Spain's Government boycotted a visit of the Catalan independence movement to Scotland

Spain's Foreign Office got wind through "reserved information" that the Catalan Parliament’s Vice President was planning a visit to Scotland right after the beginning of the procès. Spain then advised the Scottish authorities that such an action would be an "intrusion" on April’s elections. Edinburgh, yielding to the diplomatic pressures, postponed the appointment

Pedro Sánchez y Josep Borrell.
Pedro Sánchez y Josep Borrell. EFE

"Re: CAT" Under this brief caption runs an e-mail sent on 8th February to the then Spanish Consul in Edinburgh Miguel Angel Vecino by the diplomat Jorge Romeu, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell’s adviser for Catalan Affairs. It is just one of 80 documents attached to a lawsuit filed by Mr. Vecino against the Spanish Foreign Office following his dismissal in June, to which Vozpopuli has gained access through judicial sources.

This e-mail included "reserved information" just received from Borrell’s office, possibly that same day. Although the intelligence source from which the information derived was not identified, the wording closely resembles other communications prepared daily for the Government by the Spanish Intelligence Service (CNI). 

The e-mail also warned that Josep Costa, First Vice President of the Catalan Parliament and well known in his political party JxCAT by his radical views regarding Catalonia’s independence, was preparing several visits to "foreign parliaments" in order to inform about Catalonia’s political situation and the 'Procès' prisoners, who had just begun their preceedings before the Spanish Supreme Court.

Josep Costa, vicepresident of the Catalan Parliament.
Josep Costa, vicepresident of the Catalan Parliament. EFE

There was a particular mention of three countries, the first of them being Scotland. According to the information just received by the Spanish Government, Costa had got in touch with Fergus Cochrane, Head of International Relations of the Scottish Porliament, and Linda Fabiani, of the Scottish National Party. Both of them had already proposed dates for the appointment: the 27th and 28th of March.

Friendship Groups with Catalonia

The second country mentioned was Germany, where the Catalan Government -known as Generalitat-  representatives in Berlin were actively trying to arrange a visit of several Catalan MPs for the months of March or April. "Costa wants to promote, within the Bundestag as well as in the Scottish Parliament, the constitution of a parliamentary group fostering friendship with Catalonia, along the lines of those already existing in other countries", alerted the reserved information forwarded by the Spanish Foreign Office.

Switzerland was the third envisioned country, where No. 2 of the Catalan Parliament intended to visit the Swiss Federal Assembly, although this trip’s organization had become  "complicated" for Costa, since the friendship group was "practically in shambles". 

Email from Mr. Romeu to Mr. Vecino.
Email from Mr. Romeu to Mr. Vecino.

The visit to Scotland put in a state of maximum alert the Spanish Foreign Office, which had recently experienced a diplomatic beating last December, when the Generalitat’s President Quim Torra travelled to Slovenia and was received by the President of this Balkan country as Head of a foreign country.

As a result, three days after receiving this intelligence report, the Spanish Consul in Edinburgh called Minister Borrell’s Advisor for Catalan Affairs, who prompted him "to do everything in his power in order to prevent the visit of the Catalan MPs", as stated in Mr. Vecino’s legal claim.

Mr. Romeu "cautioned" the then still Consul against the "simple-mindedness" of Scots who "lend themselves to manipulation by Catalan independence supporters", and instructed him to put across to the Scottish authorities that such a step could "develop into an incident with Spain" since, in Madrid’s view, it could be construed as an "intrusion into the General Elections" which were to be held once Pedro Sánchez decided on which April Sunday they should be scheduled.

Approach of the Spanish Right 

"As you well know", Mr. Vecino was told by Mr. Borrell’s Advisor, "that the Minister attaches high importance to everything having to do with secessionism, al last under the present circumstances". The Consul was asked specifically to highlight Mr. Borrell’s November statement in which he said that Spain would recognize an independent Scotland if achieved by legal means and that, in such a case, it would not veto its entry into the EU.

"This is definitely not the Spanish Right’s position", Mr. Borrell’s Advisor pointed out. "You must insist on the attitude of PP and Cs regarding Catalonia, their refusal to discuss matters. If the Right wins the Spanish Elections, they will oppose the recognition of an independent Scotland", 

Mr. Romeu admonished the diplomatic official that at that point in time, beginning of February, it was crucial that no Spanish party could "accuse the Government of complacency towards the independentists, and specially towards ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia)" less than three months away from the Elections. "Later on we shall see, depending on the poll’s results", commented Mr. Borrell’s Advisor.

The Spanish Consul called immediately Mr. Cochrane, Mr. Costa’s Scottish point of contact, who was about to mail him informing about the visit of the Catalan MPs. "I was very surprised to learn that you were already posted about the visit, almost at the same time as myself", he admitted to Mr. Vecino.

The objective is to prevent any attack from the right until the elections because of the independence"

The Head of International Relations of the Scottish Parliament added that it was an invitation open to "all" Parties represented in the Catalan Autonomous Parliament, and declared himself willing to call off the visit "in case only one tendency or Party were coming", although Madrid did not believe him as it was know that Mr. Costa was travelling to Scotland accompanied just by other three independentist MPs, and the Consul was alerted on the "electoral consequences" of such a trip barely a month before going to the polls.

"You must not forget that our goal is to ward off any criticism from the Right motivated by the independence advocates before the Elections", Mr. Romeu coached Mr. Vecino, who in turn signalled to Mr. Borrell’s Advisor that hindering a visit of all the Catalan Parties represented in the Parliament or, alternatively, "belonging to different tendencies" -meaning adherents to the Constitution and independence followers- "could be considered as a violation of the Constitution, keeping in mind that it was an ordinary activity of every MP".

The solution proposed by Mr. Borrell’s most trusted assistant was to put forward to Mr. Cochrane that the Spanish Government "did not wish the annulment of the Catalan MPs’ visit, but only its postponement until after the Elections".

On 28th February, the Consul invited Mr. Cochrane to his office, and the Scottish representative assured him that "his Parliament would take all necessary steps in order to avoid any incident liable to offend Spain", adding that the visit as such was not illegal.

The Spanish pressures aimed at "neutralizing" Mr. Costa’s visit continued during the following weeks, and Mr. Cochrane finally wrote to the Consul on 22nd March, only five days before the scheduled date, informing him that the visit would be postponed "until the Spanish General Elections were over".

Cochrane's answer to Mr. Vecino.
Cochrane's answer to Mr. Vecino.

The Scottish Parliament’s decision was adopted unanimously by all groups, including the Government SNP, what implied a "change of attitude" of the Party most sympathetic with the demands of the Catalan secessionists, as described by Mr. Vecino in an e-mail sent to the Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Mr. Bastarreche.

"This confirms the new positions of these political Parties regarding the Catalan secessionists (…) Their vision of the Catalan problem did not agree with the facts, being a mere intoxication and misrepresentation of reality, concocted by the secessionist propaganda", stressed the Spanish Consul.

Mr. Vecino's message sent to Madrid.
Mr. Vecino's message sent to Madrid.

The visit organized by the Vice President of the Catalan Parliament was not the only headache suffered by the Spanish diplomacy before the Elections. On 6th March, Alexia Haramis, Director of International Relations in the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, submitted to the Consul the intention of the Scottish authorities to "increment" the economic ties between Scotland and Spain… with a first visit to Barcelona.

The Spanish official talked Ms. Haramis out of her intent, warning her that if the Scottish Chamber of Commerce initiated its businessmen’s tour in Barcelona, probably it would encounter "difficulties" afterwards to be received by other Spanish Chamber of Commerce. The Scottish officer acknowledged favourably Mr. Vecino’s suggestions and postponed this visit indefinitely.

"Put a stop to this visit and to any other"

More threatening for the Spanish diplomacy was another political initiative designed by the Catalan Generalitat. As the Consul informed Ambassador Bastarreche in the already mentioned e-mail , the Catalan Director-General of Commerce, Ms. Monserrat Villalta proposed on 22nd March to her Scottish counterpart a visit to Edinburgh of a delegation of Catalan businessmen headed by herself.

At this juncture intervened Mr. Camilo Villarino, Chief of Staff of Mr. Borrell, asking the Consul whether it would be feasible to ensure that the businessmen coming to Edinburgh were not independentists. Mr. Vecino’s answer was clear: he could not draw up the guest list. He did not even know "who was coming". After that exchange the Consul received a categorical order from the Minister’s right hand: "to avoid surprises, just put a stop to this visit and to any other".

Finally, Mr. Vecino used the e-mail received that same day from Mr. Cochrane informing about the postponement of the Catalan Parliament Vice President’s visit to persuade the Director of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce of the inappropriateness of the visit of Catalan businessmen encouraged by the Generalitat. Ms. Haramis accepted the Consul’s arguments and the Catalan Government was bereft of its political-economical visit to Scotland on the eve of the April General Elections.

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