Scotland: several virtues and a weakness



Behind each of us there lies a circumstance, a history and a society. I was born and raised Basque, am almost entirely Catalan by family and have lived in Scotland for over twenty years. In each of these places, I have come across a different form of nationalism, forms which, depending on their nature and intensity, possess the power to unite or fracture.

 Unlike elsewhere, nationalism in Scotland does not seek to split society and break future human ties with its neighbours. Should the country become independent, Scottish citizens will be able to carry on with their personal and professional lives without any significant ethnic or linguistic barriers separating them from the other populations of these islands. This would not necessarily happen in the Basque Country and Catalonia, whose vernacular, albeit minority, languages lie at the very core of nationalist ideology, are given preference in education and institutions, and would end up representing a barrier between them and the other populations on the peninsula.

 Nor does the Scottish National Party harbour any kind of aggressive sentiment towards the Union or its people. On the contrary, xenophobic attitudes are regularly condemned by its leaders. Ms Sturgeon’s recent statement that there is no place in the party for ‘England out of Scotland’ supporters would leave the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties bereft of leaders, who regard their Spanish-speaking compatriots as foreigners. I shall confine myself here to mentioning three party presidents, two Catalan and one Basque, whose words would never have allowed them to get so far in Scotland: Heribert Barrera, Josep Carod and Javier Arzalluz.

 Nor is Scottish nationalism spearheaded by a civic movement, unlike the nationalist movement in Catalonia, where the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) has been prosecuted by the Spanish courts and subsequently denounced by ERC, the majority pro-independence party, for playing a leading role in politics without any form of democratic control.

 Yet more important is respect for state institutions and legality. In stark contrast to the experience in democratic federal Spain, the Scottish nationalist parties have never sought to undermine the legitimacy or credibility of their adversaries, let alone subvert the rule of law or question the respectability of the country’s institutions.

 In practice, all these nationalist parties have only one thing in common: they would accept a simple majority as a mandate for independence. Quebec did not achieve one in 1995 because 0.58% of the electorate voted against the idea. The referendum could so easily have gone the other way, which begs the question as to whether it should be permissible to reach irreversible decisions of this kind, affecting communities which have existed for centuries and which one generation only inherits on loan, without a qualified majority to cushion any division of loyalties.

 In my view, the absence of sectarianism and populism, and the prestige afforded to the law, institutions and parties are the virtues which prevent Scottish society from falling apart, and I hope these things will never change.

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