Jim Slaven from the James Connolly Society (JCS) and Queralt Badia from Popular Unity Candidates (CUP), Catalunya, introduced the discussion on ‘The Impact of the Scottish independence referendum in Ireland and Catalunya’
Jim Slaven (JCS)
The 1916 Society was initially formed by republicans in Tyrone. They drew together people who could clearly see that Sinn Fein had departed from the republican path, and who understood the armed struggle had run its course. They see the issue facing the Irish people s one of democracy denied. The UK and the 26 counties states are an obstacle to the exercise of genuine self-determination in Ireland.
The 1916 Society is not another party to add to the alphabet soup of Irish republican organisations already existing. In its attempt to bring about Irish self-determination the 1916 Society recognises that it must relate to people’s day-to-day struggles. It campaigns for an all-Ireland referendum as a people’s initiative, not a demand on the existing states.
The1916 Society is organises across Ireland and has branches in Scotland, USA and Australia. It has a horizontal leadership. Office bearers can only remain in place for 3 years.
The UK state will only recognise a Border poll, conducted in the Six Counties. Partition was designed to ensure that unionists could prevent Irish unity.
When you factor in the Scottish referendum, constitutional nationalists in the Six Counties (the SDLP and now Sinn Fein) observe this process from the side-lines. In contrast, republicans support the break-up of the UK state, and want a ‘Yes’ vote.
The SNP leadership though are an obstacle to winning the support of the Irish-Scottish community. They support the monarchy, empire and Scottish regiments with their appalling record in Ireland.
There is a danger that the SNP government is merely contributing to the reconfiguration of the UK state. The recent referendum conceding more powers to Wales; a limited break from the UK promoted by the SNP government, and a possible Border poll after that, could just represent a new stage of control beyond the current ‘Devolution-all-round’ arrangements.
The 1916 Societies have written to all parties and organisations campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. None have yet replied, including RIC. We see beyond the September 18th referendum whether there is a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ vote. The 1916 Societies view things strategically not just tactically. This is why we to connect with the people on the ground in our campaign for ‘One Ireland, One Vote’.
Queralt Badia (CUP)
Queralt began by apologising for her limited English.
The referendum for Catalan independence was agreed by 4 parties, Convergencia i Unio (centre right ), Republican Left of Catalunya (centre left), the Initiative of Catalan Grees (which includes Spanish federalists and Catalan independists) and Popular Unity Candidates (left).
The agreed date is November 9th, 2014. There will be two questions: "Do you want Catalonia to become a State?" If so, "Do you want this Catalan State to be independent?”
However, the Spanish government rejects this as being against the Spanish constitution. This contrasts with the situation in Scotland, where the Scottish independence referendum is recognised as constitutional and is being conducted with the agreement of the UK and Scottish governments.
The situation in Catalunya is confused. Will the somewhat less than decisive Catalan government stand up to Spanish pressure? (The government includes a conservative party that is very ambivalent about its attitude towards Catalan self-determination.) Who will recognise a vote for Catalan independence after November 9th - will the EU or wider international community?
The Popular Unity Candidates have built up a Catalunya-wider (including French Catalunya) political campaign to build up support for self-determination. CUP is community based, working in local struggles. It has only recently decided to participate in the Generalitat elections. CUP has been fighting against the home evictions, which have followed from the severe economic crisis in Spain. It has been defending migrant worker who are under attack. It has been championing language rights.
CUP doesn’t see independence as the end, but the beginning of a struggle for social improvement and radical democracy.
The meeting then divided into groups of two or three to decide on the questions people wanted answered. The following questions were raised:-
1. Does the 1916 Society see the referendum being conducted simultaneously, or separately in the North and South?
2. Is there not a three-fold decision to be made involving the UK, Irish and Stormont governments?
3. Surely, the British state is not going to recognise a citizen’s referendum?
4. What is the Irish-Scottish community’s attitude towards Scottish independence?
5. What do republicans think about Martin McGuinness’s decision to attend a dinner with the queen?
6. Some people have said that changing demographics will undermine unionist domination in the North. Is ‘making love not war’ the best way to proceed?!
7. How does the struggle in Catalunya relate to that in Euskadi.
8. What is the relationship of Valencia and the `Balearic Islands to Catalunya.
9. What would the knock-on effect be of a successful Catalan referendum?
10. How does the anti-capitalist Left relate to the struggle for Catalan independence?
Jim replied that the 1916 Society’s campaign is not based on the immediate realistic possibility of success. The Society has a longer-term strategy based on republican principles. The campaign will have to relate to the struggles of people on the ground, north and south of the border. The legacy of a divided Ireland is a sectarian statelet in the north, and a ‘gombeen republic’ in the south, where corruption is rife. He said he wanted to reiterate that the campaign was not targeted at the existing state structures, but represented a citizens’ initiative. This is designed to prefigure alternative radical state structures. These would be linked to meeting people’s needs, hence the emphasis on being involved in people’s struggles now. Republican should connect with anti-austerity, pro-abortion and gay rights campaigners.
A considerable proportion of the Irish –Scottish community is still wedded to the Labour Party. Since the SNP took office, there has even been a step back from the very limited initiative undertaken by the previous Labour/Lib-Dem Holyrood government to target sectarianism. The SNP is not interested in opposing the Orange Order. It has promoted greater centralisation of the Scottish police force and the Criminal Justice Bill which falls most heavily upon Scottish Irish community. People returning over the Irish Sea have been detained first by the police, and then questioned by MI5. Certainly, the Labour Party’s earlier record with regard to the Irish-Scottish community left much to be desired, but their current attacks on the SNP are based on some realities on the ground.
With regard to leaving it to demographic change in the Six Counties, republicans are opposed to the politics of the sectarian head count. Even the UK state is seeing that it is necessary to move away from its pushing of a specific British identity. State bodies, including schools, now promote a Northern Ireland identity. They hope to build this up as separate from being Irish.
As for Martin McGuiness and Sinn Fein. They have abandoned any republican principles and become constitutional nationalists accepting the UK state in practice. Once you do this, then kowtowing to the Crown follows quite easily. Apologists claim that this promotes greater mutual British/Irish understanding. James Connolly would have recognised these politics. In his days they were called Redmondism, precisely the pro-British politics that republicans had to make a break from in 1916.
Queralt replied that there is some cooperation between the Left in Catalunya and Euskadi. Indeed, the CUP seeks wider cooperation. Jonathan Shafi spoke for RIC at a CUP conference held in Barcelona the previous weekend.
Valencian Coutry and the Balearic Islands are part of historic Catalan nation (or Catalan counties), but not part of current Spanish-state recognised Catalunya (the administrative region).
It is difficult to anticipate what will happen after November 9th. Indeed, if the Spanish state exerts enough pressure, the Generalitat could retreat from conducting the referendum. Some are looking to the 2016 elections instead.
If Catalunya becomes independent this will likely have its first knock-on effect in Euskadi, possibly followed by Valencia. The situation in Galicia is different and the radical forces are weaker there.
The CUP works with anti-capitalists, but not all of these people support Catalan independence. The Greens are split between independistas and federalists.
Allan asked for Jim’s opinion of the setting up Ireland for a Yes (IfY). It appeared to have all the hallmarks of that other SNP front, Trade Unionists for Yes. TUfY raised not one single demand that could benefit trade unionists, such as opposition to the anti-trade union laws. It seemed to be a deliberate counter to Trade Unionists for Independence, which had a platform of demands relevant to, and a real base amongst trade unionists. IfY had nothing to say about the Offensive Behaviour Act.
Jim replied that it was ironic that the SNP had formed IfY, because the SNP government had refused to recognise the Irish-Scottish community, and was actively involved in targeting that community through the Offensive Behaviour Act. They had given no reply to the letter they had received from the JCS. The SNP is pro-monarchist, pro-NATO and pro-Scottish regiments. The JCS campaigned for Scottish independence on a specifically republican basis, looking also for wider support in Ireland, England and Wales.
Kevin argued that the Edinburgh RIC branch should take a vote to support the 1916 Society. Alice, Allan, Bob and Linda all supported this principle, but thought that a motion to this effect should be circulated to RIC supporters before the next meeting. The proposal could then be taken to the next RIC National Forum on May 17th. This was agreed.