Lousy Stock, or Dumped on by England?

Overheard a bloke in the pub this evening telling his girl that lower Glasgow life expectancy – 15 years less than the UK average – was traceable from grandparents through parents to children. I don’t know whether he was merely quoting this analysis, or actively wanting to promote it, and to my shame I bottled out of asking him, but if it’s being used as an explanation of Scottish disadvantage then it’s a pernicious interpretation. It means that lower life expectancy is genetic; it’s simply part of being Scottish. Scots come from lousy stock, there’s nothing they can do about it, and they obviously can’t run a country with these short life-spans hanging over them. “Too poor, too wee, too stupid and too short-lived.”

The study he was referring to seems to be this one. Its key sentence is:

Conclusions: Males and females in most of the larger ethnic minority groups in Scotland have longer life expectancies than the majority White Scottish population.

The alternative explanation, that Scottish health outcomes and life expectancies have been systematically bashed into the ground by centuries of English political orthodoxy and sycophantic Scottish governmental institutions, is widely judged correct, and gets an airing here.

You pays your money, you takes your choice. And then you does something about it.


Definitely no pals at Pacific (updated)

Response from BBC Scotland: “We couldn’t be arsed. Now go away.”

And this from an outfit that is still recovering from the public relations disaster of messing with Wings Over Scotland’s YouTube channel!

Oh, well.

Mr Ian Small
Head of Public Policy
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay

Dear Mr Small,

I’m offended by the enclosed response that I’ve received from the Editor of “Reporting Scotland”, and I think you should be concerned about it too. It’s a public relations disaster: she hasn’t been sent half the information (two charts), she refuses to read the other half (online supporting data), she makes a cheap jibe at my using the wrong name for the UK-wide broadcaster, and she ignores the main question (which was “Please explain your policy”).

In an article in The Scotsman on 20th August, you wrote, “We want to engage, constructively, in dialogue with those who question our journalism or are suspicious of our decision-making.” In this instance, you failed spectacularly to do that.

When Scotland becomes independent, this way of treating your customers will not look good. I would welcome it if BBC Scotland could engage with the issues I raised.

Yours faithfully,

Derek Rogers

Editor, “Reporting Scotland”
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay
Dear Editor,

I thank you for your reply to my letter to BBC Audience Services asking why you discriminated against some political parties. While I welcome your personal engagement with this topic, I don’t think your response will do, for reasons which I give interleaved below.

Best regards,

Derek Rogers

Their response in detail:

Dear Derek

Reference CAS-5126206-61V30W

Thank you for your correspondence. Your comments were passed to the Editor of Reporting Scotland. who has asked that I forward her response as follows:

“Thank you for writing to BBC Audience Services about various ‘leaders’ interviews in September and October when party conferences were being held.

In these interviews, you say “you did not reflect the respective strengths of political parties in Scotland, and you discriminated against some politicians.”
— I did say that, and I note that you don’t challenge it. Does that mean that you concede this point?

You further say “your interview times were roughly similar for all four parties”. That is as it should be – at the time of a party’s annual conference we endeavour to provide for all main parties parity of coverage of the conference as a whole and of any leader interviews we may do within or around that coverage.
— It is not as it should be. Coverage should reflect the relative strengths of the parties.

— The interviews were not “at other times”, so the paragraph which follows is irrelevant.
At other times, news judgements are more likely to drive editorial decisions – so that if a party is in government it is more likely to find itself being questioned than other parties because it is initiating policy for the respective legislature to pass into law. This is the case for the SNP in government in Scotland, as it was for Labour and the Liberal Democrats in previous administrations in Scotland; and it is also the case for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when they are or have been in power in the UK. The views of other parties are, of course, also sought and reported.

You suggest that for big stories from across the country, licence fee payers “will look not to yourselves but to BBC London”. I somehow doubt that, as BBC London serves London and some surrounding areas as a vibrant local station.
— I clearly meant the UK-wide broadcaster, in contrast to the Scottish broadcaster. Your response is a cheap jibe that demeans you.

I am afraid I do not understand your reference to “turn-lengths”, as in “the reduced turn-lengths for Blackford and Corbyn, at 11 percent and 7 percent respectively of the total relative turn-lengths for all speakers”.
— In all conversations, speakers take turns: one speaks and stops, and then another speaks. The length of a “turn” can be measured (usually in seconds). If six speakers are treated equally, they will each get one-sixth (17 percent) of the total turn-lengths. Blackford and Corbyn did not.

You also refer in your bar chart 2 to “interruptions” and “hostile comment” which are subjective labels with no measurable standards – an “interruption” can be by an interviewer attempting to get the interviewee to answer a question, a “hostile comment” might be a challenge to justify a statement.
— These are not subjective labels: I laid down objective criteria for them, which I described under “Methodology” in the supporting data. I enclose a copy.

The bar charts which I have received are in monochrome with no legends and therefore tell me nothing – so unfortunately I cannot comment on them. You have supplied a link to an unverified external source: we do not open such sources.
— The paper copies of the bar-charts that I sent to Darlington were in colour and had legends; if they didn’t reach you, you should complain to them. The charts are publicly available at:
— indyref2.scot (blog-post of October 12th)
— scotlandisdifferent.wordpress.com (blog-post of October 12th)
http://www.derek.uk (click ‘BBC’ at foot of front page – the directory is no longer hidden)
http://www.derek.co.uk (as above)
If your policies do not allow you to access any of these sites, I will send you paper copies.



You say in your concluding paragraph “Your disfavouring of the SNP leaves me, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that I have a grievance”. The SNP is not being “disfavoured” and therefore I believe you “wrongly” have the feeling that you have a grievance.
— I still have the feeling that I have a grievance.

— My closing question, which was signalled at the beginning of my letter, was, “Can you tell me what policy decision has led you not to reflect the strength of party support, and to discriminate against some parties?” You do not address this question.

Thank you again for being in touch.”

Kind regards

Andrew McCormick

BBC Complaints Team


NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.


No indy pals in Pacific Quay

BBC Scotland undermines the independence movement by playing down public support for the SNP. SNP support is massive. Seven out of every ten Scots who are members of political parties are members of the SNP; and in the 2018 Holyrood election, the SNP won half the votes and took all but half the seats:
This makes the SNP virtually as large as all the other parties put together, and leaves them fragmented and scrabbling for scraps from the table.

So how much time did Scotland’s party of government get allocated in BBC Scotland’s recent pre-conference interviews with leaders?
That’s right – the SNP, huge in terms of membership, came third in inteview time. There’s an enormous discrepancy there. And if you thought that, despite the shorter time, the treatment would be even-handed, then think again:
Massively more interruptions, and massively more hostile comment from the interviewer, for Ian Blackford than there was for Ruth Davidson.

There are those who say that this is just the rough-and-tumble of political debate, and that the independence movement is out to nurse a grievance, but BBC Scotland’s discrimination is more pervasive than that.

A letter to BBC Scotland making these points is below.

Dear BBC Scotland,

I’m writing to ask for clarification on your policy regarding political interviews, specifically the six interviews broadcast by Reporting Scotland on 13th September with Vince Cable, 20th September with Jeremy Corbyn, 27th September with Theresa May, 30th September with Ruth Davidson, 5th October with Keith Brown, and 7th October with Ian Blackford. In those interviews, you did not reflect the respective strengths of political parties in Scotland, and you discriminated against some politicians.

a. In what follows, I use Scottish data rather than UK data. Given that the name of your organisation is BBC Scotland, I expect it to take a Scottish perspective, and this expectation was reinforced not only by the name of the programme which broadcast these interviews, “Reporting Scotland”, but also by the strapline on its website saying “Big stories from across the country”. For UK perspective, listeners will look not to yourselves but to BBC London.

b. The amount of time you gave to the four shorter interviews did not reflect the relative strength of the parties in Scotland. SNP support is broad, not to say overwhelming: seventy-four percent of all those in Scotland who are members of any political party are members of the SNP; the SNP has half the seats in the Scottish Parliament; and it took 45 percent of the vote in the Scottish 2016 Parliamentary election. The remaining parties share what members, seats and votes are left over. But your interview times were roughly similar for all four parties, with each party taking between 20 and 30 percent of the available time, and the SNP – which is larger than all the other parties put together – placed third. All the features I describe here are documented in the attached two supporting charts.

c. You also discriminated against some politicians. Forty-four percent of the time spent on interviewee interruptions was used to attack Jeremy Corbyn, 39 percent to attack Ian Blackford, and only 17 percent to attack Ruth Davidson; by contrast, Theresa May, Vince Cable and Keith Brown were not interrupted at all. Interruptions reduce the length of a speaker’s turns, making it more difficult for them to be coherent and persuasive, and this is shown in the reduced turn-lengths for Blackford and Corbyn, at 11 percent and 7 percent respectively of the total relative turn-lengths for all speakers. The underlying data for the supporting charts can be found at http://www.derek.uk/bbc (type the URL into your browser address-bar – there’s no link from elsewhere).

Your disfavouring of the SNP leaves me, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that I have a grievance. I can see that you might wish to undermine a political party whose first stated aim in its Constitution amounts to destroying the United Kingdom, but your job as the public broadcaster for Scotland is to represent all strands of opinion fairly. Can you tell me what policy decision has led you not to reflect the strength of party support, and to discriminate against some parties?

Yours faithfully,

Derek Rogers


BBC at it again

Here is the text of a complaint I raised with the BBC on 29th August:

I write to complain of bias in tonight’s BBC Two Newsnight programme on the resignation of Alex Salmond. There were two interviews in this programme. The first was a factual statement of background events by your correspondent David Grossman, and the second was a highly coloured rhetorical piece by David Clegg claiming that Salmond’s resignation had split the SNP apart. Where was the third piece, claiming that the resignation was a shrewd political act that takes the pressure off Nicola Sturgeon? You gave only one side of the story – that’s the first point I want to make. The second point I want to make is that you ignored what surely is an even more startling and newsworthy aspect of this story, which is the speed at which the crowdfunder raised the money. By 10.30pm, when you went on air, the appeal had raised £32,000, or 64 percent of the £50,000 which it was asking for over 28 days. Not to have included a reference to this in your report looks like incompetent journalism. My third point is that if you give a platform to a commentator with views as highly coloured as those of David Clegg, you really should give equal time to an opponent. Clegg’s contribution lasted 3mins 17secs, which was 37 percent longer than the factual introduction (2mins 17secs). In that time he claimed that Salmond had “taken a swipe at Sturgeon” (he hadn’t), that there was “open warfare” and “internal division” in the SNP (there isn’t), and that “criminality” pervades this affair (whose criminality?). He also confused the SNP with the Scottish Government (they’re not the same). A responsible public service broadcaster would have brought in a third commentator to provide a more judicious perspective.

Response from BBC

I understand you are unhappy with David Clegg’s analysis of Alex Salmond’s resignation from the SNP.

As explained at the beginning of the programme, this news had only come to light in the previous hour. We heard David Grossman and David Clegg speak on the issue. Mr Clegg noted that Mr Salmond had raised £10,000 “30 minutes ago”, which “shows that he is still extremely popular with the grassroots in Scotland, there is a great well of affection for him.”

The BBC never takes a position on anything that we cover, but we always aim to reflect a broad range of voices on any given subject – this may include hearing opinions which some people may personally disagree with. It is important to recognise however that a fundamental part of the role of invited correspondents is to offer analysis, using their experience and knowledge, but this is not indicative of bias, and that the BBC simply aims to provide enough information for our audience to make up their own minds.

It is also important to note that due impartiality isn’t necessarily always achieved in one single report on any given topic, so we would ask that you take account of how we cover a topic over time.

The only way of sending an electronic complaint to the BBC is to fill in their online form. However, this restricts you to 2,000 characters with no paragraph-breaks, and makes your claim look like incoherent junk. So here is my preferred follow-up, which I couldn’t send, followed by my actual follow-up (no paragraphs, less than 2,000 characters), which I did send. More may follow as the discussion unfolds.

My preferred follow-up

Thank you for this response. I am glad you acknowledge that the episode is not necessarily impartial. I have now – as you suggested – taken account of the follow-up episode of 30th August.

This second episode did not redress the balance: the three commentators you gave a platform to across the two episodes did not amount to a balanced perspective. David Clegg is a die-hard anti-SNP journalist, and Ayesha Hazarika was for eight years a Labour political advisor, for which she was reportedly offered a peerage. Where was the spokesperson to defend the SNP’s corner? You offered Ian McWhirter, but he’s well known as a false friend: his standard method of commentary is to present sympathetically the aims of the SNP, but to constantly talk up the difficulties they face, leaving the listener to conclude that they can never succeed. You cast him in this episode in the role of SNP spokesman, but he was forced to explicitly deny that on air, saying that he was no supporter of Alex Salmond. So where were the seasoned and articulate commentators like Peter A Bell, Stuart Campbell, Adamantios Korais or Paul Kavanagh? There was no balance of views.

Not only that, the commentators you put up added myths of their own to the events. The unadorned story is straightforward – Alex Salmond was accused of sexual harassment, and resigned from the SNP. He is also suing the Scottish Government, claiming that due process was not followed in investigating the allegations. His resignation was a shrewd political move: it avoided an embarrassing dispute over whether he should be suspended or not from the SNP, thus taking the pressure off Nicola Sturgeon, and allowed him continuing political freedom. And to demonstrate that he had public support in suing the Scottish Government over his claim that due process was not followed, he started a crowdfunder, which raised double his 28-day target of £50,000 in 48 hours.

The first myth you peddled was that there is “open warfare” in the SNP – Emily Maitlis’s words, which David Clegg enlarged on: “The SNP are being torn asunder by this, it has cleaved through the Nationalist movement.” “Torn asunder”? “cleaved through”? – this is a wild claim, and to substantiate it you need public statements made on each side, prominent named persons, quotes, verifiable occasions of dispute. There were none of these, and the phrase “open warfare” has become a by-word for ridicule among independence supporters. The second myth, put up by Ayesha Hazarika, was that by suing the Scottish Government, Alex Salmond has abused his wealth and power to prevent victims of sexual harassment coming forward. The problem with this is that Alex Salmond is not suing the Scottish Government over the substance of the allegations (which as far as we can see he doesn’t know yet); his suit is that due process was not followed. How a court case that is designed to improve a judicial process can undermine the ability of victims to complain is beyond me (unless of course the victims are simply chancers with no real case). You should have stamped on this logical impossibility. (Instead, your presenter asked Ian McWhirter whether Alex Salmond had a big ego – what a waste of a leading question!) The third myth was put forward by Ian McWhirter, ingeniously combining the other two: “What he’s actually done is create a gender division within the movement, because a lot of the women close to the SNP, a number of women, quite influential, believe this will discourage women from making allegations in future.” Again, wild and whirling words: “a number of women” (eight? two?), “quite influential” (how influential? who are they? when did they say this, and to whom, and where, and who recorded it?). This is another allegation without substance, and again your presenter should have challenged it.

BBC Editorial Guidelines, Principles, 3.2.2 says: “All BBC output…must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested…avoid unfounded speculation.” These guidelines were not met – the requirement for claims to be “based on sound evidence” was egregiously flouted, and the need for assertions to be “thoroughly tested” lays the onus on the presenter to challenge unsupported allegations, which she did not do. These failures have, I believe, damaged your credibility with the 50percent of the Scottish population that supports independence. It’s widely suspected or believed in the independence community that the allegations of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond are fabricated smears, designed by UK government circles to remove him from public life in the run-up to the SNP national conference, developments in IndyRef2 and a possible autumn General Election, and that your failure to challenge the myths put forward by his political opponents makes you complicit in those fabrications.

My actual follow-up

Thank you for this response, and for acknowledging that the first episode was perhaps not impartial. The second episode did not redress the balance. David Clegg is die-hard anti-SNP, and Ayesha Hazarika was a Labour political advisor. Where was the SNP spokesperson? Ian McWhirter is a false friend: he talks up the difficulties the SNP faces, implying that they can never succeed. Where were the seasoned commentators like Peter A Bell or Adamantios Korais? The commentators added myths to the events. Emily Maitlis suggested there was “open warfare” in the SNP, and David Clegg said that they were “torn asunder” and “cleaved through”. To substantiate these wild claims you need public disputes by prominent persons, and quotes, but there were none. Ayesha Hazarika claimed that by suing the Scottish Government, Alex Salmond has abused his wealth and power, and prevented victims of sexual harassment coming forward. However, Alex Salmond is not suing over the substance of the allegations, but over due process not being followed. How can a court case aimed at improving a judicial process undermine the ability of victims to complain? You should have stamped on this logical impossibility. Ian McWhirter ingeniously combined the other two myths, claiming that Salmond’s court-case created a gender division by discouraging women from coming forward; but again no evidence was given, and your presenter should have challenged it. BBC Editorial Guidelines were flouted: commentators’ claims were not “based on sound evidence” or “thoroughly tested”. This has damaged your credibility with independence supporters, half the Scottish population. Many suspect that the allegations against Salmond are smears fabricated by the UK government to remove him from public life, and that your failure to challenge his political opponents’ false claims makes you complicit in those fabrications. There’s a more readable version of this complaint at scotlandisdifferent.wordpress.com.

Cracks in the ice…?

RECENT CONVERSATIONS and internet posts have left me with the feeling that the independence argument is in fact won, and the ice-sheet of No that’s been stifling the hopes of younger generations is beginning to crack and break up. First up is the dog-walker, whom I reported on earlier, who had a visceral hatred of nationalists because of what they were doing to the country he loved. Leaving aside the question of why loving one’s country isn’t nationalism, this man is trapped in circular, content-free thinking:

– I love my country.

– How do we know you love your country?

– Because I want it to stay in the UK. That’s where it belongs.

– How do you know it belongs there?

– Because it does. And I love my country.

This isn’t political or social thinking, this is emotional masturbation. And the problem for these people at the high end of the No scale is that, when faced with facts or concrete thinking, they have nowhere to go: they can only retreat into vitriol. There’s a glorious instance of this in the comments to an article by Lesley Riddoch – surely the least vituperative of commentators – in today’s Scotsman , where the level of vilification is beyond belief, and is a disgrace to any society claiming to have a tradition of constructive debate. We should take heart from this. When the campaign gets going, the No side’s only resource will be evidence-free fervour, and that’s not going to withstand the well-argued set of benefits that the Yes side is going to be promoting.

Overall, the more closely the more you look at the Unionist output, the less content you find. Chokka Blog’s latest post (to take an example) rests its case on “the bonds of moral solidarity that bind us”, but he doesn’t tell us what they are: for that we have to wait for Part II, and it’s now three months since Chokka Blog posted anything. Perhaps he lost confidence in the bonds of moral solidarity when he saw the UK Conservative Government hounding immigrants, sanctioning benefits, murdering spies with nerve-gas, bombing Yemenis, and breaking up families by deporting foreign wives and mothers. The Scottish popular press has taken a different approach, inexorably trivialising the debate, with attacks on minimum alcohol pricing, the baby box, and the cost of the First Minister’s temporary accommodation – all stories that were deconstructed by the independence website Wings Over Scotland. Wings has time and again shown how empty the Unionist anti-SNP claims are, and for this is of course vilified daily – “vicious underbelly to the independence campaign”, “scum”, “bastard”. But the only substantive accusation made against the site is that the blogger, Stuart Campbell (it’s a one-man show) lives in Bath. These are not arguments, and none of this is a threat to the case for independence. You would expect Unionists to start rebutting the main planks of the independence case – you’d expect them to say what’s wrong with using our own resources to deliver prosperity, with having our own immigration policy, with creating a fairer society embodying social democratic values, with deciding for ourselves whether to leave the EU or to keep Trident, and with not being the submerged one-tenth of a voice in the all-UK Parliament. But none of these gets an airing.

Of course, to say the argument is won doesn’t mean the vote is won, and there will be varied opinions on how best to do that. It will be unpleasant on the personal level, because the Unionists will scream and have tantrums. It may also become unpleasant on the political level, if the UK Government starts removing devolved powers and abolishes the Scottish Parliament. But there’s nothing like knowing how good your case is to keep you engaged and moving forward.

Smile and be a Villain

This claim turned up in comments on The National yesterday, from John Stuart Wilson. Since it’s based on data, it needs to be taken seriously:

Our largest on-shore private sector employer is the finance industry. It accounts for, directly and indirectly, 1 in 12 jobs. It doesn’t want to be located in a foreign country from 90% of its customers. (Ask yourself: how many local authorities and SMEs currently send their monthly pension scheme payments to Belgium to have them managed there?) And it will not accept the loss of a LOLR [lender of last resort] backstop. So independence will cause major job losses in Scotland, as these firms relocate to the rUK.

However, there are a few points in the above claim which are not clear:

– the Scottish finance industry employs 160,000 people, out of a labour force of 2.6m. This is 1 in 16. Where does the writer get his figure of 1 in 12 from?

– the UK-wide finance industry employs about 2m people, out of a labour force of 32m. So the Scottish economy is no more dependent on financial services than the UK-wide economy is.

– some financial institutions focus on customers in foreign countries, which is why the London financial sector is so keen to retain its access to the EU. How does this square with the writer’s claim that banks don’t want their customers to be in a different country?

– What’s meant by ‘located in a foreign country’? Many financial institutions have staff in one country and owners in another: HSBC, Santander, RCI, Clydesdale Bank (until 2016), to give a few household names. If the author means that banks which are currently headquartered in Scotland will move their headquarters after independence, that isn’t a big deal. And if he means that they’ll move their staff away and close up shop, that’s implausible – why would any businessman with a brain walk away from a 5.2m customer base that has a reputation for financial probity?

– the lender of last resort would not be the Scottish government; if the economy went pear-shaped, the lender of last resort would be the IMF, and the banks would stay. Thirty countries in the world have become independent since 1984, and they all have banks. Greece, ranking 24th among European economies in terms of per-capita GDP, still has banks. Why does the writer believe that banks would leave if the lender of last resort were the IMF?

A more plausible explanation of John Stuart Wilson’s post is that an independent Scotland would properly regulate its financial sector, squeezing out malpractice, and making it more difficult for the sector to make money. So, as far as financial operators with that mindset are concerned, Scottish independence is a lousy option. Arguing against independence on that basis is of course a thoroughly villainous activity, but until we get answers to the questions above, we can’t be sure that John Stuart Wilson’s claims are honest and believable. Can we please get sufficient clarification from him to show that his stance on this is an honourable one?


Bang on the money, that needed saying!

Wow, this needed to be said, and here it is! This is a statement on the Catalonian referendum issued on 25th October 2017 by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. I show the link above, but I quote the statement in full anyway at the foot of this post.

The statement makes four main points, exposing the logical fudges used by those who support the Spanish government. These points are also highly pertinent to the Scottish situation, and we need to think of ways of addressing them. The four main points are:

  1. The right of self-determination belongs to the people, not the state, and the state cannot take it away.
  2. The right to self-determination overrides the principle of territorial integrity.
  3. Using force, making a referendum illegal, and annulling autonomy violate international covenants on civil and political rights.
  4. Dialogue and negotiation are the way forward.

The constitutional settlement for Scotland violates the first of these four points: we can’t hold a legally binding referendum without the consent of the UK government. Nor are the conditions clear under which the UK government can withhold consent. At least in Spain they know where they stand – it’s illegal, full-stop. In Britain it’s at the discretion of the government of the day, which is a way of giving us no rights but not admitting it. We need to say loudly and clearly that this is wrong, and basically ignore it.

On the second point, there is firstly the trivial jibe that we “want to break up the United Kingdom”. Yes, we do, because it basically f*cks us, and this UN statement tells us that we have the higher claim. Of more weight is the constant assertion in mainstream media that regions cannot become states because there is an international consensus – supported by the United Nations – that international borders are inviolable. This statement gives the lie to that.

Some commentators doubt that the UK government would use force to suppress an independence campaign, but I’m not persuaded that they wouldn’t. The Irish Civil War is less than 100 years old, and the Northern Ireland Troubles cost 3,000 lives. The UK government will surely exploit Yoon thuggery if it needs to.

Fourthly, dialogue is the way forward – yes, thank you, now pull the other one. The current UK government doesn’t engage in dialogue at the best of times, and the coming indy ref will not be the best of times. But if we can’t do it peacefully, by dialogue, and basically with agreement – including the grudging agreement of Scottish opponents – then, however good the consequences for our economy and well-being, we still face 100 years of bitterness, discord and hostility. Ideally we should be putting to the UK government an offer they can’t refuse, showing the benefits to them of a Scottish secession. That will mean some hard thinking and some forceful point-making.

[Title of this post changed 1/11/2017.]


Statement on Catalonian autonomy from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights

GENEVA (25 October 2017) – The UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, is calling on Spanish authorities to enter into negotiations in good faith with leaders in Catalonia following the announcement that the Spanish Government would suspend the region’s autonomy. On 19 October, the Spanish Government announced its intention to impose direct rule on the region after a deadline seeking an end to the Catalan independence campaign was not met. His statement is as follows:

“I deplore the decision of the Spanish Government to suspend Catalan autonomy. This action constitutes retrogression in human rights protection, incompatible with Articles 1, 19, 25 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Pursuant to Articles 10(2) and 96 of the Spanish Constitution, international treaties constitute the law of the land and, therefore, Spanish law must be interpreted in conformity with international treaties.

“Denying a people the right to express themselves on the issue of self-determination, denying the legality of a referendum, using force to prevent the holding of a referendum, and cancelling the limited autonomy of a people by way of punishment constitutes a violation of Article 1 of the ICCPR and of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Alternatively, addressing the aspiration of peoples to self-determination in a timely fashion is an important conflict prevention measure, as is evidenced by the countless wars that have occurred since 1945 that found their origin in denial of self-determination. Dialogue and political negotiation should be encouraged to prevent violence.

“The Spanish Government appears to invoke the principle of territorial integrity to justify forceful attempts to silence political dissent and aspirations of self-determination. While the principle of territorial integrity is important, as understood in many United Nations Resolutions, including GA Resolutions 2625 and 3314, it is intended to be applied externally, to prohibit foreign threats or incursions into the territorial integrity of sovereign States. This principle cannot be invoked to quench the right of all people, guaranteed under Article 1 of the International Covenants on Human Rights, to express their desire to control their futures. The right of self-determination is a right of peoples and not a prerogative of States to grant or deny. In case of a conflict between the principle of territorial integrity and the human right to self-determination, it is the latter that prevails.

“Of course, there are many peoples worldwide who aspire to self-determination, whether internal in the form of autonomy or external in the form of independence. And while the realization of self-determination is not automatic or self-executing, it is a fundamental human right that the international community should help implement.

“The international law of self-determination has also progressed far beyond mere decolonization. Applying the 15 criteria contained in my 2014 report (paras 63-77), it is evident that no state can use the principle of territorial integrity to deny the right of self-determination and that arguments about the legality of actions taken by Catalonia’s elected parliament are immaterial. Such arguments do not nullify the ius cogens character of self-determination.

“The only democratic solution to the current impasse is to suspend repressive measures and to organize a referendum so as to determine the true wishes of the population concerned. Such a referendum should be monitored by the EU, OSCE and private observers including the Carter Center.”