The Observer, by Kevin McKenna
Madrid wants to try a Catalan academic for sedition, but Scotland won’t let her go without a fight. It’s in the blood
Something in Scotland’s DNA seems to dictate that in the field of human conflict – and unlike the Swiss – our role is not to “haud the jaickets”. The words of Dr Vernon Johns, mentor to Dr Martin Luther King, should be emblazoned on the walls of those airport walkways bringing visitors to Scotland: “If you see a good fight, get in it.” I harbour no particular animosity towards Switzerland but have often wondered how a country can remain “neutral” when the foul forces of Nazism are brutalising countries all around it.
Not that “neutrality” prevented Switzerland from providing a safe landing for looted Nazi gold. Indeed, the more I think about it the more I find that I do harbour quite a lot of animosity towards the Swiss state. They must look at Scotland and say: “What a shower of delinquents.” This pleases me. For Scotland, neutrality is an alien concept. When we see a fight we do indeed “get in it”. We also like to export our aggression.
I couldn’t be entirely sure about the source of Scotland’s righteous belligerence. Indeed, there have been occasions when it hasn’t always been deployed in pursuit of the highest ideals. There were senior Scottish commanders fighting for and against Napoleon in the 18th and 19th centuries. The great Scottish seafarer John Paul Jones founded the US Navy and is revered in Russia for masterminding a famous naval victory for Catherine the Great.
Yet surely there are few who typify the Scots’ love of a right good fight more than Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald. Cochrane died in 1860 but not before he contributed to significant geopolitical mayhem among many countries and on several continents. He fought in the Napoleonic wars, where the Little General conferred upon him the elegant soubriquet “Le Loup de Mer”, the Sea Wolf.
In Chile and Brazil, his memory is cherished for his part in helping to lead rebel armies during each country’s wars of independence. During all this righteous violence, he also found time during a lull in the proceedings to jouk across to Peru and help its citizens obtain independence. Cochrane had a pure, mad, rebel heart. Not long after his exploits, several Scots fought for the Americans in the Texas Revolution of 1835-36.
In the Garden of Remembrance at the site of the battle of the Alamo, the pivotal moment of that war, a stone obelisk stands in memory of the Scots who fought and died with Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie against the army of the cruel López de Santa Anna.
I sometimes wonder if the final defeat of the Jacobite armies in 1745 had anything to do with all this wandering around the globe looking for a decent square go. For hundreds of years before Culloden, we had been in an almost perpetual state of war between the exploits of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the Young Pretender.
Even the peaceful interludes between their exploits weren’t all that peaceful, as clans fought each other for supremacy and influence. The crackdown following the ’45 meant that outbreaks of violence were dealt with swiftly and brutally. And so I wonder if an entire generation of men accustomed to fighting for everything in their lives simply couldn’t handle wall-to-wall peace and tranquillity and went off to participate joyously in other people’s uprisings.
In an Edinburgh court room this week and next, Scotland will be involving itself once more in a good fight in another country. The European arrest warrant by which Spain’s increasingly unhinged and reactionary government is trying to extradite Professor Clara Ponsatí to face charges of violent rebellion is meeting stiff Scottish resistance.
The 61-year-old professor of economics at St Andrews University had helped to organise a peaceful independence referendum in her native Catalonia and thereafter to serve in its short-lived government. The charge of violent rebellion follows those distressing scenes in which vicious packs of unarmed Catalan citizens attacked police shields and batons with their heads and left the boys in the riot gear bereft and traumatised.
The European Union’s response to Spain’s violent suppression of a peaceful act of democracy was predictable: “Just keep paying your dues and we’ll look the other way.” Among its member states there has been little desire to ask Spain to justify its violence and the draconian sentences handed to the leaders of Catalan independence.
No one has asked: “So why did you insist on violent suppression when you could simply have ignored the referendum and opted not to recognise it?”
Ponsatí’s fate will rest on the efforts of her Scottish lawyer, Aamer Anwar, and the rigorous application of Scots law and a legal system that can trace its lineage to the 12th century. In that Edinburgh courtroom, it won’t be Ponsatí’s conduct that will be scrutinised but the conduct of a country still, it seems, haunted by General Franco, another Spanish leader who attacked his own people.
During the Spanish civil war, 549 Scottish volunteers fought Franco and his fascists after he led a rebellion against the outcome of a democratic election. The volunteers were backed by funds raised in the grassroots Aid for Spain campaign in Scotland, which was among the republic’s biggest financial supporters at that time.
More than 80 years later, another Scottish grassroots fund is helping its adopted Catalan citizen escape the clutches of the successors to Franco. And Vernon Johns’s advice to Martin Luther King is being revived once more.