In Scotland it’s called “Devomax” – politico-speak for “fully devolved state” –
and Alex Salmond’s SNP government of Scotland has provided us with a
handy guide to the difference between full devolution and full independence:
devolution… Scotland would
remain within the United
Kingdom. The UK Government and institutions
would continue to have responsibility for many matters, for example the
currency and monetary policy, and decisions on peace and war. Full devolution
would give Scotland
more responsibility for domestic matters, and would extend the range of
measures the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament could take to
encourage greater sustainable economic growth.
Government's favoured policy is independence, which would bring all the
possibilities of full devolution with the additional responsibilities that
could not be devolved within the United Kingdom, such as foreign
affairs and defence. Under independence Scotland would be responsible for:
· the economy, the
currency and the macroeconomic framework
enterprise, infrastructure including transport and housing
· the environment, energy
and climate change
·the taxation and benefits system
· the full range of public
services, including benefits and health
· foreign affairs, defence
and security matters
·equality legislation and human rights
· the constitution and
government of Scotland,
Parliament, the courts, local government
Right now, the UK and
Scottish governments are negotiating a final form for the 2014 referendum in Scotland, and
the big question is whether independence or full devolution (Devomax) will be
on the referendum ballot paper. The fact that the UK
government is negotiating these issues with Salmond shows that politically, we’re
in a different world from Spain
and its relations with Catalonia.
It would of course never occur to Mariano Rajoy to negotiate any such thing.
Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth II has chosennot to pronounce about “chimeras” or
ghosties in any of the three referendums staged in Scotland during her reign. In her
view, a constitutional monarch leaves politics to the elected representatives. Wise
lady. You can see why some monarchic dynasties go on and on while others get
booted off the throne every so often.
Will the 2014 Scottish referendum ballot be about independence or devomax? We’ve
already seen that independence is the “Scottish government’s favoured policy”, and
this question on the ballot too, so why shouldn’t it be about independence?
Two reasons: first, the Scottish public are not that crazy about independence;
second, the EU has made it clear that independence for them means a “year zero”
reset – an independent Scotland must be considered outside the EU, and apply
for membership with the consequent years, or decades, of waiting out in the
1) Scottish independence not popular with the public
An independent YouGov poll of Scotland in August 2012 found only 27% of Scots
in favour of independence and 60% opposed. The “Olympic Effect” of seeing
Scottish athletes competing and winning for the Great Britain team in London
was clearly in play; but polls taken just before the Olympics in July saw just
35% for independence and 55% against.
We can see now why the UK
government is happy to put (nay, insists on putting) independence on the 2014
referendum ballot – it’s clearlya losing proposition.
When it comes to independence, Scots are most put off by the economic effect of
having a new and separate currency. The pound sterling is, as they say, “sound
as a pound”; a hypothetical new Scottish currency, not tied to the Euro or the UK pound, would
be a fragile and vulnerable newcomer on international currency markets. And it
would not be tied to the Euro because…
2) An independent Scotland would be cast out of the EU Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, leaves us in no doubt:
"I am not going to speculate now about possible
secessions, it is not my job. But I can tell you that to join theEuropean
Union, yes, we have a procedure. It is
a procedure of international law," he said.
"A state has to
be a democracy first of all, and that state has to apply to become a member of
the European Union and all the other member states have to give their
Pressed on whether all
new countries were regarded as new states by the EU, Barroso said: "A new
state, if it wants to join the European Union, has to apply to become a member
like any state. In fact, I see no country leaving and I see many countries
wanting to join."
So by implication, Mas is proposing in his Estat Propi plan a form of
fully-devolved state or “devomax”, still connected to the sovereign state of Spain and
thereby to the EU/Euro system, but with full powers over domestic policy. Whether
or not the Scottish referendum carries independence or devomax as the question
to be answered, Mas and the CiU party have already rejected full independence
as an option.
History lesson 2
Independence is a word; control over your own taxes, budget and services is
That thing is known as devolution
Independence rocks institutional boats; devolution just makes a few ripples
The EU is cool with devolution, but hates independence
The Estat Propi proposal favoured by Mas looks like devolution, smells like
devolution and is carefully differentiated from independence in the same way. Therefore
the Estat Propi is the “DevolvedState”. But that type of
terminology is scarcely known outside the UK,
and completely unknown inside Spain and the EU.
So instead we could propose “Self-Governing State” to convey the same idea. Roll it off the tongue, it seems to fit – Estat Propi, Self-Governing State.
And Jose Barroso could even hear that phrase "Self-Governing State" without a shudder. You could say it passes the "Barroso Squirm Test".
Liam Neeson as Collins with British official, Michael Collins , 1996
Part 1: Free State
Artur Mas avoids clarity and embraces ambiguity. He talks of his “Estat Propi”
proposal for Catalonia, speaks of self-determination,
and rejects terms like “independence” “break” or “secession” in relation to Spain as incompatible with
his key policy of continung to remain within the EU and the Euro.
It is a realistic, wise
and flexible policy to avoid these terms. Some of course say his posture is disingenuous,
cunning and sneaky, but this is politics on the edge of possibility, so
ambiguity helps us avoid going too close to the brink.
We’ll begin with a little historical anecdote that should have been included in
Hollywood historical epic Michael Collins, with
Liam Neeson as Irish rebel Michael Collins negotiating with Winston Churchill
for the British government.
In fact Collins was the deputy chief negotiator in
the Irish Republican group, boss being Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith. Churchill
never appeared in the original movie. It’s 1921 so Churchill is younger, let’s
say he should be played by Daniel Craig or Michael Sheen.
Back to the new scene in the movie, London 1921 - Treaty talks. The rebels have all along called for the Republic, a word translated in Irish
Gaelic as saorstát. The Brits abhor the suggestion of separation from the King's Empire that comes with being a Republic. When the Brits ask the Republicans what is the literal
translation of saorstát, they are told it is “free
Splendid, says the UK government, in the cigar-smoking form of Winston Churchill. We already have South Africa in the Empire as a Free State. You’ll accept the King
as your sovereign and head of state? Sure, say the Irish. You’ll swear an oath
to him? Whatever . . .[Shrug] Very well, we’ll call you the Free State. Agreed? Yeah, says Collins,
yeah, why not?
The Irish Free State was passed into UK law soon after and existed from
1922 to 1937. The (Catholic Republican) Irish saw it as a nascent Republic,
which it indeed turned out to be, as from 1937 the Free State by unilateral declaration became Eire, the
Republic of Ireland. The British for the time being classified it as a
Dominion, a self-governing state within the British Empire
accepting the British crown as sovereign authority.
Meanwhile in Ireland, both Ulster “opted out” of the new state and decided to
side with the UK according to treaty conditions, and in the Free State the new Republican rebels, called "Irregulars" who refused to accept treaty partition of the island and oaths to the King, fought against the
new Free State government in the Irish Civil War.
In this short but nasty conflict, as shown in the movie, Free State army commander-in-chief Collins was killed in an ambush on the orders of rebel leader
Eamonn De Valera, who later accepted partition to become the first President of
Ireland's 1937 Republic.
But the violent rebellion part of the Irish story is not the part I want to
compare to the present situation of Catalonia.
I repeat, the bloody uprising and subsequent division of Ireland does not come into the picture, because
I cannot see this type of violent dynamic coming into play in Spain/Catalonia in the 21st century. Apart from
anything else, this lacks a religious sectarian background as exists in Ireland. No
blood will be spilled here, no armoured cars rolling onto playing fields and
gunning down kids, no rebel death squads. The Catalan self-determination
process will certainly be the kind of process they make earnest documentaries
about, like the 'Velvet Divorce' of the Czech Republic with Slovakia, only much slower and more tedious, rather than spectacular Hollywood
action epics of tyrannical repression and revolutionary action. I want instead to
look at a much more boring picture than that… negotiated compromise.
I want to look at the diplomatic side of the picture, the type of accommodation
that was seen as necessary by both hardened rebels like Griffith and Collins and a staunch
Conservative unionist like Churchill. It was an accommodation partially based
on a compromise of linguistic ambiguity: the Saorstát which for Republicans was
(naturally) the Republic, was for the British a “Free
State”, if the Irish wanted to call it that, but in fact and in the
constitutional text of the new state, a Dominion like Canada, Australiaor New Zealand.
"Free State", like "Dominion", and later "Sovereign State with the Commonwealth" were formulas that Great Britain found to save itself from another outright Empire rebellion as happened in the United States of America.
This diplomatic-linguistic fiction saved face on both sides and made a
negotiated peace between rebel Ireland
and the British Empire possible. For fifteen
years thereafter, the Free State was an
ambiguous constitutional entity, both CatholicGaelic“Republic” and Empire Dominion. From 1937 to the
end of the century Ireland
claimed Northern Ireland/Ulster in a pair of clauses in the Republic’s
constitution, a type of claim which is known in international law as
Finally in 1998, as part of the Good Friday Peace Accords between the UK government, the Irish government and representatives of all sides in Ulster (with the exception of the intransigent Ian Paisley) the Republic of Ireland with the 19th Amendment removed the constitutional claims on Northern Ireland
and promised to respect the wishes of the people expressed in votes on
This constitutional amendment was approved by a 94 percent vote in favour in the referendum held in the Republic. Peace came to Ireland at last – despite some
rioting and an occasional splinter-group terrorist attack - and normality was
resumed, just in time for the Republic to enjoy its day in the sun as Celtic
Tiger, then crash into a catastrophic debt crisis. But all that’s another
History Lesson 1
Spain/Catalonia isn’t violent like Ireland, and is very unlikely to become so
Some compromise and accommodation is always possible, and sometimes linguistic
ambiguity helps compromise
There are historical entities like “Dominions” and “Free States” that exist
between autonomous regional government and sovereign nation-state, and are defined as such in order to preserve
cultural and trade relations
Hardliners don’t take kindly to basic principles being violated, but even they
have to become reasonable in the end
Neither “Free State” nor “Dominion” make the grade as translations for Mas’s
Estat Propi concept, though we’re on the right track looking for face-saving
formulas. There are too many creepy associations of violent rebellion from the British Empire. We need to find another term…
Next time : Devolved State and Self-governing State
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning,
unjustified terror, which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, 4 March 1933 [Listen to it here] "There will be insults, provocations, and
threats of all kinds… language and geographic origin will be manipulated in
order to pit people against each other”.
Artur Mas, Catalan Parliament, 25 September 2012 [Source]
In recent days in Catalonia
there’s been a general comedown from the euphoric highs of the massive rally on
11 September. I have spoken to many people who attended the march – all with
their own ideas of what they were demanding, from more respect, through fiscal
autonomy, to full independence – who are now feeling a little depressed.
This feeling is reflected in the figure of Jordi Pujol, who throughout his
political career, including more than two decades as Catalan president,
defended the existing structure of the Spanish state. In 2010, following the
Tribunal Constitucional ruling which stripped the new Statute of Catalonia of
key clauses, Pujol changed his mind. By the time the unofficial referendum on
independence rolled round to Barcelona
in April 2011 he publicly stated that he would vote in favour of independence,
and attended the September 11 rally this year in support of the same cause. But
just days afterwards he declared that, while the existing Spanish state made
coexistence of Catalonia within Spain “unfeasible”, achieving independence
would be “almost impossible”.
What’s happening here is Reality Shock: for decades the idea of Catalan
independence was a fantasy, a romantic concept that didn’t have to be detailed
because it simply wasn’t going to happen. Now, in a relatively short time, it
has moved into the realm of political reality.
The Catalan public has woken up
to find that the heroic ideal has arrived in the centre of the political
agenda, and that now it has to exist, no longer in the world of flags and
slogans, but rather in the prosaic world of institutional, economic and
diplomatic praxis. Unused to thinking in these pragmatic terms and
inexperienced in the ways of the world outside the Barcelona-Madrid dialectic,
for many Catalans the heroic has become a headache.
Reality shock could be compared to that moment we all come to in our youth when
we realise that we are not going to become an astronaut, a ballerina, a rock
star or a princess. Following a period of painful adjustment, we learn to live
a life in accord with our talents and possibilities, and with luck we come to
feel satisfied with that life.
Well, my Catalan friends, I’m here to reassure you. I have been to Scotland, Quebec,
yes, even Massachussets and Ithaca, and I am a
citizen of the Republic
of Ireland as well as a
subject of Her Britannic Majesty. In my experience in all these real-world
places I have seen both tremendous achievements in self-determination and
embarrassing failures. For me this debate has always been a reality. Take my
hand and together we’ll look at a pragmatic vision of the struggle ahead.
is in fact possible, but it won’t be the kind of independence you have in mind
if you imagine a sovereign nation-state completely at liberty to decide its own
destiny. That kind of state doesn’t even exist any more. Update your software.
Some of the states that exist, and have existed, in the real world, have been
categorized in the following ways:
An associated state is
the minor partner in a formal, free relationship between a political territory
with a degree of statehood and a (usually larger) nation
state is a term occasionally used in the official titles of some
states. In principle the title asserts and emphasises the freedom of the
state in question, but what this actually means varies greatly in different
contexts: Sometimes it asserts sovereignty or independence (and with that, lack
of foreign domination). Sometimes it asserts
autonomy within a larger nation-state.
A federacy is
a form of government where one or several substate units enjoy
considerably more independence than the majority of the substate units.
As we go on, I intend to explore in much more depth what kind of state can
result from the process of self-determination currently under way.
to be addressed next will be: How do you
translate “Estat Propi” into English?
Believe me, this is much more than an obscure linguistic issue. There have been
surprising results from the translation of a political term into another
language throughout history, and much depends on how the term is understood in Catalonia, Spain and the world outside.