Friday 27 October 2017

Catalan independence: What will Catalonia gain?

When I think about my favourite European cities, there is only one city which always comes out on top. Barcelona.

I love Barcelona, it's almost the perfect the city. You have the mountains, the sea. Beautiful architecture, an historic Medieval quarter, great bars and restaurants and a successful and glamorous football team. It has everything I want from a city.

I've naturally taken a great interest in the referendum vote and the declaration of Catalan independence by the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont. The question that dominates my thinking about the crisis is this: What does Catalonia expect to gain from independence?

Catalonia is the richest region in the Spain. I remember back in 2001 I spent two weeks in the city studying Spanish. One afternoon after my lessons had finished I got chatting to an English guy in a Tapas bar on Las Ramblas.

He lived in the Pyrenees and had come down to Barcelona for the day. He explained to me how Barcelona and the Basque country are the two richest regions in Spain. Many people emigrate from other parts of Spain to Barcelona.

Catalans he said had a reputation for being a bit 'stuck up' they think they're better than other people in Spain. Only a few weeks ago I read something similar from the Times journalist John Carlin. He argued that Catalans aren't snobby they're just reserved in comparison to other regions of Spain.

Unlike in this country, Spain is a more federalised and de-centralised state. Different regions have autonomous control which have been significant features of the country since the end of Franco's dictatorship in the 1970s. From an outsiders point of view Catalonia has vast regional powers which they now appear to have lost as a result of this referendum.

Catalonia seems very good at telling a story that they are an oppressed people. I studied Spanish history at university and I have a book about the history of Barcelona FC by Jimmy Burns which talks about the political oppression Catalans suffered during the civil war and under Franco's dictatorship. The question now is whether this history of oppression still rings true today.

Both the Madrid government under Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont must take equal responsibility for the crisis. Unlike the UK's Scottish referendum, Catalonia's was illegal and with a turnout of only 43%. 90% who voted may have voted for independence but with such a low turnout, I don't understand how Catalan separatists can claim they have a true mandate for independence.

However, the government and Mariano Rajoy's reaction was totally over the top. Why not just ignore the result and say it has no legality, rather than cracking down on independence demonstrators and thereby falling into the role of the centralised Spanish state bad guys. Surely that's what Catalan nationalists want?

The impression that Catalan nationalists give is that they are a nation being held back by the rest of Spain. They think of themselves as being more sophisticated and European than the rest of Spain. There's no doubt that the recession in recent years and issues over tax distribution have played a part in fuelling the separatist cause and the notion that Catalonia will flourish under independence.

What's needed is better dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona and agreements on the level of economic and political power that Catalonia should have.

This crisis has echoes of Brexit here in this country. It's a movement based very much on passion and emotion. Sadly for supporters of Catalan independence, I struggle to see what the economic and political benefits of independence will be for ordinary Catalans.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Harvey Weinstein: The culture that sustained his behaviour for so long needs to change.

It's been incredible to watch the total collapse of Harvey Weinstein's personal and professional reputation over the last few weeks.

When you discover that his behaviour of sexual harassment against women has been an open secret in Hollywood for years, your first reaction is to think why was it allowed to continue for so long and why now are people speaking out.

In many respects this story isn't that shocking. You have a powerful and influential man in a glamorous industry who takes advantage of that power and influence to prey on and sexually harass women. The spotlight at the moment is on the movie industry but we all know that the culture of sexual harassment exists in many other industries and professions.

It's this culture that ultimately needs to change. Certainly in respects of Hollywood you need more women in positions of power and influence whether its directors and movie executives. You also need both men and women to change attitudes and behaviour. The sense of entitlement that men can feel towards women has to change and women must be made to feel comfortable and confident in raising issues of sexual harassment.

Weinstein was allowed to continue with his behaviour due to a culture where people were afraid to speak out, fearful of the negative impact it would have on their own careers. But there is also the legal and public relations power that Weinstein held which meant that many of the stories known about him could be suppressed and unknown to the wider public.

In following this story, two of the best and most interesting articles I've read were in the The New Yorker and the celebrity gossip website Popbitch.

I love reading the New Yorker. They always provide real detailed analysis on the topics they report on. This is exactly what they've done with this report on Weinstein that highlights just how consistent and systematic his bevaviour has been over the last 25 years.

From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories

The article I read in Popbitch talks about the role that newspapers, magazines and online outlets play in maintaining a culture within the entertainment industry that allows sexual harassment to go unchallenged.

I thought this was an interesting point as when stories like this emerge it's natural that you wonder why nothing was reported earlier. Popbitch provide some answers to this question.

Inches for Inches

Have a read, you should find them interesting.