Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: edinburgh

What’s happening in Catalonia

On 19 September 2014, the Catalan parliament approved a call for a referendum on independence. On 27 September, the Catalan President Artur Mas signed a decree authorizing the vote; the same day, however, the Spanish government announced that that it would block the effort by appealing to the Spanish Constitutional Court and the Spanish Constitutional Court decided to provisionally suspend the vote. The Catalan Government subsequently announced they would push forward with the vote, in defiance of the Constitutional Court of Spain, as a public consultation instead. As things are very confusing and hard to follow, I wrote a mail to Dani Cetrà, my half Catalan half Scottish friend and colleague working at the University of Edinburgh. Here is our exchange of ideas (mostly his ideas, to be fair) turned into a short conversation.

Will there be a referendum in Catalonia?

There will be something on 9 November. It won’t be a referendum. It won’t be the “consultation” that has been discussed during the past few months. It will be “an alternative consultation” or “a form of citizenship participation” based on article 3 of the Catalan Law on Consultative Votes, which was passed by the Catalan Parliament on Friday 19 September. So Catalans who want to cast a vote on independence will have the chance to do so. On 9 November they will go to some buildings owned by the Catalan government, they will register there, and they will immediately cast their vote. The question that they will be posed is one agreed between four Catalan parties in December 2013: “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and “In case of an affirmative response, do you want this State to be independent?”.

What will be the outcome of the referendum?

It will be another big mobilisation of pro-independence Catalans rather than a proper consultation. Unionists and supporters of ‘third ways’ are not expected to participate, so the result won’t be very surprising… The key issue will be the turnout. The government expects a turnout of some 2 million, which is possible but ambitious. Only three months after the huge V in the streets of Barcelona, supporters of independence are asked to mobilise again in huge numbers.

Is the referendum going to be a game-changer for the pro-independence movement?

Probably not. It’s a watered-down voting, but it will permit Catalan President Artur Mas to say: “I’ve fulfilled my electoral compromise of calling for a vote on independence despite Rajoy’s undemocratic attitude”. The pro-independence movement hasn’t much to win (the best-case scenario this will be another spectacular social mobilisation), but it has much to lose (a low turnout will probably create doubts and insecurities).

The Spanish government is now considering impeding this watered-down voting too. This would be a political mistake, as it would give added strength to the pro-independence side. “They don’t even let us do this? Let’s get out of here as soon as possible!”‘. But Rajoy has his reasons. He faces pressures from the more radical pro-Spanish factions of the party, and strategically it is in his interest to shift public opinion’s attention from the corruption scandals of his party to the “Catalan threat” and the need “to respect the constitution and to keep Spain united”. After the “alternative consultation” on 9 November Mas will probably call for an early, “plebiscitary” election, which would not be without problems either.

What are the differences between the Scottish referendum on independence and the Catalan on-going process?

The main difference is that in Scotland the referendum was the result of an agreement between the two governments (Edinburgh Agreement, October 2012) and carried out though domestic constitutional law. The UK government considered that the SNP obtained a strong electoral mandate for a referendum on independence in the 2011 Scottish election and negotiated the terms and conditions for a “legal, fair and decisive” referendum with the Scottish government. A similar demand in Catalonia met the opposite reaction from the Spanish central government. This reflects different strategic considerations and different conceptions of the political union in London and Madrid. In face of the opposition of the central government, the Catalan process cannot aspire to an agreement with the central government and focuses instead on finding alternative ways of voting on independence.

Follow Dani on Twitter @DaniCetra and read his articles on The Future of the UK and Scotland website

Down the wire

There is a famous scene from the Italian movie Fantozzi when the main character shuts himself in a dark room on the weeks leading to election day to follow all the TV debates and read every newspaper, in the opinion that his vote will make a crucial difference in the final outcome. Though I won’t vote in the Scottish referendum on independence, this was pretty much how I spent my morning in Edinburgh today.


I cannot possibly link all the good articles I have read. But there are two that deserve a special mention for reasons you will easily understand: Dear Scotland: here are 76 things we’d like to apologise for, love England and Ten handy phrases for bluffing your way through the Constitutional Crisis.

Now. The polls will close in a few hours. Tonight after 10PM I will be at the referendum night event organized by the Future of the UK and Scotland, bringing together academics and international journalists. The first results will come from the islands at around 2AM, but the most important polling stations – those from Edinburgh and Glasgow – will only report at 5AM. Stay tuned for a long night.


I have 15 more days to make the decision of where I want to spend the next 3 years of my life. At present, I was offered funded positions in Budapest, Edinburgh, London, Ottawa, and Victoria. Other may still come up. To make up my mind I am following this essential set of rules.


It was blue

Today I am in rainy Edinburgh after spending four days in an unusually sunny London, where I met Tommaso (my host), Matia, and Susanna.

Back home – for a bit

I got home. It is time to move on after:

  • the ancient graves of Greyfriars, the Old University buildings and the good conferences of rainy Edinburgh;
  • the hipster boutiques of North Laines, the Pier made for old people, Queen’s park, and the good presentations of sunny Brighton;
  • the beautiful Regent’s Park, the crowded Camden Town, and the always cosmopolitan streets of cloudy London;
  • the less-beautiful-than-expected Place Flagey and Ixelles, the quite-ok Le Chatelen, the exaltation of the interns, and the beer of messy Bruxelles (yeah, I did not go crazy for the city);
  • the quiet seaside of Santander (not much, really);
  • the total devastation of Kobetamendi*, the modern architecture, the surfing beach of Sopelana, the homosexuals, the Casco Viejo, Deusto and the surfing hostel of rich Bilbao.

Interestingly enough this long virtual trip from Northern to Southern Europe began like this:

… and finishes like this:

*looking back at BBK, the best gigs were definitely those of Ben Howard, Mumford & Sons, Noah & the Whale (all three excellent as expected), Bloc Party (even better than expected), Radiohead (fairly good and not expected), Sum 41 (still good, but less than expected).

Leaving Edinburgh

One final note from Edinburgh before leaving. Scottish nationalism is really strong. I do not want to say it is necessarily something bad, probably it isn’t. But the thing is that Scottish flags and symbols (kilts, bagpipes…) are just everywhere. Also, in the National Museum there is a section about ‘the changing nation’ that is really powerful and inspiring and, well, worth seeing – at least for all those who are interested in how you construct and imagine a nation. It is worth remembering that politically Scotland is still part of the UK: it is not an independent nation.

Scottish nationalism also means annoying the English as much as possible. When I asked to the people which team they supported in the European Championship (Scotland did not make it to the final phase) the general answer was: “every team that plays England”. Such an attitude is also reflected in the continuous attempt to differentiate your actions from those of your neighbour. This, obviously, reminds me a little bit of the relationship between Canada and the US.

Notes from a small island

Some things that may happen to you too. When abroad, your debit card stop working and you have no cash at all. You randomly meet people in the hostel, go out and sing Irish and Scottish chants till the pub closes; then go to sleep and wake up 4 hours later to attend the roundtable you have been waiting for since months. You may be happy for succeeding in that, but remember to stick to the rules also the day after: because if you fail to set the alarm and wake up way too late, you may have to prepare your luggage, have breakfast, check out from the hostel and run to the other side of the city to attend the second day of the roundtable in the neat time of 5 minutes.You may also like the roundtable so much that for the first time after a long time you forget to get advantage of free refreshments because you are discussing stuff with other people. Alas, you realize that those few scholars you have been studying for years turn out to be incredibly nice and funny people, who go with you for a beer and share cracks. You may even feel you would like to be friend with them. But that’s another story.

Nerd accademico

Avete mai fatto quel sogno per cui scendete in campo con la squadra dei vostri campioni, chessò, il Manchester di George Best, magari all’Old Trafford e con la vostra maglietta ufficiale?

Penso di aver provato una analoga sensazione onirica oggi, quando mi sono seduto con tanto di targhetta ad una tavola rotonda nel senato della Old University di Edimburgo a discutere con quel gruppo elitario di docenti che per due anni ho conosciuto solo perché firmavano paper e libri che ho letto a centinaia. Sono felicemente nerd.

Edinburgh up & down

Rain. Heavy rain, much harder than what I expected the first day, much more like the Irish rain today. No cash, only credit cards. Beautiful hills, cemeteries and galleries. Nice people, cool hostel, humidity everywhere. Scotland so far.

UK Coast to Coast

Most of the people dream about doing a coast to coast in the US.

Tomorrow I’ll have my chance to experiment a different kind of Coast to Coast: the vertical mode UK crossing. The plan is simple. I leave from Edinburgh (near the northern shore of the UK, in fact it is pretty cold up there right now), where I’ll attend a conference at the University, to go all the way down to Brighton, English Channel, where I have to attend another conference at the University of Sussex. Then I’ll end up in London, just to give a proper goodbye to the British land.

I will fly on very low cost planes, I will sleep in shattered hostels, and I will travel on slow buses. It’s going to be a tough trip, but hopefully a grand one.