Sunday, 30 September 2012

Chinese Fun on Sunday

Here's the Taiwanese animation company NMA's take on Spain's predicament with Catalonia

Saturday, 29 September 2012

How do you say "Estat Propi" in English?

Part 2: Devolution and the Devolved State

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:

Under full 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.

The Scottish 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
  • ·    education, 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 
chosen not 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 London wants 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 cold.

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 
clearly a 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 the European 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 consent."
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."

This is, of course, why Artur Mas refuses to discuss his “Estat Propi” plan in terms of “independence”. Independence implies a new sovereign nation-state; this new state would have to start from zero in terms of international law, recognition, and most importantly, EU membership.

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 another thing
  • 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 “Devolved State”. 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".

Source for YouGov polls

Friday, 28 September 2012

How do you say “Estat Propi” in English?

Liam Neeson as Collins with British official, Michael Collins , 1996

Part 1: Free State and Dominion

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 state”.

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 . . .
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, Australia or 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.

Saving face

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 Catholic Gaelic 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 “irredentist”.

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 self-determination.

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 story.

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


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Reality Shock

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into attack.”

 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, Czecho/slovakia, Croatia, 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.

 “Independence” 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
  • A free 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.
  • federacy is a form of government where one or several substate units enjoy considerably more independence than the majority of the substate units.
  • Dominions were autonomous polities that were nominally under British sovereignty, constituting the British Empire, beginning in the latter part of the 19th century
  • Devolved State (known as "Devomax" in Scotland) -  Devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to government at a subnational level, such as a regionallocal, or state level. 

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.

The question 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.