AT my last meeting as chair of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia, I was fortunate enough to host Catalan MEP Clara Ponsati as our main speaker and I couldn’t have made a better choice. 

Ms Ponsati spoke eloquently on the years since Catalonia’s independence referendum in October 2017 and I was delighted that the Sunday National agreed to publish her speech in full yesterday to give readers the chance to gain detail on her thoughts on this important question: Why is Catalonia not an independent state – yet? 

This question I’m sure will have great resonance with Yes supporters around Scotland. Indeed, as I listened to Ms Ponsati’s speech in January, there was much in it that parallels our current predicament in Scotland, stuck between a rock and a hard place on our path to independence.

Of course, the reaction of the Spanish Government and the extreme violence enacted on voters on the day of the referendum in Catalonia did not happen in Scotland in 2014. Neither were our independence politicians exiled, to escape an arrest warrant from the Spanish Supreme Court as in the case of Ms Ponsati (below).

The National: Catalan MEP Clara Ponsati pictured outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court in 2019

As chair of this APPG, I have heard terrible reports on the “chilling effect” of the continuing repression of Catalans by the Spanish authorities and the indifference from the European Union on their democratic predicament.

Fortunately, in Scotland we have not had to deal with such direct physical and psychological repression but in terms of democratic denial, the pillaging of our resources and the refusal to countenance addressing half of Scotland’s support to go our own way, we have much in common. 

Now, in a political twist that none of us could have predicted, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has retained power in Spain only by striking an amnesty deal with Puigdemont’s self-determination party, Junts. Does this mean that Catalans are now in a more powerful position to gain recognition as a result?

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As Ms Ponsati pointed out in her speech, she thinks Sanchez prefers “repression first” then “rehabilitation later” as his main strategic approach to the Catalan question. Democracy in this case is “not enough”.

Because the international powers have turned a blind eye to violent repression, Spain holds the trump card – the choice remains a continuing block on self-determination or an increase in violence. 

For Scotland and Catalonia, the question on this democratic block to self-determination is where our very different experiences on the push for independence meet.  

Ms Ponsati believes the impasse comes from both external and internal obstacles. She is very critical of the Catalan leaders’ reaction post-referendum, of dither and delay, of reactive rather than proactive decision making, buffeted by international influence and domestic pressure. She believes they had failed to prepare for success.   Sound familiar?

How many times were Scottish Yes supporters led up to the top of the hill, only to trickle back down again with nowhere to go and no plan on what to do next?

How many catastrophic missed political opportunities for Scotland, with the damage of Brexit inflicted on Remain-voting Scots while Northern Ireland secured a very different position.

Our failure to maximise our strengths and call the shots during the term of Theresa May’s much-diminished government, calling for a General Election which saw our numbers fall and put Boris Johnson in the majority hot seat, or kamikaze Liz Truss – it’s a depressing list.

I know because I was there, waiting for leadership and strategy, pushing for change at a closed door, voiceless in the decision-making process, holding out for the much-promised independence roadmap which never materialised.

AND, just as Westminster hangs on greedily to Scotland, to ensure access to our natural resources and world-class exports, so too does it hang on desperately to its monopoly on power, a monopoly that stifles economic growth and opportunity for Scotland and thus the rUK, in the name of hierarchy and of entrenched views on identity and control.

So too in Spain, where the “extractive elite” as Ponsati calls it clings to power at the expense of everyone else and economic decline. And all the while, the European Union prefer to turn a blind eye to the denial of democracy in Catalonia.

The result in Catalonia, Ponsati argues, is an electorate worn out, demotivated, divided, distrustful and lost.  Familiar again?  But remember Scotland, all is not lost and Ponsati finished her speech with this positive message of hope for Catalonia too – “sometimes, in the depths of failure, you find the strengths of your endurance”. 

I believe this strength is very much alive in the Scottish electorate, in citizens hoping for a far better future than endless political tribalism, dead ends or paths to nowhere.  

I believe this strength, this anger at what has happened, can be harnessed in a renewed push for nation-building, bringing the population together on a common goal, healing divisions and conflicts, building trust and confidence, embracing respectful debate on contentious subjects, listening to those we don’t agree with and reaching consensus on the big questions facing our nation.  

And most of all on success.   Scotland needs some good news, it needs some wins, not at the expense of others but for the benefit of our citizens.

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This means getting brave and smart in equal measure, it means getting rid of some of the issues taking up far too much time or focused on too small a problem – and it means creating a focus on our successful end game. 

Success and change start with some big citizen conversations. Citizen engagement, participation and measurable outcomes from recommendations generated – the antithesis of what happened in our citizen assemblies, a wonderful opportunity missed I believe.

When people feel disenfranchised and let down, they need to be heard and, most importantly, active in change. This means trusting local communities to find their own bespoke solutions, decentralising control with bottom-up, place-based solutions.

For Scotland, the economy, health, education and energy are always going to be our big-ticket items, all overshadowed by climate change and overlapped with issues of land reform.

Scots want smart, data-driven cases for action on these issues. Let’s hear what they think and pull in the plethora of experts and talent we have in our nation to move through these so-called intractable problems, informed by their insight and citizen concern. So much of this exists already and is waiting to be enacted. 

Changes such as these could create a political landscape that works for people, one that is built on participation and expertise, on trust and integrity, and a deep-rooted pragmatic focus on delivery and measurable results.  

We can’t control all external forces or intractability at Westminster, but we can lead from the front on the journey to independence.

It is time to find ways to build our nation and find the courage of our convictions which will give us the confidence to believe in ourselves – and believe in each other.