Why is a Unionist in Catalonia?
I am in Catalonia. This weekend, 9th November to be exact, Catalans will vote in what is formally called the ‘citizen participation process on the political future of Catalonia’. It sounds slightly better in Catalan: ‘procés de participació ciutadana sobre el futur polític de Catalunya’, but only slightly. Had it not been for a prolonged rigmarole involving the Spanish Government and the Constitutional Court of Spain, it would have been known for what it is, the Catalan Independence Referendum.
I have a little experience of referendums, having just emerged bloody but unbowed from the recent Scottish Independence Referendum. On the 18th September, some 85% of the Scottish people voted. Writing shortly after the referendum I tried to work out when there ever was such a turn out in a national election in the UK. The answer was simple; there never was such a turnout.
The result of the vote was also clear. By a margin of 55.3% to 44.7%, Scots voted to remain within the United Kingdom. I was one of the 55%.
As a result of the referendum, Scotland is probably the most switched on land the world over when it comes to constitutional affairs and general political awareness. The UK has also begun to re-examine its very constitutional fabric. Interesting times to be a Scot, particularly with a General Election approaching.
What is a card carrying Unionist doing over in Catalonia, I hear you ask?
I suppose it comes frown to a simple fact: before I am a Unionist, before I am a Conservative, I am a democrat. I believe that the right to vote is one of the most fundamental and precious rights we enjoy. There is nothing more frustrating or dispiriting than encountering on the doorstep an individual who isn’t going to vote, or who believes that there vote doesn’t matter. I believe voting makes a difference.I believe that the people are sovereign. Vox populi, vox Dei.
So when I was asked to lead a delegation of European Parliamentarians to witness the Catalan ‘participation process’ I agreed. In my delegation are MEPs from across the political spectrum, some in their own lands are separatists, and some, like me, are not. But we are all united in a belief in the democratic process. Under other circumstances we would be called ‘election observers’. Our job is to bear witness to the process, to make sure insofar as we can that the ballot is being conducted to the highest of democratic standards. Throughout the day we will be travelling from ballot station to ballot station to inquire into the voting procedures.
In Scotland, during the hurly burly of debate and discussion that absorbed us all for so long, we sometimes forgot that at the beginning of the process was the Edinburgh Agreement. When the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the First Minister of Scotland agreed how the referendum would be conducted, and importantly agreed that both governments would abide by its outcome. (If I was quibbling I might say that the second part has become a little tarnished of late, but that is for another blog).
The Catalans I have spoken to in the European Parliament look upon that agreement as an extraordinary thing, an almost impossible feat. It is quite evident that the Spanish Government will in no way be bound by the outcome of this consultative process. Catalonia is only at the beginning of its constitutional journey. And judging by events that have swirled around attempts by the Catalan Government to conduct any form of ballot, it has a long way to go.
However, I am proud to be here in Catalonia during this important first step. Let the people speak.