Catalonia and liberalism

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When I was invited to attend some election events in Barcelona, for the benefit of Catalonian candidate, Artur Mas, I confess that I was originally perplexed. How does a political party that outwardly wears its Catalonian nationalism on its sleeve be a model member of the Liberal family? After all, its election logo is a yellow heart that bleeds red stripes. This was a paradox that I hoped would be answered satisfactorily by the end of my stay.

All of the ELDR and Liberal International representatives met at a brief reception. I was proud to represent Alliance, and invariably I provided an update on the political and social situation in Northern Ireland, to those who wanted to know. This was also a good opportunity to make new political friends. For example, I had a very interesting conversation with a member of the Swedish Parliament, Christer
Nylander, who sits on its Finance Committee. We compared notes on each other’s local economies.

For the election rally, we were transfered by coach to an indoor arena. All of us guests were taken aback by the sheer numbers of people. It was about the size of the Belfast Odyssey, and there were easily 5,000 enthusiastic, devoted, flag-waving supporters. It had the atmosphere of a football match, with everyone supporting the same side.

I marvelled upon how so many people had decided to turn up for a Sunday evening event. But of course the reality was more instructive. The turnout was no accident. The way it works is that every party campaign officer of a smaller electoral area is told, “You’re getting a coach and it’s your job to find 100 people to fill it.”

The event itself was a mastery of organisation. Many of us said that it had the feel of an American political convention. There were three speeches, over 30 minutes each. If the first two speeches were the obligatory party pieces, the final and main speech by presidential candidate, Artur Mas, was one to motivate ‘los militantes’ (which I understand means more ‘activist’ and not violent anarchist!).

Artur Mas set out his vision for Catalonia under his presidency. He described Catalonia as a nation without a state, of a people with a positive, distinct culture, which predated the Spanish nation.

But what of Mas’ liberal credentials? He explained his three pillars of freedom, equality and social justice. I particularly liked his description of wealth — hoarded, it is not properly utilised; instead wealth is to be shared.

There was much for me to take in, and to be honest, I still had questions. For example, I could think of other well-financed and well-organised nationalist political parties who could hold similar spectacular events.

The picture was completed at a special international event the next day, for which we guests were the focus of attention. Here, it was the European party friends who explained why they were more than happy to have Convergencia (CIU) in the family. Artur Mas completed his vision to us in a speech.

In synopsis, it was explained how the Catalan movement decided some time ago — with entry into the EU — that its future lay in being a dynamic region. Furthermore, the more international, the better. Thus Mas’ pro-integration and pro-global development policies.

This embracing of the EU project didn’t sound unfamiliar to me. The Irish Republic exploited it for all its worth, for a long-lasting, positive change in its confidence of its future.

Likewise, we in the Alliance Party have been longstanding pro-European, arguing how Northern Ireland should use the project of a Europe of the regions to bring a new and positive focus for Northern Ireland.

I have to criticise other Northern Ireland political parties on this score. The DUP, Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein do not embrace Europe. Indeed, many times they outright shun it. While people associate the SDLP favourably with Europe, it’s a pity that its nationalist vision divides the people of Northern Ireland instead of bringing them together.

I left the weekend’s events in Barcelona with a belief that we in Alliance could have more in common with the new Catalan movement than we realise. While the people of Northern Ireland may not be a single nation, we are one society — presently divided — that should see how becoming more European and international in our outlook would bring a more prosperous future, not just economically, but as a society.

It is high time to recognise the futility of fighting for nationalism for nationalism’s sake, and that our collective future lies in our own positive and embracing vision of freedom, equality and social justice.

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