Monday 23 June 2014

The Pope and Scottish Independence

                                                  Toda división me preocupa.

I hadn't really intended blogging about the Pope's statement on Scottish Independence. It struck me as relatively anodyne, a sort of Argentinian version of Father Dougal's, 'Careful now'. But a few conversations recently have convinced me that at least some Nationalists (and doubtless Unionists) have interpreted the statement as an addition to the List of Prominent People Who Have Spoken Out Against Independence. Before this enters too far into the status of urban myth, I should probably try to correct the picture.

Another urban myth: if you say, 'Papa Francesco' in front of your computer screen three times, he'll Skype you.

The full interview can be found here in Spanish. A fullish English summary can be found here.

The main thing to note about this is that Pope Francis is simply repeating Catholic social teaching. As I've blogged before, the principles of subsidiarity (ie authority descending to the lowest unit of society) and nationality (ie the normal condition of one people constituting one nation) do stack up heavily on the Nationalist side. But equally there is the principle of solidarity:

The commitment to this goal is translated into the positive contribution of seeing that nothing is lacking in the common cause and also of seeking points of possible agreement where attitudes of separation and fragmentation prevail. [From the Compendium: para 194.]

Above all, political authority exists for the promotion of felicitas, of the good life:

Political authority is an instrument of co-ordination and direction by means of which the many individuals and intermediate bodies must move towards an order in which relationships , institutions and procedures are put at the service of integral human growth. [394]

Given the complex web of principles and the variety of concrete circumstances, making a decision in this area requires the exercise of the virtue of practical wisdom (prudentia):

the virtue that makes it possible to discern the true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means for achieving it. Thanks to this virtue, moral principles are applied correctly to particular cases. We can identify three distinct moments as prudence is exercised to clarify and evaluate situations, to inspire decisions and to prompt action. The first moment is seen in the reflection and consultation by which the question is studied and the necessary opinions sought. The second moment is that of evaluation, as the reality is analyzed and judged in the light of God's plan. The third  moment, that of decision, is based on the preceding steps and makes it possible to choose between the different actions that may be taken.[547]

On the basis of Catholic social teaching, therefore, one would expect a Pope in such circumstances as the current Scottish Independence campaign to point out a few principles, and to advise voters to think very carefully about their decision in the light of these principles and the concrete circumstances in which they find themselves. And that is precisely what he's done.

So why the brouhaha? (If there is brouhaha. I may simply be coming across a few individuals more given to the practice of brouhahing than normal.) Here's some suggestions:

1) Some Nationalists think the answer to the referendum is so obvious that even asking for thought smacks of opposition. Clearly nuts. It's an important decision made with a lot of uncertainties. For some, there is a tendency towards a 'Sod it' decision: why not give it a go? (Tom Gallagher has suggested that the referendum may be decided by 'volatile and emotional' men with too much time on their hands.) Anyway, a non starter. Think hard about this decision: it matters. A lot. (For balance, I should add that there is a corresponding Unionist version of this category: again, a non-starter.)

2) The Pope talked about division and was against it. So he must be against the dissolution of the UK. Context matters here. The question posed was: "¿Le preocupa el conflicto entre Catalunya y España?" (Does the conflict between Catalonia and Spain worry you?) It was in reply to this that the Pope said: 'Toda división me preocupa.' (Any division worries me.) It is fair to say, I think, that the struggle between Catalan Nationalism and the Spanish government can legitimately be described as a conflict, with severe disagreement about how (and indeed whether) a question about independence can be posed democratically. In comparison, there is no conflict in the UK on this issue: the constitutional process is relatively clear. The 'divisio' referred to here relates more to the bitterness than to the possibility of peaceful, constitutional separation.

3) The Pope put Scottish Independence in the 'doubtful' class rather than the class of obviously attaining freedom. The Pope distinguished between two types of independence: that by emancipation and that by secession. The first case is that of Imperial conquest and the liberation from that. [Las independencias por emancipación, por ejemplo, son las americanas, que se emanciparon de los estados europeos.] Scotland, pace extreme Nationalists, isn't really a case of that. That leaves the second case, where, in essence, we are dealing with some cases where it's a good idea (or at least inevitable -Yugoslavia) and some where it isn't. To decide which case Scotland falls into requires deliberation 'con muchas pinzas' which the BBC has as 'with a lot of grains of salt' but which (admittedly with my minimal Spanish) I take to be better translated as 'with a great deal of care'. So back to prudentia: take the decision seriously and think about it with great care.

It really isn't much more than, 'Careful now!', is it?


  1. Pinzas are most normally clothes pegs, also the ends of jumpstart cables, or the tongs for handling meat and sausages when barbecuing?.Something held up or together "con pinzas" physically or metaphorically , is a bit contrived, unstable, gimcrack ,... i beelieve a south american and parts of Spain use is as you say "delicately", as when dealing with a difficult prickly easily offended or susceptible person, more in the sense of handling a hot coal in tongs......

    1. Thanks, Esther. I simply don't have enough Spanish to get the nuances here, so any help gratefully received! I think it's pretty clear that the BBC 'with a lot of grains of salt' is simply wrong though.

  2. What do you and the Pope want me to think about exactly? Seriously I wish you had both said. Unless you mean for me to get a calculator out to work out how much better or worse I will be financially? Or maybe as a Catholic I should ask how much better or worse my neighbour will be? Is that how we judge our own nationhood?

    I disagree that that only "extreme" nationalists see our Independence as some sort of emancipation. The imperial conquest of a nation doesn't always have to be 100% military and it doesn't always have to be maintained by military means. Other things such as a lack of democracy, cultural suppression, forced immigration and propaganda can achieve and maintain it just as effectively at times.

    Scotland is an ancient nation and the Vatican acknowledges that. It always has and the Catholic Church whether it likes it or not has historically been at the forefront of attempts to avoid Union with England. That is not to say that we should vote Yes or No on that basis. I wouldnt agree with that. But, it raises questions. If we effectively vote for the entrenchment of the Union should the Scottish Bishops Conference be abolished and merged with England and Wales? If not why not?

    best wishes D39.

    1. Let me take your second point -on emancipation- first. Fair enough. I suppose there is a case to be made here. The Pope wasn't making a detailed analysis of the issues and, within the two categories he gave, 'colonial emancipation' and 'separation' then I think Scotland is closer to the second than the former. (It certainly isn't a glaring case of imperialism such as the African colonies' struggle for independence in the twentieth century.) But if that's the case you think most plausible, then by all means argue it. Though I think, even here, we'd need to do it 'con muchas pinzas' as it's not a glaring case of colonial oppression.

      Turning to your last point, I doubt whether it's true to say that the Vatican has been at the forefront of attempt to undo (as opposed to avoid) the Union -certainly in the last couple of centuries- whatever may have been the case before. But putting that aside, I'm not sure why the existence of a separate Scottish Bishops' conference should be counted as evidence against the Union anymore that the existence of a separate legal or educational system: the Union is essentially a Union of different nations and it is not surprising that the existence of those different nations is reflected in separate national institutions. The only question is whether, as well as the separation of nations, there should also be structures of a Union.

      Which brings me to your first point. The simple, unhelpful answer is that both the Pope and I would want you to think about how you're going to vote in the referendum. The real question is what we look at and how we think in order to reach that decision. Getting out a calculator if, per impossible, we had full economic information, actually mightn't be a bad start! But even though detailed calculations can't be achieved, some assessment of the economic benefits/costs seems to me an essential part of the process.

      But beyond that economic calculation, the exercise of prudentia involves balancing various goods in a way that isn't reducible to a calculator. I think the question is very much will the breakup of the Union lead to a better life or a worse life for those affected: since that notion of a good life (felicitas) can't be reduced to pounds (or merks!) nor can the process of reflecting about it be reduced to an economic calculation. How does one decide how to vote in any election? On thinks about the common good (essentially, the good life as shared in by others rather than just my own) and tries to see which party offers the most likely route for attaining it. (And that might involve patience in weighing the evidence, care in attention to the detail of arguments, humility in the face of expertise one lacks etc etc.) We also need to pray -a lot. It's a serious decision and should involve serious consideration just like any other decision.

      Even if the Pope was trying to guide Scots' votes in a certain way -and I'm absolutely clear he wasn't- I'm certainly not. I find the decision incredibly difficult and I haven't made my mind up (quite apart from the fact that, even when I do, I won't make this public: I've not wish to introduce 'divisio' into the Catholic community or this blog). My only advice -to myself and others- is to think carefully about the decision and act as wisely as you can.

  3. Fair enough I'm not going to turn this into a prolonged debate. On the subject of Bishops Conference of course you are right but in the even of a No vote and the English Bishops deciding to "lobby" the Vatican we would be wide open. I'm not saying that would happen but it raises questions which aren't just for a secular sphere about influence.

    My main point which I want to re-iterate and finish on is that it doesn't make those who think it is a slam dunk case of re-stating their ancient nationhood extreme whether they believe it is some sort of emancipation from imperialism or not.

    It wouldn't be extreme nationalism for those who supported a United Ireland on that basis in the event of such a referendum and it isn't extreme in the case of Scotland.

    I thank you for your measured response. I appreciate you have plenty to think about when you have so much to consider and that the decision is much easier for me.

    best wishes

    1. First, thank you for pushing at these points. Although my primary reason for writing the post was simply to point out that the Pope can't be included in the list of celebrity 'Better Together' supporters, a secondary reason is that all Catholics in Scotland had better be thinking seriously about the referendum, and in the light of Catholic social teaching. So I'm genuinely grateful that you're coming back on these issues. It helps me and I hope it will help others.

      I'd distinguish between an argument based on emancipation and an argument based on history or ancient nationhood. The UK is simply not an coercive State in the same way that the colonial powers in (eg) Africa were or that the Soviet Union was in the Eastern bloc. (I do, however, take your previous point that there are other forms of imperialist coercion beyond the blatant. To what extent these less blatant forms apply to Scotland is a matter for difficult reflection.)

      Turning to the argument from history or ancient nationhood, I'm sympathetic to the view that the virtue of pietas -roughly, respect for the past- is part of human flourishing. More particularly, I've been critical of modern nationalism's attempt to paint Scotland's past as simply something to be escaped from: . So I'm certainly open to arguments that make use of Scotland's history to support Independence. On the other hand, there clearly needs to be something more here than 'we were once an independent kingdom so should be one again' (otherwise we'd be back to Dalriada and Rheged). Frankly, I've not thought this area through properly so perhaps I'll come back to it in the blog.

  4. I argued from history here in the context of the your post on the Popes' "emancipation and separation" comments and to make the case that those who advocate it in Scotland are not necessarily to be seen as extreme.

    I think the case has moved on so much especially in recent months that "nationalist" advocates of independence such as myself would not consider it the best weapon in their armoury. But I would say that.

    Dalriada eh? Nice one. :-)

    1. Doh! Didn't notice (consciously anyway!) your handle until I'd made the comment. All now clear!!

  5. "Although my primary reason for writing the post was simply to point out that the Pope can't be included in the list of celebrity 'Better Together' supporters"

    In fact he is that rara avis, the person who points out that separate from the international dimension of Scotland's becoming an independent country, there is an international dimension regarding the nature of the polity which admits the division of (what he probably thinks of as) a unitary country into more than one unitary countries.

    Quite rightly voters in England, N Ireland and Wales have no vote next Thursday, as French, German and Slovakian voters will have no vote if the UK (or the rUK) votes on leaving the EU.

    But the geopolitico-moral responsibility of one (apparently unitary) country's willingness to allow the amoeba-like separation of an element of it towards the rest of unitary countries which don't want to concede such a right to separation is something, I must confess, which had eluded me.

    "Voting 'Yes' is setting a bad example to Belgians!"

  6. I'm not sure I pick up that point about the international effects of establishing a principle of 'desmembramiento' so clearly from the Pope's interview -but I agree that it is an issue even if only implicit in what he says. He draws the distinction between 'estado' and 'pueblos' (state and peoples) which I'd expect: nationalism is only nationalism if a people wish to withdraw from a state (hence, not exactly amoeba like as two pueblos already exist). (I touch on the issue of a 'people' in this post )

    A lot of the Compendium of Social Doctrine I think betrays St John Paul II's Polish Nationalism! Eg:

    387. For every people there is in general a corresponding nation, but for various reasons national boundaries do not always coincide with ethnic boundaries.[784] Thus the question of minorities arises, which has historically been the cause of more than just a few conflicts. The Magisterium affirms that minorities constitute groups with precise rights and duties, most of all, the right to exist, which “can be ignored in many ways, including such extreme cases as its denial through overt or indirect forms of genocide”.[785] Moreover, minorities have the right to maintain their culture, including their language, and to maintain their religious beliefs, including worship services. In the legitimate quest to have their rights respected, minorities may be driven to seek greater autonomy or even independence; in such delicate circumstances, dialogue and negotiation are the path for attaining peace. In every case, recourse to terrorism is unjustifiable and damages the cause that is being sought. Minorities are also bound by duties, among which, above all, is working for the common good of the State in which they live. In particular, “a minority group has the duty to promote the freedom and dignity of each one of its members and to respect the decisions of each one, even if someone were to decide to adopt the majority culture” (para 387 community, the human person and a people )

    I suspect it's easier to argue that *how* we conduct such negotiations is more important than the fact of Independence (or at least *as* important). So the legal mechanism of a referendum is a good example for others -as would be (whatever happens) continued co-operation between the peoples, whether within one state or not.

  7. In fact, and this is something I was struggling with when trying to articulate something to @thirstygargoyle recently, the way an independent Scotland would treat those who voted "No" is so crucially important. Competing nationalisms end up with a loser, and while, if the vote is "No", the nats can try again, and as often as the system will allow, if the vote is "Yes" then the nationality of those who have voted "No" is negated unless they move: they will become foreign while standing still; and separate from the internal aspect of becoming foreign in your own land is being treated as foreign in what other people won't allow is your land if you won't change your national allegiance because of the way they voted. So are you forced out even if nobody is telling you to go?

    I don't think for a single moment that this was what the Pope was thinking about: this is just me thinking things through aloud and a bit inchoately: knock it down as much as you like.

  8. No intention of knocking it down! I agree with you: how the 'Nos' are treated IF there is a yes vote is crucial. I'm relatively hopeful. Despite some claims (and some idiots) there is very little 'racial' antagonism: this really isn't for most people a question of being against the English or even the 'British'. It really is much more about all of us thinking we are Scots and trying to work out how that's best reflected in the State. I suppose there is a question for those who also think of themselves as British. But I'm not sure this will disappear: indeed it might become easier if it's less politically loaded. (The reality will remain that there are interconnections within these islands and that 'British' is probably the right label for those.)

    The other thing is that it really isn't a question of 'them' and 'us'. There are very few 'true believers' on either side, and even they can usually see the other point of view. Most of us are a bit of both -and so, whatever the result, the 'other' won't be that 'other'. Moreover, all of us have family members or friends who take a different position and many (most?) have friendships and relationships across the UK.

    I'm not pretending there won't be difficulties. But I think so long as any process is performed by both governments in good faith (whatever the result) these ought to be manageable.