I was in Madrid this week, a wonderful city but not the place to seek refuge from political instability with European implications.
A series of elections leaves Spain without a governing majority. The Socialists need the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya to abstain in a Parliamentary vote to secure a fragile majority and avoid yet another election.
The Socialists are braced for accusations the proposed government will owe its existence to a party that wants to break up Spain while the ERC knows any deal with Madrid will provoke charges of betrayal.
Meanwhile, Vox is now the third party in Spain, fuelled by anti-immigrant rhetoric and demands for a harder line on Catalonia. I was struck by a friend’s comment: ‘For 40 years, we did not have a party of the far right in Spain. Now we have one – because of Catalonia’.
I found that profoundly sad in a country which knew Fascism and has made a great journey through liberal democracy over five decades. Now the demands from an unappeasable Catalan minority are stirring dangerous reactions within Spain as a whole.
We are not unfamiliar with the scenario. A critical tactic any secessionist movements is to prod the state to the extent that many become willing to see them go. Even if that takes decades of divisiveness, the minority just might, on a favourable day, become a tiny majority.
Coincidentally, while I was in Madrid, Nicola Sturgeon emerged as bit-player in a related drama via an employment tribunal where the former Consul General in Edinburgh is claiming wrongful dismissal and a tranche of correspondence has emerged.
Communications between diplomats are always interesting precisely because they were not intended for publication. Senor Miguel Angel Vecino was sacked last year after a letter he wrote, encouraging to the idea that an independent Scotland might gain EU entry, emerged in the Scottish media.
That was definitely not the view of his employers who say there were other reasons for his dismissal – from complaints about catering at receptions not being up to exacting Spanish culinary standards to allegations by staff of bullying.
However, the letter is of most interest and not least its route into the public domain. The Scottish Government got wind of it and was given a copy on condition of confidentiality as it was private correspondence. Mysteriously (or perhaps not), a pro-independence publication then asked the Scottish Government to release it to them.
At this point, the Scottish Government told the Spanish Consulate they had no choice under Freedom of Information legislation. Thus a story was born and, coincidentally or otherwise, Senor Vecino lost his job. Unsurprisingly, he claims the Scottish Government acted “in bad faith”.
Ironically, given his brief hero status in Nationalist circles, Senor Vecino had little good to say about Ms Sturgeon in his official telegrams. He found her “opportunistic rather than pragmatic… distant, cold … displaying a lack of empathy” – far less concern about the “Pandora’s box” that could be opened in Europe by secessionist movements.
Senior Vecino wrote: “I think it is not so much a problem of ignorance but mainly a case of sheer disinterest”. He is probably right. There is no evidence of any philosophical approach to the implications of European states fragmenting in the 21st century based on nationalisms.
Instead, we are told ad nauseam that it is ‘normal’ for every nation to be a state, with Scotland the exception. This is nonsense. Every large European state is made up of nations that eventually buried differences – Spain in 1512, Britain in 1707, Italy in 1861, Germany in 1871.
That is a normality we are part of, reinforced in Britain by the fact we are all part of a small island, currently without borders which seems pretty ‘normal’ to me.
Some small nation states have been successful; others less so. Most nations within states have been successful; others less so. To suggest there is only one ‘normality’, to be pursued without regard to consequences, suggests ignorance of history, geography and economics.
Sadly, it also feeds the politics of reaction and division, through which we are currently living.