I agree with John Lloyd
that we face a difficult year, but not only those supporting Western secessionist movements. For Catalan politicans and activists going on trial for something they didn't do, as there was no violent revolt and only violent suppression by the Spanish state, the immediate future may look particularly bleak (and most of them are already in detention). What happens this year will be pivotal for a great many.
Things seem a lot happier in Canada, a country that has alway sought to maintain decency, although it may not have got that right every time. Canada is vast geographically, with a widely dispersed population varying greatly in density and culture. This inevitably creates internal tensions but it has a well-engineered federal structure that has been adept at resolving these. It also has a strong economy, with three-quarters of its exports going to the US.
Most Scots right now are not thinking about independence, they are just scunnered with a Westminster system that is manifestly failing them. Oddly enough, what Spain and the UK have in common, and where they differ from Canada, is in being long-established monarchies. Both are now clothed as parliamentary democracies, and, unlike federal Canada, are constituted as unitary states, thus absolute power rests with central government.
The UK and Spain have both had erratic economic growth, although in Spain this has improved in recent years. Eurozone Spain still has high unemployment whereas in Britain, with its perpetual trade and fiscal deficits and depreciating sterling, there is a continuing asset sale to offshore purchasers. Given how the British economy currently functions, 'everything must go', and that includes sovereignty, in a process which Brexit can only accelerate.
Our archaic form of democracy results in an elective dictatorship ruling the UK. Currently this appears deaf to differing views, while external relationships are also ignored. Due to international agreement rather than any form of federalism, Westminster's writ has limited force in Northern Ireland, something it seems incapable of coping with. That could well be much more destructive of peace and prosperity than the Spanish state's inept response is in Catalonia.
I'm no nationalist, and there are lots of difficult questions hanging over Scottish independence, but John Lloyd's article didn't describe any of them. His argument boils down to this: three secessionist movements, Catalan, Quebecois and Scots, face serious obstacles. For Scotland, the time can never be right for change, even when change is being forced upon us.
The argument, put forward in 2014, that it would have been a catastrophe to secede from the UK because we'd have been kicked out of the EU, has been transformed: now it would be a catastrophe because we'd stay in the EU. In other words, whatever England does, no matter how stupid, we must tag along. In the face of Brexit, he justifies this on, of all things, economic grounds.
Mr Lloyd exhibits all of the exhausted and ossified thinking that hamstrings politicians and commentators throughout the UK. He also forgets to mention the pantomime that is Westminster where, in what purports to be a democracy, a few tens of people in one political party are deciding the future of four aligned nations, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, whether they like it or not, and a fifth, Ireland, who didn't ask to be involved, but find they are anyway. How bad would things have to be in London for Mr Lloyd to turn his mind to alternatives?
One of the many positives of our recent independence referendum was the willingness of people throughout Scotland to discuss an important question – what kind of country do we want to be? – and begin to answer it, a process that continues to this day. It's a very good question, and one worthy of Mr Lloyd's attention, whether that country is Scotland or the UK.
I think we're in the middle of an institutional crisis. I don't have any answers, but step one is to acknowledge the fact and face up to it. Mr Lloyd's conclusion – that we must hang on to England, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that what looks extremely pear-shaped at the moment will turn out round in the end – is just giving up. I'm sure, with a bit of effort, he could do a lot better than that.
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