British nationalists’ contradictory arguments against the Catalan vote show that logical argument is pointless

Picture by Don McCullough (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

The Spanish government’s clampdown on democracy in Catalonia has been so worrying that even the Telegraph was moved to use the headline ‘Franco lives again’ in one of yesterday’s editions.

You don’t have to be a ‘nationalist’ to be appalled. So it’s been disappointing to see British politicians attempt to justify their opposition to allowing the people of Catalonia a vote on independence.

The motive for doing so is clear – they fear that if Catalonia becomes independent, and worse still make a success of it, it could start a domino rally in other stateless nations.

Scotland is second on the list after Catalonia, and perhaps the national movement in Wales would move up a gear.

However, what the arguments against giving the people of Catalonia a vote on independence reveal is how contradictory their arguments against Scottish and Welsh independence are as well.

Take for instance the following tweet from Chris Bryant:

The ‘it’s illegal’ argument is clearly daft. As a politician Chris Bryant would know that what is legal isn’t necessarily right in many instances, otherwise he would never have voted to change a law.

This line of thinking is deeply worrying, however. It’s worth remembering that the first Scottish independence referendum got the go-ahead largely because neither side thought that ‘Yes’ had a hope of winning.

Catalonia’s treatment raises the spectre that if Scotland does call a referendum in the wake of Brexit – with perhaps more favourable polling – the country would face similar treatment.

After all, these arguments against a vote in Catalonia show that British politicians are happy to argue, when it suits them, that the people shouldn’t be allowed a democratic voice.

They can simply outlaw a vote and then claim ‘it’s illegal’, and so wrong.

Too big, too rich, too clever

But more revealing is the argument that Catalonia is too rich to be independent, and that it has a moral duty to stay in the union to help poorer nations that are part of Spain.

This is deeply ironic because one of the most consistent unionist arguments against Scottish and Welsh independence has been that they’re too poor to be independent.

Presumably, if Wales or Scotland were ever to pull themselves up by the boot-straps and become prosperous parts of the UK, the argument would suddenly flip the other way.

From being too poor to be independent, they would be too rich to be independent. We can’t win, I suppose.

The argument is especially galling because the London-centric, trickle down British economic model means that the UK includes both the richest and poorest areas in western Europe.

It’s not a union per se that creates equality but the fair distribution of wealth within in, something these same politicians lecturing Catalonia haven’t been able to, or don’t want to, achieve.


Personally. I have no opinion one way or the other on whether Catalonia should be independent – it’s a matter for them.

But the spurious arguments some British nationalists have employed against even giving them a chance to vote on the matter are very telling.

It shows that there’s little point in engaging logically with their arguments in the hope of changing their minds.

They will simply move the goalposts. It’s Britain’s survival that matters above all and all arguments – even ones for basic democracy – are secondary.

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  1. “We want to keep you, we think we will lose the referendum, so we will declare it illegal.”
    Ukraine followed the same logic over the Crimea referendum, and western governments leapt to defend them. Even the BBC, to its shame, called the referendum there “illegal” (thereby taking sides).
    Whether it is legal or not depends on what side you are on. Anyone who declares it illegal has declared their side. They are not neutral.

    • Enlightenment and understanding are two of the many benefits of a free mind. It gives us the ability to appreciate the obvious in the lies and deciet that surround us!

      Diolch Angharad for your perspective, far better than the same old, same old arguements or view points.

  2. Excellent article.
    The basic line is that Chris Bryant, an ex-Tory, is a man with no values in a safe seat. He can do and say whatever he wants: attack Corbyn if it helps him then get behind Corbyn if it helps him. Vote for war in Iraq and bootlick Tony Blair, then abandon Blair – he’ll do both if it serves his purposes. And he has done.
    The mistake we make is to think that British Nationalism proceeds from logic, as you say, and that it is somehow ‘soft’ power. It isn’t. It is perfectly prepared to use hard power if it thinks it will lose the argument. Like Spain.
    Catalonia not Scotland will be the big test case now for what happens to Europe’s nations.
    And it’s unlikely to be won or lost on debate, argument, persuasion and legal/economic/cultural case-making. It’ll be won or lost on force and variations of force: police action, banning of parties/elections/news/political material. economic sanctions, bank freezes, curfews and imprisonments.
    The contortions that British nationalists of all stripe will go through to justify the banning of referenda and subsequent political crackdowns will be Houdini-esque, and hopefully will teach us here and in Scotland about the kind of people we’re really up against.

    • Nailed it and with you all the way! It is always advisable to really know one’s enemy, the English elite and their British Llackies infessting parts of Cymru are no different their Spanish counterparts.

  3. “…if Scotland does call a referendum…”
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Scotland can’t just call a referendum, nor did they prior to 2014. The Scottish and UK Parliaments both gave consent and both Government’s sat down like grown ups and agreed the terms.

    Nicola Sturgon can kick and screen all she wants for a second referendum, the UK Government has been quite clear that they’re not getting one.

    Catalonia has called this referendum without the consent and agreement of Spain and therefor it doesn’t count (I know that’s going to be an unpopular opinion on this site, but that’s a legal fact).

    Like you Ifan I make no comment on whether Catalonia could become independent or not, but if a referendum is to take place it needs legal and fair. This is nether not legal (due to Catalonia) nor fair (due to Spain).

    • So if I tie you up and chain you to a radiator, it’s only fair that you’re freed if I agree to it then?

    • The problem with this argument is that it presupposes that referenda are illegal without the consent of the other party (be it UK or Spanish governments). Clearly a binding referendum called and run by Scotland or Catalunya without agreement would be problematic. But as far as I know there is nothing in the devolution settlement that prevents the devolved parliaments seeking the views of the population on any particular matter, by whichever means they wish. Unless it’s specifically outlawed, it is difficult to see how it can be illegal.

      I might be wrong. There may indeed be such a clause. But it would be strange to ask a devolved government that they can seek the views of their populations in any way except by referenda. And to then explicitly deny the independence question would be, and be seen as, draconian.

      Of course, a non-binding referendum, if it is decisive in its result (high turnout, 2/3+ in favour), would be very hard to dismiss. And that’s why the UK/Spanish governments don’t want it.

      In the case of Scotland, a 2/3 majority is probably way out of reach at the moment. So I don’t think they’ll be going that way anytime soon. In Catalunya however, it’s probable.

    • “Catalonia has called this referendum without the consent and agreement of Spain and therefor it doesn’t count (I know that’s going to be an unpopular opinion on this site, but that’s a legal fact). ”

      I don’t think we should be mesmerized by legal facts. A few short years ago half a dozen nation states that are now members of the EU did not exist and the nation states into which they were incorporated had laws(legal fact) to prevent them ever becoming nation states in their own right.

      As to whether the referendum counts or not. The Spanish government clearly think it “counts”. In terms of how the people of Catalunya view breaking away from Spain the referendum is going to “count” even if it doesn’t take place.

    • Did you read the article? Ifan explains exactly why that’s rubbish.

    • Funny, sorry if I have misubderstood what you have said however, you have not just made a ‘comment’, but also agreed with the Spanish state against the majority will of the peopple of Catalunya.

      Therefore you side with the Spanish state. States are a concept thrust upon peoples as a result of the shrinking Roman empire nearly two thousand years ago. Despot Roman generals and opportunist indigenous chiefs ggrappled for more land and more power. After nearly, in places, a half a century of dictatorial capitalism supported by an organised military (something we are returning to once again) it was, sadly, an obvious outcome.

      Laws are made by man and in many cases to suit the ellite in any group, community, city or state. Because the Spanish and English have passed laws for centuries, against the will of people, does not make them right or lawful. Hasn’t the UK just voted against laws made by someone else? People talk of sovereignty when they don’t know there is no such thing for the individual and a vote like Brexit gives the elite the chance to grab power, change the rules or ‘laws’ to suit. Whish they have been doing by stealth by decades.

      To say you have no comment on the matter, like Ifan, should mean that you did not comment on this article and Ifan need not have written it.

      I find it ironic that individuals have the nerve to back regimes that are not wanted by almost 100% of the people, in this case Catalunya by making ‘no comment’.

      The people have spoken they reject an oppressor and the oppressors laws that are not the will of the people.

      Unionism is a sad state of affairs and it really makes me sad, sometimes mad, to see and hear people support unionism especially, when they are unaware, when they should just come out as a unionist.

      • My comment starting “Funny, sorry if I have misunderstood …” is in reply to Gareth (no picture) who commented at 221119SEP2017.

        Not sure if the replies are following the right comments?!

  4. Crimea referendum was a total set up by Russia. It was annexation under threat of war. The Ukrainian and Crimea popultion boycotted it. There is no threat of arms or war from the Catalan parliament in this referendum.The only arms, if any, are being held by Spain. If the refernedum in Crimea was by the native Tatar for independence from Russia or Ukraine I would support it, but that isn’t the case.

    The Tatars have been systematically expelled and then discriminated against in Crimea by Stalin . Ukraine rule wasn’t excellent but their situation is worse under Russia, which is why the Tatars want to stay in Ukraine. One of the reasons the Tatars didn’t have all rights in Crimea since Ukrainian independence is that Crimea itself was given a uniquely large degree of autonomy under Ukrainian rule which was used by the Russians (where were the largest minority and usually plurality, not to offer or facilitate more rghts or better housing etc.)

    The Crimea situation is somewhat similar (-ish) to had Gwynedd been expelled of Welsh-speakers in 1944 to be replaced by UKIP voting English people and then ‘Gwynedd’ handed over to Ireland. Upon independence Ireland grants ‘Gwynedd’ devolution which UKIPers use to continue discriminating against Welsh but with some element of recognition. The UKIP Gwynedd is then ‘liberated’ by England, declairs a referendum and joins England.

    The situation in Catalonia is that Catalans voted for more devolution (a new statute in their terminology) in 2006. That was passed also by the Spanish parliament. But in 2010 the Spanish Consititutional Court refused it and stripped it down of any real content . Since 2010 the Catalans have been trying to get the 2006 Statute recognised. Spain has refused to move or discuss.

    The first illegal and advisory referendum was held in 2015. The Catalan president was Artur Mas, a Christian Democrat who’s nominally nationalists but would quite readily have settled for devolution. In fact, something similar to what Euskadi and Navarre already have. Had Spain agreed to that, then, there would be no independence referendum. Mas was essentially forced into it by local non-party political movements.

    Even after the 2015 referendum Spain could have negotiated and, I dare say, ‘won’ with concessions. But they, again, refused to move.

    So, the choice to the Catalans, is get in your box and accept nothing.

    What is not documented is that there is widespread anti-Catalan, and especiily anti-Catalan language feelings in Spain and there there still exists a Francoist idea of a Spanish state. Comments about ‘bombing Barcelona’ sending troops in, are not uncommon by leading people within Spain in a way which would be totally exceptional and unnacceptable in the UK in relation to Ireland or Scotland or Wales. A significant section of Spanish society and especially the governing right wing PP, cannot and won’t accept that the Catalans are a nation. In fact, one of the big reasons for the initial 1 million marches was the slogan ‘som un nacio’ (we are a nation) as the Spanish refused to recognise that Catalonia was a ‘nation’ within Spain.

    In 1712-14 Westminster supported Catalan’s fight for independence (or at the least autonomy within Spain). The Catalans lost and were absorbed into Spain with laws forbidding their language and it’s under the 1714 Treaty of Utrecht that Gibraltar was given to UK. Things have improved since then and since Franco. But the only reason Catalonia is not now an independent state is that Spanish troops have been stronger. The Spanish constittion give the Army the responsibility of defending the unity of the state and the Spanish consitution makes it impossible for a nation like Catalonia or Basques to vote democratically for independence. So, independence is a practical and de jure impossibility within Spain. This was ETA’s argument for its armed struggle for Basque independence, as they could say, “the Spanish will never allow us to vote for independence” and yes, ETA has been proven right. Thankfully ETA is now gone – Basques realised that the people who supported ETA most was the Spanish state as they could just point out that all calls for independence = support for ETA.

    The Basques and Catalans will hold a peaceful revolution. They won’t resort to violence as that is exactly what Spain wants.But the fact remains, the Catalans and Baques preceed the Spanish state. They have a right to vote peacefully for independence.

    • I am surprised you should question my Crimea claim. I wrote my above piece from memory, but Wikipedia agrees. Check,_2014 and note particularly the past polling by the UN showing a massive majority for reunification with Russia.
      The Tatars are a relatively small ethnic group, and Crimea was a bit of a historical anomaly, having traditionally been Russian, but for convenience was lumped with Ukraine under the USSR in 1954. And when the fall of the USSR came, it was kept by Ukraine, against the will of the vast majority of its people.
      The only polls that suggest the Crimeans did not want to go with Russia are ones that would have reason to be biased. And let’s not pretend that western governments are above that sort of thing. Doubtless we will see similar claims over Catalunya if the Spanish emerge victorious.
      But this is to digress. Except insofar as learning from history is always good when we see parallels around us.

      • The difference is that the reason the Crimean Tatar population is small is because the Russian Government forciblly deported them in 1946 cause the death of thousands.

        The Tatar where the major group on Crimea. Russia conquered Crimea in 1783 (is that the correct data?). So the reason why Crimea is historically “Russian” is because it was conquered by Russia and then years later the indignous population where an unwanted irritation in the Russians holiday destination. So the go rid of them.

        So the reason why Russians are the predominant population is because they did it by force and replaced them with their own. It would be like France invading Wales and then forciblly evicting the Welsh population and then calling a referendum to decide if Wales should be part of France.

        However, this isn’t to say that I don’t necissarilly agree with their referendum, just that I want to put it in context. If the population at that time wants it then perhaps they should have it regardless of what has happened in the past. In this case Crimea being part of Ukraine is as abitory as beig part of Russia so what is the difference? At least if it is part of Russia its the will of the majority of the people. However theyway in which it was done was questionable and under a threat of force.

        Just worry and feel sorry for those Crimean Tatars remaining there. Their voices are not heard and the human rights issues persist (as they also did under the Ukraine).

        They are just constantly done over and ignored. A war of two nations over the homeland of another. It all seems a little unjust really.

    • I am not sure about the Crimea and I will leave both Sionyn and Angharad to enlighten us. However, surely, by the voices of the people, the results of the ballot boxes and the aggressive stance of Spain, surely it tells you who is the oppressed and who the oppressor is!

  5. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Like Wales and Scotland, if the people of Catalonia make the liberation of their nation their only aim and cause and are willing to go hungry for it, be beaten by police for it, be evicted for it, have their bank accounts frozen for it and to if need be die for it (without Leftist or Rightist economic ideology as a driving factor), they will win their independence.

    It’s cruel, yes, but it’s true; nations follow the principle of Darwinism. Some in Wales support Catalonia (myself included) because it is in our own best interests. Sovereign governments have no investment in an independent Catalonia. Isreal has an investment in an independent Kurdistan, so they are backing it. Give sovereign nations an investment post-Catalan independence that is in the interests of their longterm survival, and they will support Catalan independence.

    In the same manner, Wales and Scotland cannot expect other nations to support them. That would be selfish idealism blinding itself to how the world actually works. Darwinism, cruel or not, is how nations exist or do not exist, and nothing will ever change that. Welsh nationalists need to accept this fact, and fast.

    • Love your opening para C&W and to the point. However, I do not believe that things never change, that is pumped out by imperialists, unionists and victorian Tories just to ensure the status quo.

      The ‘status quo’ a latin word and a latin concept that has been the downfall of mankind since the founding of Rome.

      • Capitalist and Welshnash

        I would say the downfall of man began with 1848 / Karl Marx and was exacerbated by pop music an Amercan culture from the inter-war period forwards. Now propulgated by the prilferation of social media and designer brand clothing so that ‘common’ is replacing anything whatsoever of an older and rather civilised origin.

        • Ahh, now we know who you are – Jacob Rees-Mogg!

        • the downfall of man began in 1848?…………….are you out of your mind? So many amazing things have happened since then for social justice!……people were still enslaved by countries back then officially (I know its still bad)

  6. Its worth looking at who allowed the Scottish referendum (and the referendum on the EU) to understand why it was called. David Cameron thought he’d win the Scottish referendum… and it was close… then he had a go with the EU and lost. He was on the pro-EU side and it cost him his career. It was over confidence. Scotland will never have another chance like that to leave the UK – Brexit will be used to prevent it. We can talk about legally… but the question here is: Do you think the government will do things legally against its own interests? Probably not. One could argue four or five intervals where their monarch isn’t the legal monarch at all… ilegitimatizing every law passed in parliament since. Was the treachery of the glorious revolution legal? Was Henry IV? was Henry VII? Is Right of Conquest legal? Its all interpretation. But it all comes down to whether the state can enforce its will law legal or not. Thats what Spain is doing. History makes it legal afterwards and is consequentially paved over into the things we do not talk about nor question. No nation will go along with losing its money tree so this will never be allowed and never be legal. So how is self determination achieved?

  7. Unfortunately expediency often wins out over morality.

    At least the European Union, with all its faults, recognises a right to leave the Union.

  8. “The ‘it’s illegal’ argument is clearly daft. As a politician Chris Bryant would know that what is legal isn’t necessarily right in many instances, otherwise he would never have voted to change a law.”

    But he didn’t say “It’s not right”, he said “It’s illegal”, which is technically true. Maybe a better way to put it would be “unconstitutional”, but Bryant isn’t wrong and certainly isn’t daft on this point.

    • Fact hes making a comment on it at all suggests otherwise as the elected member of a foreign government.

    • Trouble is Jack once you steal power (and this can be through state enforced apathy as we have in Cymru) you can change the laws and say anything you don’t agree with is illegal!

      When a whole nation stands up and says Si to a referrendum to decide Indpendence or not, then that is legal!

  9. Fake socialists in the Labour party are not to be trusted…….the Old Labour of Keir Hardie’s edwardian period were ANTI – EMPIRE AND ANTI-IMPERIALIST………..Tony blair would have been their arch enemies

    and YES………logical argument does not win most arguments……..please look at this psychology video to learn more:

    Diolch yn fawr iawn/ Many thanks


  10. Gareth this is where we disagree………….I was raised to believe a democracy is where people chose how they rule themselves…if that means self rule so be it.

    In my vision………Im not daft…..the world does best when working together……….but why cant people be empowered and work together.

    An independent Catalonia SHOULD on these principles work closely with Spain to build a better world………an idealist vision without taking into account seedy realpolitik……of course. But at least I have a standpoint to debate with others

  11. “We can never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘Legal’..Martin Luther King Jr.

  12. Nations are capable of declaring UDI when they have enough popular support irrespective of the wishes and actions of the colonial power. There are numerous independent countries including the USA which did this in face of colonial oppression. Catalonia will become independent at some point in the near future and the actions of the Madrid government have made that more not less likely.

  13. Some correspondents on this topic seem to think that Scotland, or Wales for that matter, cannot have a referendum on independence without the agreement of the English Conservatives and/or the English Labour Party. Well the referendums in the UK are advisory, like the Brexit referendum. So if Scotland calls a referendum and gets a yes vote it could be treated as a poll with a large number of participants by the English parties. Of course if the English Parties had agreed to the Scottish referendum which they did, as they anticipated yes would do get 25%, then they would be morally bound to pass it into law in Westminster. That however it seems would not necessarily be a foregone conclusion. But The SNP did get Cameron to become a signatory to the implementation of the referendum. Of course Theresa May is against a Scottish referendum because the odds on a no vote is now not very good.

    The Catalans face the same problem, if it looked as if there would be an overwhelming no vote, I have no doubt that the Spanish Goverment would let it proceed. But the Spanish government think there will be a yes vote, and use the police and armed forces to stop what would in effect be for the Spanish Government an advisory referendum.

    It’s not the law at work here, it is state power politics. The will not, if at all possible, even let the Catalans voice their opinion.

  14. bring gay was illegal not too long ago wasn’t it, being poor was illegal in Victorian times.

    We can’t do without laws or an arse but neither are right or wrong, they just are – simply means of control and dealing with shit.

  15. At this point in the comments we are now on the dreaded outskirts of Blah, Blah Land!