CARLES Vilarrubi, the Vice President of Barcelona Football Club, has said he cannot understand why Catalonia cannot be more like Scotland and given a vote on independence.
Mr Vilarrubi, who has a passion for Celtic and Scotland and carries a picture of him with the singer Rod Stewart at a European Cup football match last year, spoke exclusively to The Scotsman ahead of addressing a dinner in London last week.
He made his call for a referendum on the same day as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told Catalan media that he would not allow a vote in the troubled region where support for independence from Spain is now more than 50 per cent.
‘Cannot understand’ Spanish situation
Last year Mr Vilarrubi opened up the world famous Nou Camp stadium for a demonstration by independence supporters. He also took part in a human chain of 1.6 million people demonstrating in favour of a referendum in September, along with the first team coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino and Catalan defender Gerard Piqué.
He expressed his frustrations as he compared the Spanish government’s intransigence to the situation in the UK, where Tory Prime Minister David Cameron took steps to organise a referendum.
Vilarrubi said: “I cannot understand why in Scotland they can have a referendum but not in Catalonia. I personally I cannot understand that.”
He also identified other differences between Catalonia and Scotland, making it clear that Scots are in a better position to achieve independence from the UK than Catalans are from Spain.
He said: “The UK is not Spain. The way in which the UK is approaching the problem in Scotland is not the way Spain is approaching Catalonia.
“Let me give you an example - I believe there is at least one or two Scottish guys being prime minister and MI5 chiefs. I cannot imagine the Spanish secret service run by a Catalan or a Catalan Prime Minister. Just once in history we had a Catalan Prime Minister (sic) .”
He would not say whether he supports independence or not but said: “I feel much more Catalan than Spanish.”
‘More than a club’
Mr Vilarrubi also defended the prominent role Barca has played in Catalan politics explaining its ethos that it is “more than a club”.
He pointed out that Barcelona has been involved in “the moments of history” as a “symbol for the Catalans”. The club’s crest became the cross of St George and four yellow and red stripes of Catalonia in 1910.
In 1916 the club began flying the Catalan flag and adopted Catalan as its official language in protest over the Spanish Parliament’s rejection of regional government.
During the Franco period the club’s matches became the one place where Catalans could express their national identity and language, and at various points in the last century it has made a stand for autonomous government in the region.
But Mr Vilarrubi said the role of a football club like Barca, which is owned by 170,000 members and elects its president, is not as a political leader but supporter.
He said: “An official bulletin of the club stated in 1932 the popularity of our club is undeniable and it includes elements that are not related to sport. These elements include political and cultural participation.”
He described the club as “the army of Catalonia. It is the symbol for the Catalan people and at the same time it is the best flag.”
Vilarrubi continued: “We are a nation with no state. So in this sense we are not a political party we don’t do politics on a daily basis but in some moments in the history of Catalonia the Barca was the way in which the flag of the people could explain can show their opinions.”
He added: “Of course we cannot lead any process we cannot play a lead role but we must be on the same place where the majority of the people is. because then we cannot be far away from the majority of the people. The majority of the people of Catalonia is Barca.
“We cannot be far from the feeling of the people because we lose the link with the country and a club owned by 170,000 people.”
‘Love for Celtic’
He said that the power of the club also brought about “integration” in Catalonia with people from other parts of Spain as well as Africans, Asians and and other immigrant getting a Catalan identity “by pulling on a Barca shirt.”
He said he had no fear of Barcelona’s future if Catalonia does become independence because “in a decade there will be a European league” and it will no longer play in the Spanish league which he said was “unviable” along with all the major leagues in Europe except the Premier League.
But he also expressed his love for his “second team” Celtic who Barca played in the European Cup earlier this season.
He said: “When I went last year to see the game in Glasgow I became a fan of Celtic. When I went into the stadium I fell in love with Celtic. The ambience, the atmosphere all the things that happened to me that day. The foundation of the club from a church and small charity. It is wonderful.”
He added “I have a picture on my phone of me with the singer Rod Stewart. He cried when they scored. It was so emotional, the game.”