Living on an island in the corner of the continent can often make us Scots feel a bit detached from the rest of Europe. Separated by the North Sea, we can at times feel that we are somehow different, both politically and culturally, from our European cousins.
Earlier this month, I attended Acampada Jove (“Young Camping”) with our Convener, Rhiannon Spear, as the SNP Youth delegates. We found during our visit that despite being distant from our European cousins, we are closer than we think.
Acampada Jove is a three day music festival held in Montblanc – a small medieval town in mid-Catalonia with a big character. The festival is organised by JERC, the youth wing of Esquerra Republicana – Catalonia’s left-wing nationalist party.
Just like young Scots, the young Catalans were energised by independence and were extremely engaged with not only their domestic politics, but also international politics. A number of them had been to Scotland during our referendum and were able to hold their own in lengthy discussions on the most intricate subjects of Scottish politics.
We also met left wing nationalists from across Europe, including well-established movements such as those in Basque and Galicia; but also from fledgling movements like those in Venice who are struggling against their right wing nationalist counterparts to change the discourse and attitudes.
There were many parallels to be drawn between Scotland and Catalonia. We both have strong independence movements. We both struggle against a Government which does not have our best interests at heart and is elected by other parts of the country. Our independence movement is one of the left. And we wish for our autonomous and sovereign nations’ right to be restored within a connected and cooperative Europe.
However, we do differ in a number of ways.
Culture was extremely prevalent in the Catalan independence movement. In Scotland, we try to do all we can to try to avoid any form of cultural difference or expression. This has base in the ‘Scottish cringe’ – the embarrassment of distinct elements of Scottish culture – and an obsession with purely civic nationalism out of fear of being labelled a flag-waving nationalist.
The Catalans expressed their own cultural identity in a number of ways, from Anti-Fascist symbols of the Civil War; chanting and singing; and even obvious cultural elements like using Catalan even though Spanish is a more widespread language globally.
Traditional customs such as the ‘Dimonis’ (demons) who dress as devils and manically chase people with fireworks on the end of the pole, or seeing human towers pop up everywhere in a crowd of 8,000 people, were at the heart of the festival.
Although there has to be a political case for any major constitutional decision, I was jealous of the Catalans’ cultural expression and the pride they took in doing so. During the indyref, you may see the odd pocket of ceilidh dancers in George Square. Or the lone man in a kilt. In Catalonia, cultural identity was inescapable.
We need to shake off the fear of being Scots and celebrate our rich heritage. This does not need to detract from the civic nationalist case for independence or who we deem a Scot. Comments from Alyn Smith MEP exemplify the model for Scottish nationalism and the Scottish identity:
“If you live in Scotland, you’re Scottish. It’s not about where you’re from, but where we’re going together.”
In terms of organisation, JERC were highly organised. Even with only a few thousand youth members, JERC had their own office in Barcelona which was the base of their operations. Acampada Jove itself was in its 21styear!
Independence as a movement in Scotland has only came to the forefront in the past fifteen years. Whereas in Catalonia, it has been a cause for which many have died for.
In the SNP Youth, we are just getting started. With around 12,000 members, we have seen what is possible with only a fraction of that number. Inspired by the Catalans’ passion, we want to be bolder and more active. We hope to drive the SNP Youth to the forefront of the party raising the big issues to ensure that what we care about is on the agenda and that the independent Scotland we want is realised.
Although we can feel different from our European cousins just across the North Sea and also south of the border, we can learn and work with one another in a European Union of autonomous nations – essential for combating the greatest issues of our time: climate change, the democratisation of Europe and international justice.
There is no doubt that a common trait of both Scottish and Catalan nationalism is the strong passion for empowerment within a connected Europe of small, autonomous nations. We recognise the need for a national revolution across the world to better meet the needs of citizens while still fostering international cooperation. Stefano, the Venetian delegate, put it best:
“Modern, centralised states are too big for their citizens, yet too small for the world.”
Throughout our visit we were thanked numerous times by Catalans for putting independence on the European agenda. For many, Scotland is viewed as the vanguard nation in the struggle for self-determination. However, we must make sure that we all move forward together.
Organising with other delegates from EFA (European Free Alliance) and opening our international links can only strengthen our will, capabilities and determination, and bring us together, differences and all, in solidarity across Europe for our independence.