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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Independence not patriotism for Scots and Catalans

Por: | 15 de septiembre de 2014

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As a Scotsman - or a man born in Scotland, anyway - living in Barcelona I’ve had more than my fair share of the independence debate.

It used to annoy me. I disliked the way people would assume I supported Scottish independence based on nothing more than my nationality and I found it galling that many Catalans would draw on the example of a country they knew little to nothing about (even down to assuming Glasgow was the capital).

More importantly, though, I saw the independence debate as fuelled by a patriotism for which I have no time and sympathy. Patriotism, I’ve always thought, is for football matches, when it makes sense to pick a side. Otherwise, feeling proud of the achievements of people born in the same patch of land hundreds of years before you feels ridiculous at best. 

Certainly, Scotland is a beautiful place and has birthed some remarkable people. But I feel no more right to claim the work of poet Robert Burns - who was born and lived most of his life in Scottish towns I’ve never even visited - as somehow my own, than I do with the work of Cervantes.

Don't get me wrong: defending shared values (as is sometimes put forward as an argument for patriotism) is important. But defining values on a national level never seems to work and I'd like to think I have more in common with socialist French President François Hollande than Eurosceptic UKIP leader Nigel Farage, just because he's British. 

Much of this unpatriotic feeling is down to my itinerant British roots, which - typical to many people of that seafaring isle - spread their tendrils over the globe. I was born in Scotland, my parents were born in England and my grandparents were born in Scotland, Ireland and China. I’ve lived in Scotland, England, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona and it was here, in the Catalan capital, that my own children were born.

I could, technically, play football for England, Scotland and Ireland, the latter a country I’ve visited for the grand total of one day. I speak with a southern English accent and I’ve never even been to Northern Ireland, one of the four countries that makes up the United Kingdom, whose passport I hold.

The idea, then, of fighting to create a separate country in 2014 when we are so bound by cross-border politics and political and cultural union, seemed rather futile and I resented the patriotic edge of many of the pro-independence arguments. 

Recently, though, I’ve changed my mind: while independence for national pride remains a pointless struggle for me, independence as a way to bring about wholesale change in society makes a great deal of sense.

Consider, for example, a Scotsman who is opposed to Britain’s ownership of nuclear weapons (as well he might be, with the UK’s nuclear arsenal based on his doorstep in HMNB Clyde). With Britain’s three major political parties all committed to keeping this nuclear force, the only realistic way in his lifetime to bring about a non-nuclear Scotland would be to vote for Scottish independence, thus forcing the British army to relocate. 

A vote for an independent Scotland, then, becomes less about patriotism and more about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make real change, to start again and see what exactly a country should be like in the 21st Century, freed from thousands of years of conservatism.

“If this [Scottish independence] happens, we are going to see the birth of a new nation, not forged in war or fighting, but peacefully and by consensus,” one Scottish friend of mine said on Facebook. “I'm so happy to be alive at this time!” 

Is this naive? Possibly. But what kind of sad world do we live in if we can’t even admit the possibility of peaceful change?

Many Catalans see this too. Of course, there are thousands of supporters of Catalan independence who hold their views because of simple national pride. But at the recent Diada I saw signs for “Independence and feminism”, “Independence and socialism” and countless other variations on the theme.

These are people who, like the Scot opposed to nuclear weapons, see independence as Catalonia’s best chance to do something different, to make things better for them and for their families and to try for a fairer world. Independence for them is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end, a way to bring about a better future that - wrongly or rightly - they don’t see happening within Spain.

Scotland goes to the polls this Thursday to decide whether it wants independence. As someone who lives in Barcelona, I don’t get a vote. Even If I did, like millions of undecided Scots I still don’t know where I would put my cross.

Whatever the outcome, though, I want to believe that things in Britain have changed for ever. The British government expected the “no” campaign to trot to an easy victory, propelled by the economic uncertainty of leaving the Union.  Instead the people of Scotland seized the chance to tell the wider world exactly what they thought of Westminster rule, stifling Conservative power and weakling Labour opposition, immigration scaremongering and nuclear force. 

Win or lose, then, the British political establishment has taken a bloodied nose at the hands of the independence movement. If the Catalans can do the same, then maybe all Spain might benefit.

Hay 11 Comentarios

Well said,we wish to move nuclear weapons out of Scotland,end poverty and inequality and not be involved in illegal wars like Iraq.we also agree withCatalunya searching for its voice.

Pity the continued argument of the "we". Should this planet ever tire itself over the stupidity of borders and language only then will it evolve. Using secession arguments, I.e bullfighting, is ironically of no help to the animal rights movement. How comforting it must be to separate oneself of the problem instead of struggling with those of us in the south worried not on the concept of the act but the actual dignity of the animal. As for the romanticized notion of american revenue not streaming in for an independent Scotland via the nuclear bases..banter like " Hope and Change" is just that..romantisized banter, slogans for buttons that represent an iota of reality. I've personally witnessed 2 referendums in Canada with the same tragic results.....beings walking away from their defeats and wins thinking that their existance was now even more defined by their supposed differences. How little we have evolved as a species.....

I am a Scot living in Spain and I am proud of my country and also very happy to live here. Nationalism and patriotism like any human feelings can end in extremism but that does not mean that they are bad per se. I don't have a vote but if I could I would vote yes because I want to see my country prosper and have control over its own affairs. It is a positive feeling and not based on sentiment or dislike of the other nations in the union. One person mentioned globalisation as an argument against independence but that is precisely why it is now more important than ever that the democratic will of ordinary people should prevail. People are increasingly alienated because of the drive to centralise and control political and commercial systems. I lived and worked in Barcelona and I can understand their aspirations - in the end if enough people want independence, their voice has to be acknowledged.

Let me use another example: Catalan education described as "inmersión linguística" pays full attention to the END GOAL of all children being equally proficien both in Catalan and Castilian Spanish at the end of their schooling. Quite on the contrary Minister Wert's imposed law makes it compulsory a certain process, the use of a certain percentage of each language, with little consideration of the actual results and level of language proficiency at the end of the schooling period.

As a Catalan citizen, I would like to go even one step beyond Ben Cardew's argument: for many Catalans, independence means a real chance to get Castilian Spain off our backs. I mean a real chance for Catalans to be themselves, their true selves. Castilian Spain has time and again, in many different fields, constrained us, de facto impeding us to be ourselves. For instance ridiculing and describing our national language as a "dialect", or actually vetoing the acceptance of Catalan as one more official European language in the E.U. Institutions. I do not claim that Catalans shall be better or worse than any other nation in the world. But we shall be able to be ourselves without being ridiculed or constrained by Castilian Spain, always trying to impose on us their personality or way of doing things, for instance their love for bullfighting!

Oh my gosh. I know. English is not my first second tongue, sorry. I'm afraid of this situation. Everytime nationalism grows up the world has become pure shit. We are getting into that shit.

As an itinerant Spaniard, I agree with Tweedie. I even feel miserable because "pace" has been corrected. I did not want to sound mean.

As an itinerant, (who is Brit by passport, Catalan by birth, English by accent, Scot by surname) I understand the thrust of your argument that there is an outside chance of real change that could never otherwise be realised. However, I find the idea that anyone rational enough to think such would choose to cosy up nationalists of any strip to try to achieve this, grim. I take just as dim a view of British or Spanish nationalism when I would much rather be tearing up our borders not re-enforcing them or even building new ones.

What did you mean? A beautiful place or a beautiful pace? The latter makes sense too though, chiefly for an itinerant British.

Meh. I don't buy your argument. As someone who could also hold many different passports and has lived in many different countries, it has become clear to me that those who claim independence will solve their problems are in for some serious disappointment. The forces that are shaping the world are global in nature and the only way to mitigate them is by being part of an entity large enough to fight them. Thinking that Independence will solve the issues caused.by the economic crisis and global changes is like believing that governments have the power to solve global economic crisis. It is simply wishful thinking. Independence is usually all about the money, either the lack of it or not willing to share it. This case is not different, those who push for indepence (as well as those who are against it) are motivated by money and the fear of change (the change imposed from outside or the fear of what independence may mean for them). Independence movements bring always the worst of human nature, even if this fact is usually hidden behind nice speeches that mention ideals, dreams and a better life ahead.

Meh. I don't buy your argument. As someone who could also hold many different passports and has lived in many different countries, it has become clear to me that those who claim independence will solve their problems are in for some serious disappointment. The forces that are shaping the world are global in nature and the only way to mitigate them is by being part of an entity large enough to fight them. Thinking that Independence will solve the issues caused.by the economic crisis and global changes is like believing that governments have the power to solve global economic crisis. It is simply wishful thinking. Independence is usually all about the money, either the lack of it or not willing to share it. This case is not different, those who push for indepence (as well as those who are against it) are motivated by money and the fear of change (the change imposed from outside or the fear of what independence may mean for them). Independence movements bring always the worst of human nature, even if this fact is usually hidden behind nice speeches that mention ideals, dreams and a better life ahead.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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