‘There is a democratic deficit and people want to escape the clutches of a central government’ ‘ON THE EVENING OF THE 2014 SCOTTISH REFERENDUM CATALAN FLAGS WERE EVERYWHERE, AND LOTS OF CATALANS’
‘Catalonia has been successful in integrating successive waves of migration; first from southern Spain and more recently from Africa and Asia’ ‘There have been Scottish UK prime ministers but no Catalan ones of Spain’
Along with George Kerevan, Bambery wrote the book, Catalonia Reborn: How Catalonia took on the corrupt Spanish state and the legacy of Franco.
In Catalonia, independence supporters were impressed by the funds so rapidly collected for Clara Ponsati in her fight against extradition. How widespread is support for Catalan independence in Scotland?
We are both supporters of Scottish independence and we see the drive for independence in Catalonia and Scotland as very much linked. We are not talking about nationalism in a “blood and race” sense or as it appears elsewhere in Europe, targeting migrants and Muslims. In both countries there is a democratic deficit and people want to escape the clutches of a central government which does not represent them. We see the two movements as walking forward together, their destinies intertwined. On the evening of the 2014 Scottish referendum, crowds gathered in Glasgow’s George Square prematurely celebrating victory. Catalan flags were everywhere, with lots of Catalans, too. Since then the ties have grown between the two movements. Regarding Clara, she is a symbol of Catalonia and its repression by the Spanish state; a symbol who is in Scotland and to whom we can give very concrete support. There is also distaste over her persecution, and that of others. That feeds human feelings of solidarity.
Both you and fellow-author George Kerevan belong to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia. Can you explain what this is?
George Kerevan was a Scottish National Party MP at Westminster from 2015 until 2017, and I was his Parliamentary Assistant. We decided to launch the All Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia in support, not of independence, but of Catalan democracy. Raül Romeva and Carme Forcadell came to Westminster and the APPG has held numerous meetings on the situation in Catalonia. British parliamentarians were international observers during the October 1 referendum, including George as an ex-MP. On a more personal note, both of us were student activists in Edinburgh in the early 1970s during Franco’s final crackdown and we were involved in organising solidarity. There was a belief that Franco’s death would open the door to radical change, if not revolution. We both wanted to understand how that situation was diffused. In addition, at that time at every leftwing demonstration there were former members of the International Brigades. The legacy of the Civil War was very real to us.
You explain the unity of the native and immigrant populations in fighting for “Llibertat, Amnistia, Estatut d’Autonomia” in the 1970s. Why do you think that unity has not been reproduced today?
In large part Catalonia has been successful in integrating successive waves of migration; first from southern Spain and more recently from Africa and Asia. It takes in the biggest percentage of migrants who come to Spain and many have learnt Catalan, or at least their children have. The problem lies among Spanish-speaking migrants, mainly from South America, who often don’t accept that while all children learn Spanish the primary language in schools is Catalan. To win them over, the independence movement needs to do more to put across an agenda of economic and social change, rejecting austerity and showing how an independent Catalonia could put in place policies to benefit its people. That has been a weak link in our opinion. It would also help address those on the left in Spain who accept the unionist argument. On another front, the Spanish state has benefited from the fact that post-Franco the movements in the Basque Country and Catalonia diverged. They were the strong points of the anti-fascist resistance. Today we see them growing nearer each other. Together they can defeat the Spanish state.
As in Scotland, support for independence in Catalonia hovers at around 50%. How do you think this support could be increased in Catalonia to a clear 55 or 60%?
Yes! Firstly it could in the way just argued. During the 2014 Scottish referendum Radical Independence and others put forward a more radical programme for independence arguing for a State Investment Bank to drive job creation, to take over the banks that were effectively nationalised in 2008 after the crash, to develop renewable energy, cut arms spending, and so on. There were the bones of a strategy for prioritising welfare in a new state. The second thing is that currently, in our view, the independence movement has to prioritise defence of the prisoners and those others facing prosecution while building the foundations of a new state from the grass roots up. In Ireland, post-1916 the Republicans built mass support through support for the prisoners. But in late 1918, after they won a Westminster general election, they created their own illegal parliament, boycotted the security forces and began organising their own courts and ministries, and levying taxes. We’ll pass on the other part of their strategy, which we would not urge! There exists a pool of people, mainly on the left, who don’t support independence but would support the release of the prisoners and the return of the exiles. If you can mobilise them you can work alongside them and debate and, hopefully, persuade.
A strength of your book is its materialist analysis of the forces in Spanish and Catalan society. Much of the Catalan ruling class is unionist. What does this imply for investment and jobs in the future Catalan Republic?
The argument that Catalan independence is a project of the Catalan bourgeoisie for their own enrichment angers us. The Catalan bourgeoisie never wanted independence, at most autonomy. Faced with the CNT and its own working class, Cambó and the Lliga chose Primo and then Franco. Their argument is they want to lead Spain not leave it, although they have been largely excluded from the former. There have been many Scottish prime ministers of Britain but no Catalan ones of Spain, except briefly during the Republic of 1873. The drive for Catalan independence has come from the middle and working classes, represented by Esquerra in the 1930’s. Today it is divided between three parties, another difference from Scotland where the SNP is fairly dominant.
books - interview