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Catalonia can follow Scotland on road to ‘day of destiny’


By Rob Gibson


Catalan and EU flags are displayed from buildings in this street in the old town in Barcelona.
Catalan and EU flags are displayed from buildings in this street in the old town in Barcelona.

ON the day we returned from a week’s break in the sun in Barcelona, the Edinburgh Agreement was being signed. In Catalunya they, too, await an election with the leading party the Convergencia (CiU) seeking an absolute majority on the November 25 elections. It promises an independence referendum to follow. Catalan flags on many flats and homes show their belief in independence as the best way to escape unfair and unjust Spanish rule.

We saw the headlines in their papers here in Scotland such as the ‘day of destiny’ which sums up the hopes many have had for years to debate and decide our nation’s direction and sustainable future. Many of you have been awaiting this chance for years.

The historic accord that paves the way for a referendum on an independent Scotland was signed after First Minister Alex Salmond reached an agreement with Prime Minister David Cameron that will confirm the Scottish Parliament’s power to hold a vote that will be respected fully by both governments.

The Edinburgh Agreement, ratified by Mr Salmond and Mr Cameron at a ceremony in St Andrew’s House, will see Scottish and UK governments work together to ensure that Holyrood is able to deliver a referendum that meets the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety. The agreement will see a Section 30 order laid in the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster to confirm Holyrood has the power necessary for a single question referendum, ensuring that the 2014 vote will be designed and run by the people of Scotland.

After the order has been agreed, the Scottish Government will bring forward legislation to Parliament to enable the referendum to be run. This will set out the proposed date, franchise, the wording of the question, rules on campaign finance and other rules governing the conduct of the campaign.

A final decision on these aspects will be taken by the Scottish Parliament, taking full account of the responses to the Scottish Government’s referendum consultation.

After the signing ceremony, First Minister Alex Salmond said: "The Edinburgh Agreement marks a significant step in Scotland’s Home Rule journey. Importantly, it will ensure that the biggest decision the people of our country will make for many generations is made here in Scotland for the benefit of all of those that live and work here."

I believe that the Scottish Government has an ambitious vision for Scotland: a prosperous and successful European country, reflecting Scottish values of fairness and opportunity, promoting equality and social cohesion – a Scotland with a new place in the world – as an independent nation.

The historic signing marks the start of the campaign to fulfil that ambition. It will be a campaign during which we will present our positive, ambitious vision for a flourishing, fairer, progressive, independent Scotland – a vision I am confident will win the argument and deliver a Yes vote in autumn 2014.

THE Independence vote to take place in autumn 2014 has been agreed. However the really depressing response is from the Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont who bases her attacks on the SNP on what is a cuts commission. It is no less than an assault on universal benefits we cherish. It sees no further than the cash settlement from London under devolution. And to think that during Labour’s 13 years in power, the gap between rich and poor in the UK grew wider.

Labour’s record in office was confirmed by UK government statistics which show that the real-terms gap in incomes between the highest and lowest earners grew by a staggering £237 per week between 1997 and 2010.

The Households Below Average Income Survey shows that the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent of UK households grew by just £24 per week in real terms over Labour’s 13 years in power.

By contrast, the income of the top 10 per cent of households increased by ten times that figure, going up from £897 to £1,153 per week (an increase of £256).

These figures serve to confirm that Labour has lost its way on social justice a long time ago. Ms Lamont’s remarks about Scots living in a ‘something for nothing country’ represent a new low for a party that once prided itself on representing hard working people. But in their 13 years in power at Westminster the gap between rich and poor actually grew.

Labour in Wales are not going to change their policy on free prescriptions – and are even committed to it in their next manifesto. But in stark contrast, Labour in Scotland is in thrall to the party leadership in London, and their ‘ruthless’ approach to cutting public spending.

No wonder Labour members in Scotland are now looking at the merits of voting Yes in the independence referendum and have formed the ‘Labour for Independence group’.

EVERY nation has a right to decide its direction and future. The Catalans lost their independence in 1714 around the time Scotland lost ours. They regained some control in the 1930s but lost it again to the Franco dictatorship. The Spanish state has taken far more in taxes from the advanced Catalan economy than it puts back.

Of course, no two nations have similar stories but the distinctiveness of each case deserves our understanding. We are not alone in wishing to be a nation again. In Flanders, the Basque Country, Catalunya and Scotland – all advanced industrial countries – they are asking these questions afresh to find their rightful place in the globalised world of the 21st century.

The famous Charles Stuart Parnell, a leading constitutional Irish nationalist of the late 19th century declared: "No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has a right to say to his country, thus far shalt thou go and no further."

Rob.gibson.msp@scottish.parliament.uk



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