'Catalonia will get the right to decide'

A year after the Scottish referendum, the former SNP leader reflects on the Catalan independence process

This conversation with the former First Minister of Scotland took place in the Holyrood parliament building.

How does it feel a year after the Scot's referendum?
In all, bitter-sweet. The referendum was disappointing but the general election results helped us to overcome it.
Are you now looking forward to another referendum?
Without doubt there will be another. The question is when.
It is something still not possible in Catalonia.
Scotland is not Catalonia. There are no identical countries, although there are parallels.
Is the legal framework key?
Of course. We have established a precedent. That is still not the case in Catalonia. The key is having a precedent.
It seems the SNP is more willing to talk openly about Catalonia, after recent statements from leading figures.
I do not agree. We talk about it often. However, we commented on how the decisions should be taken, not on what should be decided. Yet, David Cameron did do that. Cameron cannot influence anyone in Scotland, and even less so in Catalonia. No one has the right to tell people what they should vote for. The way they should vote is different.
In a referendum?
I refer to establishing a process to resolve the issue, that allows people to choose how.
Which is what cannot be done in Catalonia.
I know. And we have always said that a process needs to be established that allows the Catalans to decide, and if it is a process agreed by both parts, the result has to be respected.
Do you mean a referendum like the Scot's one?
I do not disagree with you, but it is not the only way.
But isn't it the best way? Or are elections enough?
The best way is through a referendum. We have always said that the conflict has to be resolved with a peaceful, democratic, mutually agreed process.
But if a referendum is not possible, could elections like those recently be enough?
I insist: whatever happens, there has to be a process agreed by all. A referendum is the best way for people to resolve and reconcile their differences. However, it is not a universal truth.
Did the comments made by foreign leaders during the campaign for the Catalan elections surprise you?
Of course not! During our referendum Cameron went on his knees before the European Commission and other world leaders, asking: “Please, please, say something...”. What happened in Catalonia could be seen coming.
Do you think Brussels could act as a mediator in the conflict with Madrid?
The citizens of Catalonia, as with the rest of Spain's autonomous regions, and like the Scots and English, are European citizens. If the European Commission is seen to be taking sides, it undermines the fundamental democratic principles of the Union. The Union is suffering many crises at the same time … and the last thing the Commission can allow in this situation is the belief among many citizens that it does not defend its basic principles, that it is acting in favour of one side or another.
Impartiality does not seem to extend to Spain's Constitutional High Court, which appears to be doing the bidding of the Madrid government.
I am no expert in the Spanish constitutional system but I would say that if the Spanish prime minister comes to an agreement with the autonomous regions, it would be at the very least unusual, or even strange, for a group of judges to overturn a political agreement.
Do you think the Scot's government could act as a mediator?
We are not so arrogant to think we have all the answers. But, if we were invited, then yes. The lessons learned during our process could be useful to Catalonia, to the Spanish government and Spain's other areas.
The winners of the Catalan election are committed to the independence process, the Spanish government opposed. Do you think confrontation can be avoided?
You do not know what the political situation in Madrid will be after the December elections.
No. But even if PSOE win, they also say they will never allow a referendum.
Never is a long time in politics. The UK Conservative party did not want to reinstate the Scottish Parliament. Now they are enthusiastic and Cameron wants to make this chamber a permanent UK institution.
Some parties and independence organisations say that civil disobedience is the way to move the process forward.
People should look for opportunities at the ballot box. Having said that, certain forms of civil disobedience are perfectly acceptable. Here in Scotland, we refused to pay the poll tax imposed by Thatcherism. It was a movement of a million people. We would not pay it because it was anti-constitutional.
So, if there is no referendum, or an agreement with the State, would it be justified resorting to this tactic?
The Catalans would have to decide that. I am no one to tell you what you should do.
Can you imagine a way out of this political conflict?
My vision is for the people to be patient, and I know it is difficult but democratic forces usually win in the end.
A lot of Catalan people do not think that way.
I believe people with a democratic instinct always find a way. I suspect that the right to decide –not what the decision will be– but the right to decide will eventually impose itself in Catalonia.

Pursuing independence

Quim Aranda

Now an MP in the Westminster, Salmond served as First Minister of Scotland between 2007 and 2014. He was also twice leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) over a period of 20 years, before being succeeded by Nicola Sturgeon last year after the failure of the referendum on Scotland's independence. That there was a binding referendum at all is in part thanks to Salmond's persistence and in 2011 the SNP won an absolute majority in the Scottish election, allowing the devolved government to call a referendum. An agreement was signed on October 15 2012 by UK prime minister David Cameron and Salmond, which provided a legal framework for the referendum held on September 18 last year. After the failure of the 'no' vote, the next day Salmond announced his resignation and was succeeded by Sturgeon.

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