1. To ask the Scottish Government, further to the statement that it issued on 16 September, what its response is to the violence that took place during the independence referendum in Catalonia. (S5T-00699)
The Scottish Government is very concerned about events in recent days in Catalonia. The violent scenes witnessed on Sunday were shocking and unnecessary. That is a view shared among the international community.
The Scottish Government is particularly disappointed by the response of the United Kingdom Government to the violent scenes. Yesterday, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, urging the UK as a friend and ally of Spain to issue a more robust statement, unequivocally condemning the use of violence by the Spanish police to suppress the peaceful expression of political views in Catalonia and communicating in the strongest possible terms our serious concerns.
The Scottish Government now hopes that there is a process of dialogue that will allow both the Spanish Government and the Catalonian Government to find a way forward that respects the rule of law and democracy but also the right of the people of Catalonia to decide the future of their country.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her reply and agree with all that she has said.
The cabinet secretary mentioned that she had written to the Foreign Secretary at Westminster. Are any other meetings being proposed? What would be discussed at any further meetings? Has she had any correspondence with the Spanish and Catalonian Governments?
On the last point, there has been no correspondence, although I had a brief opportunity to speak to the Spanish consul general when he was in the Parliament last week.
The importance of dialogue, communication and mediation is clear. If we look at the comments from foreign ministers from across the European Union, we can see that their message has been to desist from violence and to progress dialogue. That is a responsibility particularly of European institutions but also of other international bodies, and that is the best way forward. We can express our views, but we have always said that we understand that the constitutional and legal situation in Spain is different.
This is a basic issue of human rights and democracy. The ability of people to express their political will and their political views without fear of violence is something that all of us as internationalists and, more importantly, as democrats, must uphold.
I agree that dialogue is essential, as does the Catalonian Government. Having witnessed the horrific violence by the Spanish police against innocent civilians exercising their democratic right to vote, does the cabinet secretary agree with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said:
“I am very disturbed by the violence in Catalonia on Sunday. With hundreds of people reported injured, I urge the Spanish authorities to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence ... I call on the Government of Spain to accept without delay the requests by relevant UN human rights experts to visit.”
I do indeed. The intervention from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was welcome, appropriate and measured. Human rights abuses, wherever they take place, must be investigated to respect the international perspective. It is also important to respect human rights as part of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the responsibilities therein.
That is one of the ways forward to address the scenes—scenes that shocked so many people across the globe—of very brutal violence by the Spanish police, under the instruction of the Spanish authorities, against people going about the democratic exercising of their right to vote, which is something that all of us in this country take for granted.
It is not our job to tell the people of Catalonia how to vote, but they most certainly should have the right to be allowed to vote. A way forward should be found that respects differences when there is a clash between the fundamental rights that are desired and which should be exercised by the Catalonian people, and the constitution and law of the Spanish state. Those are not irreconcilable differences, but it will take international measures to address them. That is why the EU institutions or the UN have a responsibility to take that forward.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that, whatever the thinking of the authorities and Government of Spain, there was clearly little rational about it, and that, whatever intentions they might have had, their actions will prove to have been wholly counterproductive? Does she agree that this is potentially deeply damaging to the reputation of Spain, a country for which many of us have the fondest and most high regard?
I do indeed agree, and I respect Jackson Carlaw’s comments. The actions by the Spanish Government have done it a disservice and will eventually prove to have been counterproductive. It is important that the Spanish Government addresses that and, indeed, engages in the dialogue that I have discussed in my previous replies. It is essential that the current situation is not allowed to pass and that it does not pass. I know that diplomatic statements have been made, but I hope that in the quietness of the private conversations that can and should take place, Spain can be brought to a more commonsense and respectful position than has been the case up to now.
As we have seen from the violent scenes on Sunday, perpetrated by the Spanish Government’s civil guards, there seems to be little regard for the upholding of civil liberties and human rights. Does the Scottish Government agree with me, and with article 2 of the Lisbon treaty, that we are all bound by the fundamental principles of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights, and that those principles should always be the foundations on which we uphold the rights of European citizens?
The member is indeed correct. In this Parliament, where we embrace the importance of human rights across a number of parliamentary committees—not least the one of which the member is the convener—we recognise those aspects of article 2 as one of the strengths of the European Union. Now is the time, when people are looking to the European Union for some leadership, to recognise that the expression and understanding of those rights in the current context could be best served by mediation or negotiation and by some involvement by European Union institutions, in order to resolve what is currently an intractable situation, but one that must be resolved by dialogue peacefully and democratically.