Opposition to Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom has existed, in one for, or another, since its founding in 1707, often with anti-imperialist sentiment at its heart. The SNP were founded to campaign against it in 1934 and grew with the collapse of empire in the 1950s, and 60s, but only in the 1970s did the Scottish National Party really start to take off in Scotland as a genuine political force leading to a 1979 referendum on devolution and the eventual formation of the Scottish parliament following a second one in 1998. It took until the October of 2012 however until we saw semi-regular mass rallies specifically for independence finally begin to take to the streets.
Meanwhile an incredibly similar situation was taking shape in parallel in Catalonia, (though the formation of Spain is even older, dating back to the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile in 1469). In 1975 the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, (installed by a civil war supported by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s), died. Almost immediately Spain moved to recognise its various ‘regions’, setting them on the path to semi-autonomy. It was September 2012 though that people began to take to the streets en masse in support of Catalan independence and a referendum there on it.
The two nations have an intertwined legacy stretching back to that Civil War when thousands of young Scots joined the ‘international brigades’ to fight Franco’s fascists in the late 1930s – an episode immortalised by Willy and John Mally’s now classic Scottish play ‘From Calton to Catalonia’. One young Catalan independence fighter today who has made the switch the other way is 20-year-old Valentina Servera Clavell.
“I joined the Catalan political party when I was 14 and since then we’ve been protesting and doing activism and everything and it kind of linked me to an international aspect of it.” She said: “I got sent to Brussels when I was 16 and that’s when I got hooked up in international politics.”
When student journalist Valentina was 16 Catalonia was is in the midst of preparing for its own independence referendum. Unlike the Scottish referendum of 2014 the Catalans did vote overwhelmingly for independence, but the result and the referendum was ignored and crushed by the Spanish state, with troops and riot police taking to the streets to put down the ‘rebellion’ and many of the Catalonian leaders arrested or sent into hiding.
Valentina came to Scotland to study journalism at Glasgow Clyde College and now Glasgow Caledonian Uni. She also came to collaborate with a political party close to her heart, the SNP. Returning in 2017 to register her vote for Catalonian independence Valentina bore witness to police brutality and extreme voter suppression at the hands of the Spanish authorities. Despite this she has not lost her passion for protesting, which is an ongoing feature of public life in Catalonia as it is once more here in Scotland thanks to the U.K’s vote to leave the E.U.
She said “If I were there I would definitely be protesting, and I would definitely be taking part in the demonstrations. It’s kind of sad actually that I’m here and I can’t be part of all that because it looks amazing and I would have loved to be in it. Probably not loved being beaten by the police but being part of all that – it just looks so magical and peaceful.”
But Miss Clavell has harsh words for the treatment of the Catalan people from the European Union of late.
She said: “EU law mandates that if a member state uses its army or government forces against their own citizens it will be immediately removed from the EU, and it hasn’t. That should have happened on the 1st of October 2017 and it hasn’t happened, so it’s very, very annoying that the EU is letting Spain get away with all this because it’s absolutely ridiculous and it’s harming a lot of people. The fact that our Catalonian MEPs can’t take their seats, can’t do their job, the job that people vote for them to do, is even more ridiculous because that shows how much the EU are supporting Spain.”
This year Valentina has spoken proudly at the SNP party conference alongside Nicola Sturgeon and, most recently, at the independence rally in Glasgow to over 20,000 people, about the mutual plight of the two closely aligned nations. She admits that protesting doesn’t often deliver the desired results but this hasn’t dimmed her determination that protests are an important part of our political culture.
“Do I feel disheartened? No, I don’t. I know you cannot win every battle, every protest or anything, but I think the fact that before we used to not see that many people protesting and now we see more and more and more, it’s a sign for optimism.
“They ignore us, yes, we may be the weakest right now, but I’m one of those who thinks that the more noise you make the better.”
The student journalist, who describes herself as a ‘Catalonian Scot’ plans to remain in Scotland upon completion of her degree due, in part, to her desire to help the Scottish independence cause and for her love of the SNP which she describes as “a family” who make her feel “so loved and cared about”.
Like many Scottish independence supporters, including now the First Minister, she believes that an independence referendum will, at least, take place next year, even if independence itself is still a few years off. Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University however, takes another view.
He said: “You’re certainly not going to get the so-called section 30 order that’s required from the U.K parliament to hold a referendum, at least of the kind that was held in 2014. You’re not going to get it if we get another Conservative administration. The Conservatives are clearly adamantly opposed and while we might then begin to enter a protracted legal dispute between the U.K government and the Scottish government that will not be resolved particularly soon.
“The Labour party, in contrast, if we get a hung parliament, has kept the door open to a second referendum but the Labour Party is clearly not minded to follow the timetable that the SNP have it mind.”
Prolific pollster and political analyst, Sir John Curtice, (who was knighted by the British establishment in 2018), had previously stated in 2016 that there was not the evidence to support the idea that Scotland had changed its mind on independence thanks to Brexit, but this year he has been forced to change his view on this given the evidence now available, stating “we can no longer guarantee” that Scotland would vote No to independence.
He said, however: “There is the slimmest possibility that we might get a referendum in the near future if there is a hung parliament, but that at the moment is the less likely of the two outcomes.
“Of course the other thing here that we also have to bear in mind is that if we do get a hung parliament then presumably that is going to result in a second EU referendum being held in the first half of next year, and of course if the U.K were to come up with a different decision second time around that would very much change the context and the circumstances that have both given rise to the SNP’s call for a second independence referendum and the circumstances over which any such referendum will be fought.”
Like swathes of indy supporters across the country however, Valentina is not deterred.
“I definitely think Scotland will be independent. Next year, maybe we’ll have a referendum.
“I think Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are working very, very hard for a referendum.”
Things have changed hugely in both nations since those initial rallies in 2012. In Catalonia their referendum was a win for independence by a whopping 92%, in spite of police brutality and polling stations have to hide ballots from tyrannical authorities. President Puigdemont was charged with ‘rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds’ and many of the Catalonian political leaders were forced to go into hiding.
The Scottish referendum fell for the union only for all the promises made during that referendum to be abandoned preceded by an ever more English centred U.K and consolidated Tory power base, all leading to the Brexit crisis and renewed calls for independence. Gone are the days though when flag waving nationalists fought for their cause with Flower O’ Scotland on their lips and Bannockburn in their hearts. Today it’s a far more sober, reflective and stoic determination fighting for unity with the EU as much as separation from the U.K, and this might well prove to be its greatest asset. All the while the protesting continues.
“I believe people will slowly realise this is the best option”, said Valentina, “but I have no doubt it will happen. You always of course get times when you are a wee bit down. but I don’t even think this is the case anymore because I think we have it so, so close I can almost touch it.”
The people of the U.K go to the polls once again on December 12th for the third time since 2015 to elect a government, the makeup of which may very well be the determining factor in its future existence.