Perhaps still a moment too soon

Back in June, when the Tories did a deal with the DUP in order to remain in power, I wrote a post explaining how it meant that the only likely outcome would be that the whole of UK would remain in the EU single market and customs union. This is a extract from it:

The DUP save our bacon

There is only one thing that the DUP really want from this deal, which is that the Six Counties are not treated in any way differently from the rest of the UK. If the DUP were not in such a pivotal position, I would have put money on the eventual solution to the problem of the border between the Six Counties and the Twenty-six being that the effective border between the EU and UK post-Brexit would be the Irish Sea, and that customs and immigration checks would have been carried out at the ports and airports rather than at the land border. Logistically, that is by far the best way of handling things because the tickets of any people or goods would have to be checked anyway when they boarded the ferries or planes to cross the Irish Sea, so discretely checking their customs/immigration documents at the same time as their tickets would result in no additional inconvenience.

However this arrangement is the one thing that the DUP will absolutely oppose, because in the event of a hard Brexit it will make the Six Counties—in practice if not in name—part of the EU single market and customs union and therefore economically, as opposed to politically, part of a united Ireland.

The only alternative to this is for the UK as a whole to remain part of the EU single market and customs union. And for me this now looks to be the most likely outcome. Essentially, the UK will have a similar relationship with the EU as Norway, and the border between the Six and Twenty-six counties will become as irrelevant for day-to-day purposes as the border between Norway and Sweden. Such an arrangement will also solve the problem of the border between Gibraltar and Spain, allowing Gibraltar to remain British without taking a massive financial hit from the loss of thousands of workers who make the daily commute from Spain.

Syniadau – 9 June 2017

Well, after six months of a Tory government trying its best to avoid reality, we are about to see if this prediction is going to prove accurate. The Independent seems to think it will:

Simply, the only way to obey the Irish and EU demand of no hard border on the island of Ireland is for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs union. The only way for May to keep her majority in Parliament is to make sure Northern Ireland (NI) does not leave the EU on different terms than the rest of the UK. So therefore the only way to progress to EU trade talks, and not simultaneously collapse her Government, is for the entire UK to stay in the customs union. It is that simple, and there are no other options.

Independent – 4 December 2017

The only real thing that might have changed is that hard-line Brexiteers within the ranks of Tory MPs might not accept the UK remaining in the customs union and single market (CU and SM), not least because months and months of prevarication by a directionless Tory government have encouraged them to believe that they might get their way. For Theresa May, it might not actually matter what the DUP think, if her government is going to be brought down anyway by these hard-liners refusing to accept anything but a hard Brexit.

Either way, there is a real possibility that a vote of no confidence will bring down the government, and that Labour will win the general election that follows. The $64,000 question is what platform Labour will campaign on. I have no doubt that public opinion will eventually come round to the UK remaining part of the SM and CU, if not remaining as a full member of the EU. But I'm not sure that we have reached that point yet. I thought we'd have to wait to see that it was impossible to get a good deal before public opinion swung significantly enough to encourage Labour to stand, and win, on that platform.

It's all just a little bit too soon. So perhaps the best outcome is for the EU and UK to fail, yet again, to make sufficient progress before the upcoming summit and for everything to be put back until next year. If the squabble is seen to be between the Tories and the DUP or the Tories and Ireland, that won't weaken the Tories one bit. But if the squabble shifts to being a bloody battle between two factions in the Tory party, then Labour will easily win an election next year either on a platform of remaining in the SM and CU (more or less on the same terms as Norway, but with a few tweaks) or halting Brexit entirely.

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Trashing the planet for commercial advantage

Carwyn Jones has today said that he would scrap long-haul Air Passenger Duty if it were to be devolved to Wales.

I agree that control of this tax (and, for me, all other taxes) should be devolved to Wales, but I certainly don't agree with the idea that it should be scrapped. APD was introduced to reflect the fact that aviation fuel isn't (and probably can't be) taxed in the same way as other fossil fuels, so it is designed to provide a similar "disincentive" to unnecessary fossil fuel use, because the emissions have an adverse affect on climate change.

Of course there would be a commercial advantage for Wales if (to use the most quoted example) flights from Cardiff were cheaper than flights from Bristol. But that's rather like saying that there would be a commercial advantage for Wales if companies in Wales were able to dump toxic waste directly into rivers, or didn't need to recycle. Taking care of the environment costs money, but it's something that we need to do for the sake of the planet.

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That said, I think that there are more subtle ways of using the devolved tax that could better achieve the aim of reducing unnecessary flights, while still giving Wales a competitive advantage. For example, the tax could be applied on an individual basis so that, say, the first two flights a person makes in any year were charged at a low rate, but the tax would then rise progressively with each additional flight so that a person flying six times a year would end up paying much very more than they do now.

As well as the environmental benefits, such a tax would also be progressive in that it would target richer people who are more able to afford it, rather than those who are just flying off for a couple of weeks' holiday once a year.

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Support for an independent Catalunya increases

It seems that the most of the media are reporting some sort of backlash against independence from people in Catalunya. So it is worth pointing to the latest round of opinion polling from CEO, published today.

     

From the graph at the bottom, we can see that support for independence has risen by 7.6 percentage points to 48.7%, the highest figure ever recorded. The margin between Yes and No is clearly in positive territory, at 5.1%, which is the best indication of whether another referendum would be won.

This is the equivalent graphic from the previous round of polling.

     

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I recognize the Catalan Republic

Yes, it's now completely unambiguous. The Catalan Parliament has today voted to lift their previous suspension of the implementation of their declaration of independence. The Catalan Republic is born.

I expect a few countries to recognize Catalunya's independence immediately. But many more will hide behind the sofa waiting to see what happens next. A lot depends on how repressive the Spanish State chooses to be; but more depends on whether the people and institutions of Catalunya are cowed into submission or whether they stand tall.

I couldn't put it better than Vicent Partal, the editor of Vilaweb, did a few days ago:

Later this week, as the rules of the game change in Madrid and Barcelona simultaneously, absolutely everything that we have known so far will formally cease to be the law and, therefore, it will all boil down to a factual struggle. So it will be the people, organized in the streets, who will determine who comes out the winner and who the loser.

In a few days the Catalan Republic and the new ancient Spain without autonomous regions will face off in every playing field and on every decision. The winner will be the one who proves on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday that it is the real, effective government of the Principality of Catalonia. It will only be a matter of time. If our police obey the Generalitat’s orders, we will win. But if Rajoy controls them, we will lose. If banks abide by the law, we will win; but if they seize our money on PP’s orders, we will lose. If local councils take orders from Spanish ministers, we will lose. And if they ignore them, we will win. If our schools stay the course, we will win. Otherwise, we will not. If Catalonia’s MPs can enter the chamber and take their seats, we will win; if not, we will lose. If the Spanish police manages to break into the Palau de la Generalitat to arrest Puigdemont, we will lose. And, if all of us prevent it, then we will win.

That is what has happened in every independence process across the world: there comes a time when a particular article of some law no longer matters; only what the people say does. And, above all, what people do.

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Don't be afraid of another vote, Catalunya

One of the attitudes that characterizes those who voted for Brexit in June 2016 is that we should stick to the decision to leave come what may. I have always thought that the UK should reverse Brexit if and when it ever becomes clear that public opinion has changed ... that opinion being expressed either in another referendum or in a general election if the winning party specifically included staying in the EU as part of its manifesto.

In short, we should always respect a democratic decision; but it would be wrong to maintain that a democratic decision, once made, is unchangeable in the future. We should never be afraid to ask people to vote as many times as is necessary to properly reflect their opinions. That is why, for example, I have never been afraid of "little and often" referendums on our National Assembly gaining more powers.

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But this isn't really a post about Brexit or Wales. There are more pressing things to concentrate on right now, and the situation in Catalunya is one of them. By now it should be clear to anyone in the world who has taken any interest in the subject that the Spanish Government does not want any discussion or dialogue about Catalan independence. They are determined only to force the Catalans to submit to their will, and independence is something they completely refuse to countenance. This really should come as a no surprise to anyone who has been following events over the last few years; but we need to remember that most of the world hadn't been following events and therefore, probably quite reasonably, had taken the position that the obvious thing for the Spanish and Catalan governments was talk, negotiate and try and reach an agreement.

It has taken these past three weeks for this to become clear to the world, but negotiations can't happen unless both sides are willing to negotiate. One side has shown that it doesn't want this, so each side now has no choice except to continue on their respective paths. But this isn't a disaster for, as it happens, both paths lead to the same place ... at least in the short term.

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The Catalan plan was to declare independence—which I expect them to do formally and unambiguously this week—and then hold new elections in Catalunya to establish a constitution for the new republic. It appears that the Spanish plan, agreed by the three biggest Spanish political parties (the PP, PSOE and Cs) is to dissolve the present Catalan Parliament with a view to holding new elections in Catalunya. It doesn't take a Baldrick to realize that this cunning plan to thwart Catalan independence might not be as cunning as the Spanish think it is.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. It really doesn't matter if one side calls this election a constitutory election for the new republic and the other side calls it an ordinary election to elect a replacement autonomous community government. Whether it turns out to be one, the other, or something else, will entirely depend on which way the people of Catalunya vote. If a majority of voters vote for parties that will establish a constitution for the new Catalan state, then those they elect will have enough seats to go ahead and do exactly that. But if the majority vote for parties who intend to carry on as if no declaration of independence had been made, then those they elect will have enough seats to run Catalunya as an autonomous community in Spain and the independence project will be over ... which is exactly what should happen in a democracy. No democrat should want independence for their country unless it is supported at the ballot box.

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In other words, I don't think those who want to establish Catalunya as an independent state should have anything to fear from free and fair elections later this year or early next year. It might turn out that pro-independence parties do not get a majority this time. That would neither validate nor invalidate the election on 1 October (no matter what people might claim) it would merely demonstrate that people had changed their minds and no longer wanted what they voted for earlier. It would be just like a vote to reverse Brexit.

But, on the other hand, if the pro-independence candidates again win a majority, the Spanish Government will then have exhausted its democratic options to prevent Catalan independence. They will either have to accept defeat with as much grace as they can muster, or will have to impose direct rule through the use of more physical force. After the way the Spanish State behaved on 1 October, I am sure that support for independence can only have increased.

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There is only one problem. I specifically said that those who want an independent Catalunya have nothing to fear from free and fair elections. But most of the world is probably not aware that the Spanish State has a far from unblemished record for holding free and fair elections. The most relevant example is the Basque election of 1 March 2009. Two left-leaning pro-independence parties, Demokrazia 3,000,000 and Askatasuna were banned right in the middle of the election campaign. Left with no opportunity to regroup, this meant that for the first time in some 30 years, Basque nationalists were unable to form a governing coalition, and a Spanish nationalist government was formed instead.

If left to their own devices, I am sure the Spanish State would try something similar in Catalunya now. They would probably argue that any political party or group that wanted something contrary to the Spanish Constitution was seditious in nature and therefore had no right to stand in elections. Spain has shown that it is quite prepared to pervert the law to serve its own purposes with the current imprisonment of the leaders of the ANC and Òmnium. So it is a cast-iron certainty that they would try and do more of the same if they thought they could get away with it.

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So what, practically, can be done to stop them getting away with it in the same way as they did in 2009? One thing would be to try get international mediation for any new elections, even though the international community has been reticent to get involved and will probably continue to be. So the best thing would be for pro-independence candidates to form one, and only one, united group. If the group is split into smaller groups, the Spanish State will find it that much easier to pick off one of them. The present Catalan Parliament is includes a cross-party pro-independence group, Junts pel Sí, and then CUP, who refused to join that list even though they also support independence. Imagine a situation where Spain only banned CUP. If the vote were the same as in 2015 the loss of the 10 CUP seats would mean that pro-independence candidates would not have a majority. Put bluntly, the world probably won't bat an eyelid at the suppression of a small party, because their focus will naturally be on the bigger one. But if there is only one pro-independence group, and Spain bans it, the world will no longer be able to maintain the pretence that Spain is behaving as a Western democracy.

Personally, I have no doubt that in a free and fair election, the those wanting independence for Catalunya would again win a clear majority and if so, this time round, neither Spain nor any other country would be able to deny it or cast a shadow of doubt over the result. Bring it on.

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Slovenia will recognize an independent Catalunya

In view of the fact that Catalunya specifically looked to Slovenia as a model of how to become independent in the face of strong initial opposition from most Western countries and the EU, I think there's some poetic justice in the government of that country being one of the first to indicate that it will recognize an independent Catalunya.

More on the story at VilaWeb.

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Also, Spain is none too pleased that Venezuela has criticized them for holding political prisoners. They've just summoned the Ambassador. I'm quite sure the Ambassador will explain things to Spain in no uncertain terms.

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Help Catalunya Save Europe

Far from engaging in dialogue and discussion, the Spanish State has decided to aggravate the situation by imprisoning (not after any sort of trial, but by arresting them on suspicion of sedition and then denying them bail) Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, leaders of the main civic movements behind the mass demonstations in support of independence over the past five years, Òmnium and the ANC.

Òmnium have produced this video in English, which I think needs to be shared as widely as possible.

     

People can also sign the Help Catalonia Save Europe manifesto here.

Despite the picture painted by most media outlets, things are far from hopeless. At present I think the main priority is to show the rest of the world that Spain has absolutely no intention of resolving the matter by dialogue. It clearly thinks that increasingly draconian measures like these imprisonments will force Catalans back into the box in which Spain would like to keep them.

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Another thing we can do is show support for Catalunya at this rally in Cardiff on Saturday 28 October, organized by Yes Cymru.

 
     

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