friendly voice not to leave… because you’re loved.
I’m not going to raise here the spectre of Catalanophobia so often invoked. I had a very long talk with my ex-student Samuel yesterday and I’ll borrow his thesis that what marks the relationship between Spain and Catalonia is not hatred but indifference towards the other’s reality. The way I see it, a major flaw of the Spanish state is its failure to instil pride in the cultural diversity of Spain because of its indifference towards variety. In a state proud of this amazing bounty, all children would be taught in school a smattering of the other languages of Spain –and the Spanish ‘Presidente’ would speak them reasonably (well, I don’t know about Basque!). Instead, I have always felt that monolingual Spain sees the other cultures as either local eccentricities or irksome obstacles in the smooth path towards linguistic and cultural uniformity.
Spanish TV, for instance, has local regional branches in the ‘other’ languages, but it never shows a complete programme in Catalan, Galician or Basque on its national channel. You may spend your whole life in Spain and never hear someone speak the other languages on national TV for more than a minute or two. This, for me (remember I’m a philologist), is not reasonable. I know that the linguistic argument does not apply to Scotland, which is why I have always maintained that theirs is a completely different case. And, actually, what is absolutely misunderstood mainly by the Spanish nationalists and to a great extend by the Catalan nationalists is the bilingual, bicultural reality of most people in Catalonia. I’m happy to have had access from childhood to two languages and two cultures (no, I don’t vote Ciutadans). Catalan must be protected by both the Catalan and the Spanish governments, for it is in danger of disappearing. At the same time, I know from the children in my family that an education in Catalan is no obstacle for active bilingualism.
I really think that Rajoy could take lessons from David Cameron. How can he not see that every time he says ‘no’ to Artur Mas’s 9th November referendum independentism grows at least 1%? Will he turn out to be a bigger independentist, in the end, than Oriol Junqueras (by the way, a UAB colleague from the History Department…)? In Scotland many claim that their wish for independence is mainly due to Maggie Thatcher 1980s anti-Scottish policies. Just think of Rajoy calling Mas to say “don’t go, we love you” (or even better, “no marxeu, us estimem”… or the equivalent in his native Galician), and you’ll quickly understand what’s missing here –call it political hypocrisy, or genuine affection, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that, at least, there’s some kind of dialogue between Cameron and Salmond.
Insert here a deep bilingual (or trilingual) sigh…
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