or tennis vs. bullfighting
I recently had the occasion to
attend a presentation of the plan for independence of Scotland by its first
minister, Alex Salmond. I had spoken at the Parliament of Scotland a few years
ago, on the occasion of the publication of my book Great empires, small
nations: The uncertain future of the sovereign state CLICK. This time the
meeting was in Washington, with an audience of a few dozen people, including
numerous high officers of the State Department and other government agencies
who listened attentively, made precise questions and carefully took notes. The
Scottish leader, with great charm, started his speech talking not of
independence, but of interdependence in the current world. He gave details of
the thousand of Scots by birth who are also proud American citizens. He
emphasized his loyalty to NATO, to which, he said, an independent Scotland
would increase its contribution. And he presented a detailed, positive plan
–more recently published as ‘White Paper’-- for, in case of winning the
referendum this coming September, keeping Scotland’s allegiance to the British
crown and staying in the United Kingdom for the following 18 months in order to
negotiate the re-entrance in the European Union, so not to be left outside for a
The contrast with the
intellectual level and the usual abrupt tone of the ongoing exchanges between
the Catalan and the Spanish rulers was too visible for me to stop thinking of
them. A few weeks ago a majority of the Parliament of Catalonia agreed upon calling
a referendum in November with two questions and three alternatives, including:
the status-quo of high self-government, a would-be intermediate formula of
non-independent Catalan state without further clarification, and independence.
The question in Scotland is more
clear and straightforward about supporting independence yes or not. And yet in that meeting it
looked like Salmond, on a background of unfavorable survey polls, almost gave
the referendum for lost. It was as if he was thoroughly preparing himself to
play a tennis match with the world subchampion. A real display of British fair play
style. The same style of dialogue and elegance has been shown by the British
prime minister, David Cameron, at dealing with the issue. Taking benefit from
the absence of a constraining, written British constitution, Cameron travelled
to Edinburgh to sign an agreement with Salmond for the referendum. Nobody can
imagine anything remotely similar like the Spanish prime minister, Mariano
Rajoy, traveling to Barcelona to agree with the president of Catalonia, Artur
Mas, the call of such a type of referendum.
The crucial difference of the
ways by which the two conflicts are developing does not come from the
differences between Scotland and Catalonia, but from those between Britain and
Spain. The two states are historical great empires that survive nowadays as
reluctantly acknowledged multinational countries. But while the leaders of the
former, relying upon a very long tradition of freedom and democracy, are still self-assertive
and self-assured, the rulers of the latter ride over a collapsing, self-ashamed
and highly insecure of itself society. The political reactions of the British
and Spanish central rulers to secession threats look flexible and rigid,
respectively. But, as is well known, flexibility, like bamboo, is associated to
resilience, while rigidity, like the stick, implies fragility.
I am pretty sure that, like the
tennis players do, when the match will be over Cameron and Salmond will shake
their hands. In contrast, in the dispute between Spain and Catalonia the two
sides seem to be playing bullfighting. In some Catalan poems and essays, the
mythical Spain had been imagined like a furious Minotaur caged in the
labyrinth. But in the current affair the Spanish government is behaving rather like
the bullfighter or torero, one that has traditionally relished with bravado and
cunning in nailing down lances and spears with barbs on Catalonia, while the
Catalan bull is determined to gore him this time. The torero does not want to
be caught, but rather to sink the final sword thrust and pithing on the bull. It’s
not clear what the ending of the story will be. What is sure is that there will
be victims. In a year from now many of those that are often in the news will have
Richard Rose said...
Read your Scotland/ Catalonia blog with interest. You have rightly characterised Salmond. What you left out is the English problem. The case against independence is run on fear of the uncertainty of change, rather than as a case for Union. As and when there is a referendum on should Britain leave the EU, the same argument would apply.
More than half a century ago, as quoted in the lst edition of my POLITICS IN ENGLAND, Dean Acheson asked: Britain has lost an Empire but not yet found a role. Thatcher had an answer, like it or not. Blair and Cameron just ignore it.
I notice you have references to books worth reading. Here is LEARNING ABOUT POLITICS IN TIME AND SPACE click. It is my memoir just out with ECPR Press. Trust you can find a chapter in there to stimulate a blog.
Professor Richard Rose FBA
Director, Centre for the Study of Public Policy
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
John Carlin said...
Muy bueno. Pero lo puedo leer en español?
Carles Castro said...
Excel·lent reflexió descriptiva. Llàstima que ni els toros ni els toreros llegeixin massa.
Salvador Giner said...
El golf, no el tennis és l'sport inventat pels escocesos. (Per cert, l'únic país on és un esport proletari i popular)