Catalan Independence Could Reverberate Far Beyond North-Eastern Spain

It may have gone unnoticed by the majority of the international media, but a decision taken by a regional Parliament in north-eastern Spain in the last week could have a profound effect on the future of both Europe, and the world. The Catalan government have set out their long awaited roadmap to a unilateral declaration of independence for Catalonia; despite all of the various and extensive attempts by the Spanish establishment to keep Catalonia in Spain at all costs. Since 2009, a series of referenda across the separatist region have shown overwhelming support for an independent Catalan state – most noticeably a 2014 referendum, which put support for independence at 80%.

With a weakened Spanish government and a strong mandate for independence, Catalonia has never been in a better position to wrest its future from Spain. However, both Catalan independence and the nature of it could have far-reaching consequences for Europe, the European Union and the world at large.

Most notably, it will have vast and destabilising effects on the Spanish state as a whole. Catalonia represents around 20% of the country’s economy, and considering the current state of the Spanish economy the resultant uncertainty and loss of business and industry would cause a severe, deep, and long-lasting recession. 16% of Spain’s populace reside in Catalonia, and so Catalan independence would further reduce Spain’s attractiveness as a marketplace and decrease the likelihood of businesses relocating to Spain. With a huge national debt and the inevitable uncertainty that would follow Catalan independence for Spain, the cost of borrowing for Spain’s government will increase, pushing up interest rates and crowding out private investment – increasing the risk of further bailouts.

Further political uncertainty in Spain would be highly likely as a direct result. Separatist movements in the Basque Country (including the states of Basque Country and Navarre) and Galicia will be emboldened at the prospect of the planned Catalan secession, and its unilateral nature will provide other separatist movements in Spain with a roadmap to independence. Additional concern for the government will be the future of the Valencia region – with a significant Catalan and pro-Catalan populace potentially demanding future unification with a pan-Catalan state. Considering the federal nature of the Spanish state, potential destabilisation is a serious threat to the integrity of the country as a whole – particularly considering their present political and economic uncertainty.

Catalan independence will have a serious impact on the map of Western Europe, in ways that we haven’t seen since the stabilisation of European borders following World War II. As well as the massive impacts on Spain, Western Europe will feel Catalan independence most acutely. French Catalans would be enticed by the prospects of a pan-Catalan state; while they have not previously been as politically active as their Spanish compatriots, a unilaterally declared independent Catalan state on the borders of French Catalonia would undoubtedly lead to demands in Southern France for unification between the Catalan regions.

Additionally, in the same way that Spanish separatist movements will be emboldened by a unilateral independence declaration, independence movements across Europe will receive a boost. Scottish independence was tipped to spark separatism in Flanders, Brittany and Bavaria, but the consequences of a unilateral declaration in Catalonia against the will of a hostile state will be far more far-reaching. The independence movements in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Flanders and Bavaria – as well as many others across Western Europe – will be boosted, and more established separatist areas like Northern Cyprus, Kosovo and Abkhazia will have a renewed legitimacy for their own unilaterally declared independent states.

The diplomatic consequences will also be far-reaching. Recognition of the Catalan state will be vitally important for it to be able to succeed and for it to gain access to organisations like the United Nations. However, this recognition would be in direct contravention of the wishes of the Spanish government, and as such the likelihood of an unrecognised de facto independent state in Western Europe would become a genuine prospect. The Catalan state could end up in the same sort of diplomatic quagmire that surrounds Palestine, Kosovo and Taiwan. Economic turmoil in Spain would raise further questions about Spanish membership of the Euro and the EU as a whole, and we could see the same sort of debates about ‘Spexit’ as we did over Grexit.

Internationally, the prospect of Catalan independence would likely lead to the continuation of the independence movements suppressed over the last twenty years, and may spark a run of newly unilaterally declared independent states not seen since the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In addition, if Catalonia is successful in its pursuit of unilateral independence and in securing recognition thereafter, then we may well see the return of unilateral declarations of independence in the long run as a legitimised method of secession.

Catalan independence is likely to send ripples through the international community that will have a profound impact on Western Europe, the European Union and the world. Indeed, separatists in Scotland would undoubtedly take heart from the prospect of Catalan independence. On the other hand, the risk of international reverberations is not a reason to oppose an independent Catalan state.

Catalonia has an economy the size of Ireland’s and an independent Catalonia would come in at the 40th largest economy in the world. Their economy (unlike Scotland’s which is of a similar size) is based on a diverse mix of tourism, financial services, and manufacturing. Catalonia has its own stock market, and significant pre-existing infrastructure. It is also relatively populated and contains one of the world’s largest and most prosperous cities in Barcelona. Culturally, Catalonia is very different to Spain – Catalan people identify as Catalan and they have their own language. All of this together, means that there is a compelling case for an independent Catalonia; regardless of the international effects.

It may not be in the international media, but Catalan independence could spark the largest change in the international landscape in recent times – either way, the state of Catalonia seems to be marching inexorably towards independence, and if it does go down this path of unilateral independence that its Parliament has laid out, then Europe, the EU and the world will feel the effects reverberate out from North-Eastern Spain.


The Legacy of David Cameron

The premiership of David Cameron has seen a lot of firsts. History will smile on Cameron as the Prime Minister who launched a series of liberal reforms to rival many of his contemporaries; history will also remember him as the safe hand on the rudder who stabilised the British economy following one of the worst recessions ever. In his six years as Prime Minister, Cameron led the first coalition in post-WWII Britain and he delivered the first Conservative majority government since 1992. While in the short term memory Mr Cameron will be remembered as the PM who lost the EU referendum, let’s have a look at his real legacy.

A major part of David Cameron’s legacy will be the stability he brought to politics during his six years at the helm. In May 2010 the country was thrust into new territory and political uncertainty – with no party remotely close to holding a majority. The fact that the Coalition Government (2010-2015) was such a remarkable success shows us acutely one of Mr Cameron’s major strengths: his ability to unify diverse political ideas into a coherent policy platform. It also showed his unique diplomacy and willingness to compromise – although credit in equal measure is owed to Nick Clegg.

As Prime Minister, Cameron put direct democracy back into the mainstream. The AV Referendum of 2011 gave the entire country the chance to choose our electoral system for the first time in our history. In 2014 he gave the Scottish people the opportunity to decide on their collective destiny in an independence referendum. The referendum of 2016 may have seen the end of his premiership, but the simple fact is that his leadership saw the British people given the chance to answer the European question for the first time since 1975, and throughout his premiership he promoted direct democracy.

Cameron’s Britain will be remembered as one which underwent massive economic recovery. The economy in 2016 does not remotely resemble the economy he inherited in 2010. Unemployment is down, the deficit is down, and there are more businesses. The economy is strong enough to commit 0.7% of National Income to foreign aid spending – enabling vital projects in other countries. Economic reforms have enabled Cameron to lift some of the poorest people in our country out of the tax bracket, and reforms to introduce a national living wage have seen the lowest paid in society receive a pay increase.

In his liberalising reforms, however, we see David Cameron’s true legacy. Every time a same-sex couple celebrates their love for one another in a marriage ceremony – that is David Cameron’s legacy. Equality before the law, regardless of your sexuality – that is David Cameron’s legacy. When a young student chooses to go into an apprenticeship rather than university – that choice and ability to pursue vocational opportunities is David Cameron’s legacy. Every school that is free to set its own curriculum and is empowered to act in the best interests of its students – that is David Cameron’s legacy. Every extra pound in the pockets of the poorest, from tax cuts, the living wage and reduced government waste – that is David Cameron’s legacy.

Under David Cameron our schools have improved, our justice system has become fairer, our economy has become stronger. During David Cameron’s premiership our universities have become more self-sufficient, our government has become less wasteful, our government deficit has halved. As Prime Minister, David Cameron oversaw reforms to make our country more secure, to give our people more of a voice, and to make our poorest richer.

David Cameron leaves office with a legacy to be proud of. History will certainly remember him with fondness. His legacy is a Britain which is richer, which is stronger, and which is fairer.

Brexit Means Brexit – How Theresa May Should Make It Work

When Theresa May took office yesterday afternoon, her opening speech set out a series of radical reforms to Britain that she will deliver over the next four years. Arguably her most important statement of the last week, however, is the one she made on Tuesday: ‘Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it’. With the appointments of David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to her cabinet early on, it is clear that that statement was more than hyperbole, so here is what Theresa May might consider doing to ensure that Brexit does indeed mean Brexit.

If we are to deliver the Brexit that the country voted for, then we need to get everyone rowing in the same direction. Brexit requires real unity if we are to make it work, and securing that unity will be one of Mrs May’s toughest challenges. Within the Conservative Party (both its Parliamentary members and the membership as a whole), Theresa May has already embarked upon her unity drive. To continue to secure that unity, May will need a Cabinet which encompasses the most competent MPs from both sides of the Remain/Leave divide, and she will need to convince Party members that she is truly committed to delivering on Brexit.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be included and consulted as part of the negotiations on how our post-Brexit relationship with the EU will look. We are a family of nations in the United Kingdom – sometimes in a family decisions get made that not everyone agrees with, but what we must do now is ensure that we have an open and honest dialogue with all of our regions to ensure that we get a Brexit that works for all of us. The appointment of Ruth Davidson to the Privy Council last night was an interesting signal that there will be a cross-nation Brexit team, however it remains an important fact that – whether you like her or not – Nicola Sturgeon must have a representative at the table if we are to ensure true unity post-Brexit.

Many young people feel let down by Brexit, and it is they who will be affected by the future direction this country takes. We need to involve young people in the Brexit process – remembering that a significant number of (albeit less vocal post-referendum) people aged 18-24 voted to Leave as well as those who voted Remain. It would make sense, therefore, for May’s government to create a body of young people who could be consulted on the negotiations and the sort of package young people want to see delivered. MPs are, by the nature of life and their jobs, not able to be in touch with the Students’ Unions and the classrooms to the same extent that young people are. If we created a panel of young people, from both the Leave and Remain camps, who could go out and garner opinions on the best post-Brexit strategy for young people, then we would ensure unity in one of the most affected groups, and it would also be a terrific statement by Mrs May, that in her government, young people have a voice.

A Parliament united behind the Brexit package is so much more powerful than one fighting over every little amendment. To garner Parliamentary unity is no easy thing – as the Cameron/Clegg coalition premiership showed us – but garner it we must if we are to deliver a Brexit that will unite the country. Just as with all of the groups in our society being included, and all of the nations in our country being included, all of the parties in our Parliament must be included in the decision about what sort of deal to pursue. Including members from Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP and all of the other Parliamentary parties would be another bold statement from Mrs May that Brexit is bigger than party politics.

The Brexit that Theresa May delivers will define her premiership. Regardless of whatever else she delivers, she has been charged by the Conservative Party with securing the best deal for Brexit and her legacy will depend on that deal. She needs to deliver unity to a divided nation – removing hatred towards others (be they of a difference race, class, gender or political position), dismissing this idea of ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’, and delivering a Brexit that works for all. As Theresa May says, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – if she’s going to make a success of it, then we need unity now more than ever.

Theresa May is the Unity Candidate We Need

In the next couple of months thousands of Conservative Party members will have to choose between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom to be Prime Minister. This is not Referendum II, it is not a choice between Remain and Leave – after all, both candidates have promised to deliver Brexit. If you were a Leave voter, do not write off Theresa May because she voted Remain; likewise if you were a Remain voter, do not write off Andrea Leadsom because she voted Leave.

This leadership election seems a relatively simple choice. Both candidates are committed to delivering a Brexit we can all get behind and both candidates are offering a relatively similar policy platform. What we are voting on, is who we think is best placed to enact that platform.

Theresa May is the candidate to unite the Conservative Party. With the backing of 199 MPs from across the Leave/Remain spectrum, it is clear that May commands the support and respect of a significant majority of her colleagues – which is vital in the process of reuniting a divided Party and a divided Parliament, and getting them behind a plan for the future of our nation. When you look at the current state of the Parliamentary Labour Party, it should not be underestimated how important a unity candidate is in this leadership election – Theresa May is that unity candidate.

Arguably even more important at this time of uncertainty is experience. As we sail HMS Britain into new and uncharted waters, do we want a captain who has previous experience as a first mate, learning from the previous captain, or do we want a captain who has brief experience manning the oars but considerable experience as a passenger? Theresa May has been Home Secretary for the same length of time that Andrea Leadsom has been an MP. May has considerable experience in the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet and on top of that she has 19 years of legislative experience in Parliament; whereas Andrea Leadsom has no experience in the Cabinet or the Shadow Cabinet – she has only had 2 years of experience of any form of government role, during which time she was described as the ‘worst minister ever’.

If we are looking for a firm hand on the rudder, then Theresa May is the obvious choice. Indeed, the choice between one of the longest serving Home Secretaries and the ‘worst minister ever’ seems an obvious one. People will point to Leadsom’s considerable experience in the private sector – but with significant elements of that experience under question, it is not clear that she is overly qualified. In addition, private sector experience does not qualify you to be Prime Minister – otherwise everyone in a board room would be running for the job – and now is not the time to have a Prime Minister who is learning on the job.

It is a time of uncertainty we face, and that is not a period in which we need an anti-establishment candidate. It is not a period in which we need a candidate with little experience and no record. It is not a period in which we need a candidate with questionable tax affairs. It is not a period in which we can afford a candidate whose media gaffes are either the result of naivety or incompetence – or perhaps a genuine belief that being a parent is a requisite requirement to occupy Number 10.

There is a clear choice in this leadership election. A choice between experience and inexperience. A choice between a candidate with a cool demeanour in the media – and one who seems prone to gaffes. A choice between the person who was the Minister for Equalities who championed equal marriage – and a candidate who questions it.

We need a candidate with experience. We need a candidate to unite our country behind a Brexit tolerable to both Remain and Leave voters. We need Theresa May.

Why Michael Gove Should Be The Next Prime Minister

Michael Gove’s combination of liberal Conservative politics and experience of high office make him the ideal candidate to be our next Prime Minister. He opened his campaign with a speech which represented the sort of positive and optimistic view of Britain’s future we need, and within that vision we saw Mr Gove’s ambitions to continue and extend David Cameron’s agenda of liberal reforms.

In his plan for Brexit, we see the sort of positive, globalist ambitions that Britain must embrace to succeed in the future. Michael Gove wants Britain to use this opportunity given to us by the referendum to make our country a global player once again – a leader in science, education, business, and in every other possible aspect. He believes that we need to become an even warmer, tolerant and inclusive country than we are at the moment, and at this moment when division is striking at the very core of our society and politics is setting friend against friend, neighbour against neighbour – it is a message of tolerance and inclusiveness that we need to see.

If you believe that Britain can do better, then Michael Gove is your candidate. What we saw in his opening speech was a conviction politician discussing the reforms he so passionately wants to bring to make this country a better place. He has, in his own words, ‘a belief in human potential’, and now more than ever we need a Prime Minister with such a positive, liberal reformist agenda. Gove will strength our family of nations with a plan to treat our devolved countries with respect – a vote for Michael Gove is very much a vote for unity and togetherness.

When Mr Gove speaks of liberal reforms, when he speaks of creating a better, more tolerant, more equal society, he means it. These are not just empty words but commitments. When Michael Gove talks of renewing our democracy, of reforming our capitalist system, of creating a new relationship with the European Union and the world based on trade and cooperation, these are not just empty slogans but real, empirical commitments to the British electorate. We need a liberal reformer with the conviction to act in all of our best interests – Michael Gove is that candidate.

With six years of experience in the Cabinet, Mr Gove is well placed to step up and lead this country. In his time as Secretary of State for Education, Chief Whip and Secretary of State for Justice, he has built a record of delivering the reforms desired by the Prime Minister, and that experience means he will be a capable PM from day one – understanding exactly what the role entails. He also has the advantage of not being just another career politician – Gove is a journalist who decided to go into politics, not for career, but because he thought he could make a difference.

Not a careerist but an intellectual who became a conviction politician to help people. That is the message to take away from the Michael Gove campaign – a vote for Mr Gove is one to help the people who have suffered from our current system. A vote for Mr Gove is one for the liberal reforms we need to see in this country. A vote for Mr Gove is one for someone who worked his way from a working-class background in Aberdeen to Oxford University, to a successful career in journalism, and ultimately, to a position where he can make a difference to people and ensure that opportunity exists for every person in this country, regardless of their circumstances or their background.

In Michael Gove we have a leadership candidate who is modest enough to know his limitations. He has often spoken of his desire not to be Prime Minister, which is why many are throwing archived footage at him as a reason not to elect him leader. It is actually another reason why he would make an excellent Prime Minister. A Gove premiership would be one led by a man who knows his strengths and his weaknesses – it would be one based on teamwork, cooperation and delivering things together. Less a premiership, and more a captaincy.

A vote for Michael Gove is a vote to bring far-reaching liberal reforms to our country – to bring opportunity and its benefits to millions more in our society. A vote for Michael Gove is one to deliver a global Britain – trading and cooperating with the world. A vote for Michael Gove is one for respect, unity and tolerance – at a time when we so desperately need those values. We need a passionate, principled, compassionate Prime Minister who can build on David Cameron’s legacy of reforms. Michael Gove is the heir to that legacy, and that is why Michael Gove is the best candidate to become the next Prime Minister.