Many peoples are still looking to Scotland for hope on independence - Neale Hanvey MP
You could easily be forgiven for thinking that the cause of Scottish independence is solely the focus of those of us engaged with the constitutional question here in Scotland and rUK.
However, since Alex Salmond’s 2012 announcement of an independence referendum for Scotland in September 2014, peoples across the world have looked to Scotland for hope and inspiration as they navigate their own struggle to establish the case for self-determination and international recognition of statehood.
What’s happening (or not) in Scotland reverberates far beyond the shores of the British Isles.
During a busy Westminster summer recess I had the privilege of being invited back to Corsica for the 41st Ghjurnate Internaziunale in the Citadella di Corti.
The event was organised by Petru Tomasi, the national spokesperson of Corsica Libera, now the sole Corsican political party campaigning for independence for the former island republic.
Like many such struggles for independence, the campaign for Corsica’s future has been dogged by violence. But since the cessation of hostilities in 2015, the Party of the Corsican Nation (PNC) has moved down a gear and now seeks some form of devolution instead of re-establishing an independent republic.
While I have had some sympathy with devolution as a staging post on the journey to full autonomy, the French government now seeks to tie any devolution deal to the surrender of any future aspiration of Corsican independence.
Corsica Libera quite rightly fear this would place them in a constitutional straightjacket, like that used by the Spanish government to violently suppress and politically dismantle Catalunya’s declaration of independence in 2017.
Throughout the weekend, the gap between my terrible French and events was bridged by the excellent English of Sylvain Duez-Alesandrini, a member of the Corsican Nation.
Sylvain co-ordinates international support groups, organises efforts at a grassroots level in Paris, cultivates support from NGOs, lobbies foreign officials, co-ordinates activities at the United Nations, and co-ordinates visits from foreign diplomats.
He has the patience of a saint and a passion for Corsica built on his deep understanding of the history, betrayals of his people and their potential to build a better island nation away from a domineering and foreign French government.
Guest of honour at this year’s meeting was Laura Borràs (above), president of Junts, the party of exiled Catalan president Carles Puigdemont. Laura has served as minister of culture and most recently as president of the Parliament of Catalunya until 2022 when she was the subject of a politically motivated campaign to remove her.
However, she remains a leading figure in the Catalan independence movement and it was a real honour to chat with her and her daughter during the conference.
At present, in the absence of an absolute majority, Junts’s seven representatives have significant leverage on the constitution of a new government in Madrid and this has led to recent demands on acting PM Pedro Sanchez to grant an amnesty to Puigdemont and other party officials.
In addition to this, the current situation in Spain has put the Catalan national question back on the political agenda. I sensed hope mixed with trepidation from Conxita Bosch and Jordi Mirò, both stalwarts of Corso-Catalan solidarity, when we chatted though the implications for Catalunya.
How this develops in the weeks to come should be of interest to every independista the world over.
Among much other discussion, I want to highlight two other national causes. Each illustrates how comparatively fortunate and relatively close we are to independence in Scotland, yet they simultaneously warn us of how quickly an obstructive state can become an oppressive regime.
Berivan Firat, spokesperson for the Kurdish Democratic Council in France (CDKF), spoke powerfully about her country’s struggle for liberation in the face repression from established states. She also spoke of the frontline terrorist challenge from Daesh visited on the Kurdish people and of the loss of her own son to such hostilities.
I spoke to her in person about the terrorist attack on the CDKF offices in Paris in December 2022 which resulted in the loss of three Kurdish lives. It was a deeply moving chat with a remarkably brave woman and I will not forget it in a very long time.
It was also a real pleasure to catch up with Mourad Amellel, Conseiller du Président de l’Anavad from the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK). MAK now represents the Kabyle people in exile.
AS a movement, it opposes the efforts of the Algerian government to assimilate the remaining North African Berber ethnic groups into the Arab majority.
While political suppression has seen widespread arrest, torture, imprisonment and worse of peaceful academic and political activists, the MAK movement continues to engage actively with the UN to advance Kabylia statehood. The Kabyle provisional government, Anavad, and MAK presented the first draft of what will be the Federal Republic of Kabylia’s constitution in Paris on May 19, 2022.
The purpose of my attendance on Corsica was to speak about my ongoing efforts in the UK Parliament, and those of my Alba Party colleagues, to advance the case for Scotland’s right to self-determination.
I spoke of my initial response to the British Supreme Court ruling in my St Andrew’s Day Westminster Hall Debate last year and the moving of the St Andrew’s Day Declaration Early Day Motion and the purpose and UK constitutional context of my Private Member’s Scotland Self-Determination Bill, but the enthusiastic interest was in the legal opinion I commissioned from Professor Robert McCorquodale.
The significance and value of Professor McCorquodale’s opinion was not lost on those assembled from across the world. Its publication was welcomed as a coherent and powerful argument from an eminent authority that gives fresh weight to their ambitions by making clear that a democratic event doesn’t have to be a begged-for referendum and that the decision rests with the people, not the predecessor state.
In addition to the states-in-waiting, noted delegations from Tahiti, Euskal Herria (Basque Country), Guyana, Martinique, Kanaky, Sardinia and New Caledonia.
They all understand the importance the McCorquodale opinion carries for contesting the decision of any state’s Supreme Court though the lens of international law and the obligations placed on every signatory state.
They were collectively mystified that the Scottish Government has chosen to ignore such an important legal development, not least because it could so easily have pursued such an opinion before taking its referendum petition to the UK Supreme Court.
Following the meeting, I have been reflecting on the experiences set out above and can only conclude we can never afford to relax about the lengths a predecessor state will go to limit, restrict and deny our inalienable human rights to statehood without interference.
It was both humbling and energising to witness the work that I have had a leading role in developing bring hope and inspiration to people whose paths to independence may differ greatly in many ways, but whose movements are grounded on the fundamental principle that as distinct peoples of the world, we all share the unshakeable belief in the fundamental human right to self-determination.
Article first published in The National 11/09/2023