Tuesday, 15 December 2009

DIY democracy

There has been quite decent international coverage of the popular referendums on independence in Catalonia. This will be enough to anger the Spanish nationalists who believe that Spanish unity and sovereign integrity is somehow God’s will and indestructible. Nothing angers the Spanish political classes more than the “internationalisation” of the national conflicts of the Basque Country and Catalonia with Spain.

Just to recap, given that the Spanish state does not allow the Catalan parliament to vote on the issue of organising a referendum to allow Catalans to decide their own constitutional future, community associations throughout Catalonia have endeavoured to set up their own vote.

Of course, these votes have not legally binding since they are organised separately, and with the opposition of the Spanish state. Spain is home to an interesting form of democracy which revels in preventing the use of the ballot box. As we all know, “Spain is different”.

Anyway, after the referendum in Arenys de Munt, near Barcelona, took place despite the presence of Spanish fascists Falange, many other villages and towns set out to organise their own. This happenned last weekend, and the results are quite remarkable.

With an average of 30% turnout, marginally below European elections, about 95% voted in favour of independence.

Now, nobody says that all those who abstain at European elections are anti-Europe... But, surprise, surprise, in this referendum, organised entirely by volunteers and against the threat of legal action by the Spanish state against local authorities, a referendum without the resources of the State and without the support of the official media, the Spanish press equates failing to vote with opposition to independence.

But if they are so sure about it, if they are so convinced that an official referendum would endorse Catalonia remaining part of Spain..... why do they try so hard to prevent an official, legally binding referendum taking place? What are they afraid of?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The State against

The last few weeks have seen a major controversy in Catalonia.

The heirs of Agustí Centelles have sold his legacy to the Spanish Estate for a reported €700,000. The Generalitat de Catalunya could only bid €500,000.

The original negatives and the photo archive will now be transferred to the city of Salamanca.


That this will be the fate of Centelles’ lifework is a travesty of history but more than anything is a clear example of the precarious situation of Catalonia at all levels, politically, economically and culturally.

In the past, Franco and his fascists troops stole this kind of stuff so that it would be archived in the Archivo Nacional in Salamanca. Now, the Spanish state buys it off with the money they have pillaged from Catalonia thanks to a fiscal framework that starves Catalonia of resources to look after its infrastructure and public services, including museums.

It was ever thus. [BBC News]

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bring it on

In the end, it became an embarrassment.
After having the nation(s) worked up in a frenzy about the presence of Nick Griffin MEP, leader of the British National Party, in Question Time, it turns out that he is a political lightweight, a lame-duck panellist unwilling or unable to convey his views with any sincerity or even conviction. It was revealing in more than one way.

First, the decision to invite him to the program by the BBC.

It is understandable that many people were oppose to his appearance. It gives the BNP a platform to peddle their message of hatred and ignorant racism. However, whether we like it or not, the BNP has a number of councillors in England, and achieved 6% of the UK vote at the last European elections, resulting in two BNP MEPs being elected.
On that basis, the BBC did the right thing.

The lesson perhaps for militant anti-fascist campaigners is that we should not be afraid of giving people like the BNP a platform. Mr Griffin got challenged last night in a way he has not been challenged so far in his other BBC appearances on his own. By trying to prevent the BNP being invited to the BBC, the Left (whatever this means nowadays) gives ammunition to the sense of grievance and persecution that feeds the BNP at local, grassroots level.

Last night’s performance by Griffin was an embarrassment to his party and to himself.
There is nothing to be afraid of. Cambridge degrees are over-rated. Now, when are the Greens getting invited to Question Time?

What the anti-fascist movement and in general the Left, far-left or whatever we want to call it has to do is to challenge the BNP in local communities –and get elected representatives. It speaks volumes of the inability of the socialist/communists parties that the BNP can achieve 20% of the vote in some local communities, and even 6% at UK level, but the Left parties have no representation whatsoever, not even after a banking-induced crisis. And in Scotland, where the SSP managed to get 6 MSPs out of 135, they immolated themselves in typical Left fashion and now they have 1.

The performance
Nick Griffin lost his composure very quickly. He was unable to answer any question with any conviction or sincerity. When he was offered total judicial immunity by Jack Straw, Home Secretary, to explain his views on the Holocaust, he bottled it.

When it came to forced repatriation, something that is a key message of the BNP, he bottled it again.

Even when asked about what does he mean by “indigenous peoples”, he also crumbled, unable to muster any kind of coherent response. Well, I have no such qualms and I dare say that the “indigenous” peoples he means are white folk of British or Irish stock. Well, at least some progress is being made: now the Irish are in.

Throughout the programme, it appeared to me that he was just trying to explain what his party really stands for, and thus he failed to answer most questions. If I was a BNP supporter, I would be furious that such a precious opportunity has been wasted.

The others
Particularly, when the panel was nothing to write home about.
Bonnie Greer, admittedly someone I find slightly annoying, could not be bothered. She was like a car in second gear. I understand that for someone of mixed race sitting next to Mr Griffin must be quite repulsive but this should not be an excuse for ambivalence. That she managed to unnerve Mr Griffin saying so little and in such an half-arsed manner reveals how weak and feeble the BNP really is.

Jack Straw was in professional politico mode -a total turn-off. Failed to answer the question on immigration he was asked and failed to recognise that immigration is a problem for some communities, and that the Labour government has let these communities down by first failing to control immigration, failing to invest in these deprived areas, and failing to put a stop to the myths progagated by the BNP about immigrants’ benefits, rights and so on.

Baroness Varsi (I never thought I would see an Asian Tory peer, the world is changing really fast...) was also in professional politician mode. Her quote of “rights and responsibilities” made me cringe. Typical “compassionate Conservative” tone and discourse. How she can live amongst the Tories is beyond me.

Chris Humne for the Lib Dems was perhaps the most convincing (or least unconvincing) of the other panellist. He would have made a fine LibDem leader and I am not sure why he was not elected to the post.

The aftermath
In the aftermath of the debate, BNP supporters have come out in force and denounced the “lynching” or “witch hunt” to which Mr Griffin was a victim of.

And for what? For being given a rough time. For being challenged. Well, Blair was given a rough time too when he was called a war criminal and he put up with it and did not cry like a big blouse.
It just shows how feeble is the BNP threat that the scrutiny of a mediocre panel and amateurish audience is enough to send them home crying “foul”. It is a bit rich coming from the BNP to use words like mob or lynching –they irony seems to have been lost on them however.

Now he is demanding a repeat of the programme, and also a one-on-one debates with Jack Straw and also with Cameron. No less.

The problem is that Mr Griffin has already had a chance at the big time –and blew it. It did not make good television, and it did not show him up in a good light. Why asking for more punishment?

Because this is how the BNP thrives. By playing victim to a "far-left BBC conspiracy" (has he not read Mrs Flanders?) it is easier to go door-to-door in the deprived, working class neighbourhoods in England and point out how the establishment are protecting immigrants against the white English. The BNP will keep getting councillors elected, and probably will get another MEP next time. But that should not worry us too much. Are we naïve enough to think only 10% of the electorate in this country are racist?

BBC Links:

BBC News – Key extracts

BBC News – Mr Griffin complaints about a “lynch mob”

BBC News – voters’ reaction in Dagenham, London

BBC News – media reaction summary

BBC News - The BNP and the white working class

Best of the rest:

The Herald – 8m tune in,

The Times – writers’ review summary

The Independent – Outrage and not debate confronted Griffin, choked on publicity

The Daily Telegraph – his wife is right, the Italian models in the BNP’s leaflet

The Guardian – sympathy for the underdog, frontpage slideshow, facts,

Wikileaks closed down?

I am trying to access WikiLeaks but it is not working.

Anyone out there is able to connect to http://wikileaks.org or http://www.wikileaks.org

Yesterday, The Guardian had an editorial in praise of it…. could this be the death-knell for Wikileaks?

If I do a PING, it comes up with this result:

Update: 1900h: well, I don't know what happen but Wikileaks.org was down for about 2-4 hours between 2-5pm at least. It is now up and running. I am going to check up if I have any neighbours, currently or in the immediate future, in the BNP.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The uselessness of foreign correspondents

Apart from Robert Fisk, that is.

Today it was the final straw: foreign journalists covering Spain are quite a useless lot. Do they spend their time teaching Spanish part-time to make ends meet?

I understand that news are provided for a British readership but to accept that argument after the news coverage today is to accept that readers of British broadsheets are as braindead as tabloid readers.

Of all the things that have happened in Spain in recent weeks, the only one that got significant coverage in the UK press was the decision by the Catalan parliament to abolish “happy hour” and “irresponsible” drink promotions.

The Independent

The Guardian

The Telegraph

BBC News

Note: I will await until The Times’ journo catches up.

What about?

+ The corruption cases involving the PP in Mallorca and Valencia.

+ The independence referendums in Catalonia

+ The arrests of Basque politicians whose only crime was to meet up.

+ The banking crisis

But no, our collection of rent-a-word ex-pats decide to write back to their editors about some minor legislation about drinking. Dumbing down indeed.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Fascist inmpunity

One again, another Fascist aggression in Valencia by Spanish nationalists.

As ever, the Spanish Fascist gangs operate with total impunity in Valencia.

The Spanish authorities look the other way -as do many bloggers and Spain-based foreign journos.

I guess it is ok for some to beat the shit out of a Catalan activist in the name of Spain.

Racó Català [cat]

Friday, 9 October 2009

The lost decade

Sometimes I wonder why I blog when I enjoy more reading other people's bright and illuminating writing. Perhaps I should just post links to articles and blogs, like a policeman managing traffic at a busy intersection.

Over the last few months, Iain Macwhirter has written brilliant stuff for the Sunday Herald, particularly about the underlying causes of the financial crisis and the inability of the political class to confront the powerful financial services lobby, in particular the banks. He even seems to have stopped his partisan attacks against the SNP. Who knows, maybe one day Iain and other Herald journalists will see sense in Scotland becoming a normal state within the EU as opposed to remaining as an appendix of England…

This article about the imminent demise of the Labour party in the UK is poignant, coming from someone that used to be a party member while at University.

Sunday Herald

A few days ago, my father-in-law made the mistake of mentioning politics during our weekend visit for tea and biscuits. I went onto a rant about the lost decade and why Labour only has itself to blame for their forthcoming electoral disaster. I don’t think he will make such a blunder again and will stick to football and the weather from now on.

For the vast majority of working class Scots like my in-laws, a Tory government is synonymous with public service cuts, mass unemployment and the hated Poll Tax (in Scotland first). The Conservatives is “their” party. The party of the rich and wealthy. The party that will screw the working class living in (former) council houses. Labour is still, believe or not, the people’s party for the vast majority of working class Scots.

However, after 12 years of Labour rule –or was it New Labour- we can now assess what has been achieved. And, sadly for traditional Labour supporters, we know that things have not got much better.

If anything, things have got worse, and the current crisis will only exacerbate it.

Income inequality is now wider than 1997. People in higher incomes have done very well of Labour’s spell in power.


ONS [pdf, 800Kb]

IFS [ppt]

The working class have remained working for stagnant wages that prevented them from buying assets. These assets became more expensive as middle and higher earners accumulated financial assets and property, keeping them out of reach of lower income households.

Wealth distribution is now more unequal than it was in 1997.

Higher earners have accumulated a higher ownership of assets than ever before, namely property and financial assets thanks to the very generous tax breaks offered to them. Lower and lower-middle earners have not been able to buy assets, as prices keep escalating out of their reach. Thus the poor have stayed poor whilst the rich have become even more richer. The gap is now wider than it was in 1997. (Gini coefficient, ONS, wiki)



Social mobility is now more restricted than it was in 1997.

Access to tertiary education is now more expensive and difficult for families in lower incomes after the increase in tuition fees and the abolition of grants. Oxbridge and first tier Universities remain the preserve of privately educated, middle-class or wealthy families and any changes in access remain statistically non-significant.

Access to good state schools is now dependant on ability to buy property within schools catchment’s area, which is out of reach to any families in average incomes.

So Labour, the party that looks after everybody, the party that is on the side of the have-nots, and in favour of wealth redistribution has been a catastrophe for the very people it ought to have looked after.

It has been very good however to those in higher incomes who have been able to accumulate property (tax relief of interest), financial assets (tax gross up and relief on pension contributions at marginal rate, etc.)

And this is without mentioning the lies over the Iraq war, semi-privatisation of NHS, Post Office closures, etc, etc.

I am not advocating a vote for the Conservatives but anyone on average incomes who believes that Labour is going to be good for them needs to have a reality check. Sorry.

That's alright then...

Wow, big news today.

The director general of the Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional (the head of the Spanish police service) has agreed today that he will ensure that the linguistic rights of Catalan-speakers are respected by his subordinates so that Catalan people are not threatened and beaten up by Spanish police for speaking in Catalan.

Avui [cat]

This is happening in 2009 in Spain.

Something for Amnesty International to investigate?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Catalanophobia by the Partido Popular

I have written before about how the PP is a legacy party of yesteryear: founded by a Franco minister, and carrying on the banner of Spanish nationalism -unashamed.

What happenedthis week however, takes the biscuit for stupidity and bigoted prejudice.

October 9th is the day where Valencians celebrate the entrance of Jaume I [wiki] in the city of Valencia to expel the Moors. Jaume I repopulated Valencia with settlers from the counties from Lleida and the rest is history as they say, and that’s why Catalan is spoken in Valencia (or it used to be), where it is known as Valencian.

However, the political party currently in power in the Generalitat Valenciana is the Partido Popular. This, as I have written before, is a party with the ideological legacy of Franco’s Movimiento. Their ideology can be summarised by the dogmatic approach to Spanish unity and territorial integrity. So much so that calls to the Spanish Army to intervene to prevent a secession (by democratic means) of the Basque Country or Catalonia are heard with alarming regularity.

There has been so many demographic and political changes in Valencia that it has become a PP stronghold, with dire consequences for the future of Valencian language and culture.

On 9th October, the choir of the Generalitat Valenciana was scheduled to play the opera Roger de Flor [wiki] from Rupert Chapí, [wiki] a Valencian composer.

Except that the powers that be had decided to change the lyrics to take the word Catalan out and replace it with Valencian or Aragonese. Stanilist censhorship by the Spanish nationalist right. If this had happened elsewhere in Europe against any other cultural group, it would be front page news.

The play has now been suspended to avoid further embarrassment.

This is the nature of the main opposition party in Spain.

Once, again the legacy of fascism alive and well in the hands of the Partido Popular.

Links: Avui [cat], Vilaweb [cat], Racó Catala [cat], Público [cas]

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The legacy of Fascism in Spain (II)

It is official: the current Spanish political framework is a half-baked democracy hardly worthy of the name. I have written about it many times before, but today four unrelated events point to the same conclusion.

A few days ago, I wrote how a number of community-based associations in a small town near Barcelona had organised a popular vote so that people could express their view on whether Catalonia should be an independent state in Europe or not. The referendum does not aim to be a binding vote or claim any legal status or anything. It is just a local initiative, something they have done before for other issues with great success. It is just an opportunity to give people a voice and a chance to engage in politics.

However, a Spanish Fascist party, Falange, a party that is still operating legally, (unlike the radical Basque parties who are routinely banned) called for a demonstration to prevent the vote from taking place.

There are two issues with this:

1) That Falange is still a legal party in Spain is evidence of the asymmetric application of the infamous Ley de Partidos. If you are a radical Basque nationalist party, you get banned. But if you are a radical Spanish nationalist party, a self-declared Fascist party, you are within the law.

2) That the Fascist rally was allowed in the first place to coincide on the same date as a means to intimidate the local population into not voting.

But today, the nature of Spanish democracy was made clear when the Procurator Fiscal started proceedings so that the popular vote does not take place. This, let’s not forget, is a private initiative set up by a local community-based association.

Why does the Spanish judiciary have to get involved? Are there not more important matters for the Spanish state to worry about like the financial crisis and the rocketing unemployment?

So here we have it. Falange doing the dirty work for the Spanish state in intimidating the local community into not having a popular vote, and the Spanish state coinciding with Falange in not wanting the vote to take place. Two different ways, same objective: to prevent people from expressing their view.

Links: Avui (cat), Público (cas), VilaWeb (cat).

= = = = = = =

In a completely unrelated event, today it was made public another example of how Catalan-speakers are routinely treated as second-class citizens. It happened in Mallorca. A transcript of the events can be found here. (cat)

This is the situation. Passport control, the couple hand in their passports, but the Guardia Civil took exemption to the couple’s use of Catalan language. The guy is taken to the room and given a black eye and fined for breach of the peace.

This is a regular event in the Balearic Islands, where the Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional refuse to allow the public to use their own language (Catalan). Not for the first time, they react with violence. Will something happen to the Guardia Civil? No, he will be protected by his superiors and by the State. Spain in 2009: beaten up by the Guardia Civil for daring to speak in Catalan. Apparently, one of the Guardia Civils said to another: "the guy spoke in Catalan and he (the Guardia Civil) lost the plot". Disciplinary action? Investigation? Enquiry? Dream on.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

In another separate event that occurred earlier in the week, once again Catalan parliamentarians were prohibited from using their language in the Spanish parliament. In the Canadian, Belgian or Swiss parliaments, representatives can use their own native language. In the Basque or Catalan parliament, some parliamentarians use Spanish and there is not issue. But in the Spanish parliament only one language is allowed to be used by our political representatives: Spanish.

How can Spain claim to be an advanced democracy when Parliament, where our elected representatives meet, imposes the use of one language and discriminates against the others?

Where are now those supporters of bilingualism?

Link: Avui (cat), Público (cas)

= = = = = = = = = = =

And finally, an old topic.

I have written before how the Partido Popular is the ideological legacy party of the Movimiento.

The party is the continuation of Alianza Popular, which was founded by Manuel Fraga, a Minister during the Franco era, and other former Franco ministers. Partido Popular are a nationalist Spanish party and they do not hesitate to advocate the intervention by the Spanish Army to prevent the Basque Country or Catalonia from seceeding from Spain by legal means.

Not very democratic, is it?

Well, Manuel Fraga gave a speech in his local village in which he praised dictator Francisco Franco.

In Germany, this would be punished with a prison sentence. In Germany Fraga would have faced justice for his crimes during the dictatorship, for he signed off various death penalty sentences. But this is Spain: nobody has faced any justice for the crimes of the Fascist dictatorship.

Today, the PP can still laud the figure of Franco and nothing, absolutely nothing is done by the Spanish Prosecution Service (Fiscalía).

But, some political parties, only Basque radical nationalist parties mind, are banned under the pretence of a Ley de Partidos, which is only applied to one particular group of people.

Link: Público (cas)

= = = = = = = = = = =

Once again, the Spanish state, by its inaction or complicit action, provides evidence that it is an asymmetric democracy, where the rights of some minorities are continuously derided. Spanish democracy, far from being a model transition, is the legacy of a generation of politicians coerced by the military into a false new start. A generation too coward and too frightened to push for real democracy and a change of the status quo. In practice, Franco's dogma of a united Spain regardless of the will of its constituent parts still remains the central tenet of the legal and political system in Spain.

In effect, the means have changed, and there is certainly more freedom than during Franco’s era. Of course. It could not be any other way. But nobody should be grateful for having a second-rate democracy for there is something that has not changed. There is something that still today drives the Spanish state, something that is embedded into the Spanish legal and political framework as if it was its DNA: the mission to suppress the political and cultural identity of some of the nations and regions in order to achieve the complete unification and homogenization of Spain into a monolingual, single nation state based on the enforced use of Spanish language and the adherence to the dogmatic principle of the territorial integrity and unity of Spain under the terms set out by its dominant group, which include the use of the Army to enforce such terms (Article 8 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution).

This is not a 21st century democracy: it is just a cosmetic improvement on a rotten system which distills the same substance under a different flavour.

Update 07/09/2009: Well, you could not make it up. The solicitor representing the Spanish state (in effect acting for the procurator fiscal) is a former militant of Fascist party Falange. Público (cas) and Avui (cat). I told you so!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

How to destroy a community –and your reputation

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I have replaced the Video of the Month with a link to the “Keep Johnnie Walker in Kilmarnock” campaign. Please read the different pages of the site that explain the link between Kilmarnock and Johnnie Walker and how Diageo, the owners of the brand want to close Johnnie Walker’s bottling plant in Kilmarnock with the loss of 700 jobs. Johnnie Walker was a man from Ayrshire who started selling blended whisky in the town over 100 years ago. Kilmarnock and Johnnie Walker are like Detroit and cars.

With my wife being from Kilmarnock, I had been aware of the issue for many weeks but one thing or another kept me busy. There is far too many news to write about and then I get comments from people with very limited horizons who deserve to be put in their place.

Today however I was having my tea at home when Paul Walsh, CEO of Diageo came on TV in a BBC interview during Reporting Scotland at 1830h. His fake concern for the future of the town and the workers in Kilmarnock, his disguised threats, and above all this snooty bullying attitude enraged me. A not very good summary of the piece is available here.

The company, of course, has a section on its website about Corporate Citizenship.


Kilmarnock is a town of just over 45,000 people. Diageo is by far the largest individual employer after the local council. It employs about 700 people in the town plus many in indirect services. The people of the town are very proud of being the birthplace of Johnnie Walker and have worked hard to ensure Diageo is a profitable business. Diageo now want to close the bottling plant and leave 700 people out of a job and move the bottling operation somewhere else.

Today in the BBC, Mr Walsh came across as an arrogant man without a soul. This issue proves than Mr Walsh and his management team have not done their homework and have let themselves open for some very harsh questioning.

None of the stakeholders are free of blame in this story, but Diageo’s directors, being in charge of the company, have the ultimate responsibility.

Diaego’s senior management:

If there is a problem with the productivity of the Kilmarnock plant, relative to other plants or to the peer-group, the company ought to have identified it earlier. If this problem had been identified, then a working party could have been set up to look at alternative options. Admittedly, the location of the plant right in the centre of town must be a limiting factor when considering potential for growth, logistics of transportation, etc. However, the responsibility of the Directors is to ensure that the company remains profitable whilst looking after employees and the local communities in which the operate. In this regard, Diageo has failed four times:

1) It has failed to identify the problem in advance, and find a suitable solution.

2) It has failed to understand the importance to the town of Kilmarnock of the continuation of the plant.

3) It has failed to anticipate the level of public outrage and disbelief and the social irresponsibility to put forward such plans without first seeking alternative solutions.

4) Having failed at all the above, it has failed as well in understanding that relations with the workforce are difficult to improve after such destructive plans have apparently been agreed, and made public.

The local council:

The local authority, East Ayrshire Council, are not blameless in this sorry affair. Everyone with the most basic business knowledge knows that having a bottling plant right in the middle of town in an area of prime land is not sustainable. But the local council was complacent in the extreme and are now contemplating the loss of 700 jobs in the local economy. The second and third order impacts of the closure of Diageo’s operations in Kilmarnock will have repercussions for years to come. Higher unemployment, higher benefits count, loss of related employment in suppliers to the plant, etc. It is scary to consider what Kilmarnock will look like if the plant closes.

Anybody in the Council with half a brain should have anticipated that this would be a problem sooner or later. A working party would have been set up with Diageo. A brownfield site outside the town, with good access to the motorway or even better to the various freight lines around Kilmarnock could have identified and presented to Diageo’s management. That would have secured the future of Johnnie Walker in Kilmarnock for generations to come.

The local council has been Labour for decades and the SNP became the largest party only at the last elections. However, this is no excuse. Anybody in the SNP with business experience should have highlighted this to the previous Labour administration or done something about it since they took power of the council last year.

I strongly suggest that someone in the Council engages with Brusch-Barclay (the train business) to make sure that the physical location of the plant is not a constraint on growth and the long-term future of this business in Kilmarnock. If there has to be investment to relocate the facility so be it, if this guarantees its long term future. If Barclay closes, Kilmarnock will become like Motherwell, historically a heavy-industry centre, but now a place full of neds and alkies who live on benefits one generation after another. At present, Kilmarnock is not as depressing as Motherwell, but if the local council is not careful, it will happen.

Employees and the unions:

Last but not least, the unions.

If a workforce is unionised, the local union representatives have the responsibility to look after the long-term future of the employees and engage constructively with management and politicians to raise any concerns.

I don’t know the statistics for productivity, unauthorised absence, etc for this plant. But if they were poor, [management and ] the union should have identified the problem and react accordingly.

When people are not happy at work, they should leave for another job. As employee recruiting and training is very expensive, it will be in the best interests of employers and the owners of capital to keep such variable costs down.

When it comes to employee relations, the UK is probably at the bottom of Europe, probably in a par with Spain. On the one hand management often treat the workforce with contempt and as necessary nuisance. On the other hand, unions treat employers as if they were slave merchants and encourage employees to nurture grievances instead of resolving them. Whether it was the chicken or the egg first is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that the refractive behavioural dynamics that occur in the British workplace have to stop and someone has to make the first move. Since labour is now a globally interchangeable commodity, I would strongly suggest that it should be the trade union movement who takes the first step.

And if employers keep treating employees like crap, like some of them do, then I would suggest to the unions that they try running a business themselves via co-operatives or whatever legal structure, and pressing for a change in the law so that self-employment and small-medium enterprises are encouraged. At present, politicians are held by ransom by the big corporations who threaten relocate somewhere else unless they are given more tax breaks and incentives. If we had an economy less dependant on big employers and more reliant on SMEs, this bribery would not happen so regularly.

As far as I am concerned, if Diageo closes their bottling plant in Kilmarnock, the town that gave birth to Johnnie Walker over 150 years ago, it will have destroyed any credibility it had with regards to social responsibility, stakeholder management and being a good corporate citizen. When a business that relies on brand image so much sets out plans that tarnish its reputation, it is a sign that things can only go down from here. Despite today’s announcement, if this plan goes ahead, Diaego is definitely a sell.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Flimsier reporting

A few days ago, I wrote how foreign correspondents write newspaper articles devoid of any insight and sometimes accuracy when reporting on political developments.

Last Tuesday, the FT carries an article about Spain signed by Victor Mallet, who seems the be the only person who writes about Spanish politics in the FT. Newspaper AVUI provides a decent summary translation and gist of the article.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to the FT. I doubt it will be published.


Dear Sir,

It is with despair that I read another article about Spanish politics by Mr Mallet in which he once again limits his sources to the Spanish nationalist side of the debate.

May I ask what knowledge or experience does Mr Mallet have of current Spanish politics whilst being the FT correspondent in Asia? In any case, despite or because of his experience as Madrid correspondent, I am afraid Mr Mallet does what he does best: recycling the usual protestations from the Spanish press like El Mundo, ABC, El Pais, etc, without providing any alternative viewpoint or ideological framework outside the Spanish-centric rhetoric he borrows from his [Spanish] friends in Madrid.

First, the alleged “high-cost of Spanish devolution”.

Funnily enough, there is never any mention of the cost of devolution in Germany or Belgium or Switzerland, each of which allows its Länders, “communities” or cantons far greater powers than Catalonia could ever have under the 1978 Spanish Constitution. Mr Mallet does not provide any source for this claim, let alone empirical data.

Then an often-repeated claim: “
The regions absorb about half of all public spending (…)leaving only about one-fifth of outgoings under the direct control of the centre”.

Well, since most services are delivered locally, by either local councils (ayuntamiento) or regional governments (CCAA) it is quite normal that 50% of expenditure is allocated to the administrations that actually deliver services to the public. If anything, I find quite astonishing that central government is plundering 20% the budget providing what services? Perhaps Mr Mallet should explore why central government has a series of bloated departments for powers that have been devolved to the local and regional administrations for two decades now. I think fiscal pressure on Spanish businesses and households could be lowered if they do away with central government duplication.

Mr Mallet then goes on quoting Mr Anson, a known right-wing Spanish nationalist. His tenure as the Editor of ABC and La Razón were marked by his aggressiveness profound antipathy towards anything Catalan. Then another source, this time from El Mundo newspaper.

The problem with Mr Mallet is that his sources are all one and the same: aggressive Spanish nationalism intent of suppressing Catalan or Basque culture and “assertiveness” in the name of a mythological Spanish unity that fails to recognise the right of self-determination for the people of Catalonia or the Basque Country and their ability to decide their own future without any interference. The same obsession that occupied Franco for 40 years.

Mr Mallet writes “Cultural separatism can be seen in the promotion of local languages in schools and other areas of public life, particularly in Catalonia.”.

Local languages are not promoted, they are used with normality by the public and the administration –whenever they are not banned as we have witnessed so often in Spanish history. Would Mr Mallet write that French is promoted in French schools? Of course not. French schools use French and Catalan schools use Catalan. It is what is normal. This of course, as Mr Mallet accurately points out, sparks heated protests from Spanish nationalists. At least they are not sending the tanks –not yet anyway, although I wonder what Mr Anson would think about it.

Next time the FT writes an article about Spanish politics, for the sake of completeness and good journalism, could someone please bother to travel to Barcelona or Bilbao and find out what the other side of the argument is? It is not much to ask.


Update Friday 21 August 2009:

Well, they did not publish my letter -too many spelling mistakes and bad grammar probably... but they published a brilliant reply by someone else.

Sir, Regarding your article about Spain (“Flimsier footings”, Analysis August 19), I write as economy and organisation deputy mayor from one of the most dynamic of Catalan cities that shares most of your points of view about growth, values, political accountability and competitiveness.

I could reply to your assessment of the political problem of Catalonia and our obsession with our language, political power and money, which is quite inaccurate to say the least. Instead, let me reply by saying that you are absolutely right: we are a real problem for Spain, and as we believe in competitiveness, productivity and a prosperous future in the way you do, I conclude that the best and only way for Spain, Catalonia and Europe to achieve a promising future and to contribute to the world economy is through our independence from Spain.

Thank you very much for such valuable insight.

Jordi Joly Lena,
Economy and
Organisation Deputy Mayor,

Sant Cugat del

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The legacy of Fascism in Spain

These days I hardly write about Catalan politics. It is far too depressing and it only serves to highlight the absolute mediocrity of Catalan politicians, and their treacherous cowardice falsely disguised as pragmatism and prudence. Even those with a mandate to pursue more sovereignty have betrayed their electorate and opted for the gravy train instead of sticking to their principles. Shame on them.

But every now and then, there is an event that defines the ideological framework of Spanish democracy and reveals the extent of the sub-standard democratic nature of the Spanish post-Franco politics. I have wrote about it before. [Spain]

This time, the issue is again the asymmetric application of the law in Spain.

If you are familiar with Spanish politics, you will know that the Spanish state has banned the political wing of the Basque radical movement. This party used to be known as Herri Batasuna, Batasuna, etc… it has changed name and organisational structure a few times but it does not matter: Spain keeps banning the political wing of the radical Basque pro-independence movement so about 10-20% of the electorate, depending on the area, are unable for vote for the political party of their choice. Talk about democracy. This is done under the pretence of a law called “Ley de Partidos”.

There is a problem with this law however. It has only been applied to one side: those pursuing Basque self-determination.

In Spain, there is a fringe party called Falange Española de las JONS [wiki]. Falange is perhaps one of the first Fascists parties in Europe. They were Franco’s party. A Fascist party that was the only party allowed during 40 years. Nowadays, there are many other parties with a similar ideology to this one and they are perfectly legal. They advocate racist policies, a return to Fascist Spain, abolition of self-government, suppression of official recognition of other languages like Catalan or Basque, etc.

Next month, a town north of Barcelona is going to organise a non-binding referendum where the question to be asked is whether Catalonia should be an independent state in Europe or continue as part of Spain. The referendum has been approved by the local council by a majority of elected representatives.

But a Spanish Fascist party,
Falange Española de las JONS, has called for a rally against this popular vote. A party with no representation whatsoever in the town, and with fringe representation in Catalonia, has made a call to supporters to demonstrate against the referendum. Fascists thugs and skinheads will be bussed from other areas of Spain to descend into Arenys de Munt, near Barcelona, with the declared intention of preventing local residents from expressing their view on the constitutional future of Catalonia.

At the same time, the Spanish judiciary has prohibited any rallies organised by radical Basque pro-independence movement in Bilbao during the local fiestas, as it has been happening since the end of Franco’s dictatorship. The local comparsas (similar to brass bands, local groups who participate in the festivities), fed up with the interference of the Spanish state in their local fiesta have called for a demonstration in favour of freedom of expression and democracy. These people have no operational link to Batasuna so we will have to wait and see if this one will also be banned or not.

So here we have it:

1) Basque separatists which command about 10-20% of support in the Basque Country are not allowed to exercise their freedom of association and expression through the orchestrated actions of the Spanish government and the judiciary. They are illegalised and unable to get political representation;

2) Spanish Fascists, with sub-marginal representation in Catalonia are allowed to march through the streets of a small town to intimidate their residents into not taking part in a non-binding consultation about the future of Catalonia and Spain.

As I have written before, it is blatantly obvious that the Spanish state condones and allows the development and activities of some radical groups and prohibits the activities of others. It all depends whether you are a Spanish radical nationalist or a Basque radical nationalist. Another example of the asymmetric nature of Spanish democracy.