LISTENING TO ITALY
BRAVEHEART ALMOST WON
A SCOTTISH “NO”, THE BORSE IS EUPHORIC AND STERLING FLIES, said a La Repubblica headline the day after the Scottish referendum. The Italian press reported the huge sighs of relief not only in the European Commission but also in countries discomforted by strong separatist groups of their own.
La Repubblica of the 19 September ran a longer article analysing the referendum. A sad-looking photo of Alex Salmond headed it. It listed the whoops of joy of everyone from Barak Obama to Beppe Grillo’s M5S movement (our own Nigel Farage’s EU Group colleagues). But in spite of the Scottish NO vote, M5S believe that, “the result will not close the wave of separatism in Europe”. They see that Belgium, Spain, Holland and even Italy are being pressed by the demands of groups looking for anything from special treatment to complete independence.
La Repubblica gave the Italian President Matteo Renzi’s views. They quoted from a letter that he had written to David Cameron. Renzi had done this not only from his standpoint as Italy’s leader but also from Italy’s current position as rotating President of the EU. His remarks were aimed very pointedly at the English. Renzi said that he valued the richness and diversity of the EU, not its fragmentation. He then went on to say that, “the response of the Scottish people, justifiably proud of their history and tradition, is given to us all. The Italian Government want to restate their strong wish to forge an even closer relationship with your Government in both Europe and Internationally”. “With friendship”, he concluded.
The same La Repubblica article gave substantial space to the Spanish and their separatist problems. Mariano Rajoy the Prime Minister was particularly anxious about the referendum because of his ongoing ”domestic secessionist struggle” in Catalonia. Rajoy congratulated “the Scottish citizens who have decided to continue to be part of the United Kingdom and the EU in a clear and unequivocal way”. Then, as a warning to his troublesome Catalonians at home, he continued, the Scots: “have avoided the grave economic, social, institutional and political consequences that could have followed separation”. La Repubblica also focussed on the opinions of the President and Vice President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Artur Mas and Joana Ortega. The close Scottish vote was clearly a great encouragement to do better themselves.
To digress slightly, Rajoy should have referred to Scottish subjects rather than Scottish citizens. UK nationals lack the personal democratic status given to citizens of republics. It is sobering to hear that when Italians want to be sarcastic about the English (perhaps about incomprehensible things such as foxhunting or euroscepticism) they refer to them – to us – as “i sudditi di Sua Maestà”, the subjects of Her Majesty.
Corriere della Sera published a long article on 17 September based on the European Free Alliance’s map which showed around 40 movements with autonomous, separatist and nationalist aspirations. This includes the Cornish Mebyon Kernow. The UK, with its four distinctly separate countries, even with separate football teams, is seen as the most vulnerable to a split. Canada and the Quebeçois, Ukraine and Moldova were also mentioned in the same article.
The Italian press see the Scots not only as different to the English, but this difference highlights particularly unflattering aspects of the English character. Italian Sciltian Gastaldi blogs in the paper Il Fatto Quotidiano. He is a writer and playwright who got his PhD in Italian Studies at Toronto University. For him, Edimburgo or Edinburgh, represents Scotland and the Scottish character, personifying majesty and class with its history and monuments. He makes no reference to the city’s rivalry with Glasgow and the two conflicting referendum results. However, his take on Scottishness is that, notwithstanding the effects of the dark and gloomy winters, the Scots have some of the southern Neapolitan joyfulness coupled with the organisational skills of the northern Emiglia Romana. They are, he says, more socialist and European than the English, even having some Scandinavian characteristics, meaning a sense of openness. He sees the English as being conservative, “dividing themselves between Tory-blue and Tory-red, both of whom are Eurosceptic.”
Enrico Franceschini, La Repubblica’s London correspondent writes polemical articles on political issues as well as football; he is after all Italian. He discussed the aftermath of the referendum in an article published on 23 September. For him, the Scots come from the land of Braveheart. He doesn’t labour the point, avoiding a simplistic comparison with what the Times of 4 August 2009 said was one of the ten most historically inaccurate films ever. However, he quoted Alex Salmond as saying that his mission will be passed to his successor who will “continue the dream and arrive at the top of the mountain.”
Sciltian Gastaldi analyses the referendum results in his Il Fatto article. He said that he might be wrong but he considers that the victory will be a pyrrhic one. He thinks that “London” misjudged their tactics and that this will rebound on them to cause a profound break in British society. The tactics of the NO camp, what he and others call the “unionists”, thought that they would win by scaring the electorate. In contrast, he said, the YES camp “had invited the electorate to dream, to be optimistic and to have hope”. Unsophisticated analyses perhaps, but the recognition of English arrogance has not escaped him.
What didn’t escape several writers, including that of an article of 19 September in Corriere della Sera, was that clear promises were made to the Scots during the campaign. The article had another crestfallen picture of Salmond with the headline: Alex Salmond announces his resignation: Cameron doesn’t keep promises. The article said that Salmond justified his resignation saying that “Today David Cameron has refused to commit himself to a second reading at Westminster of a law to grant majority power to Scotland before 27 March 2015”. The article said that this underlined the fact that the promise had been made by Gordon Brown during the referendum campaign. Franceschini quotes Salmond saying of “London”, that “they have won the referendum with a deceit, I doubt that the promises will be kept” Isn’t this part of the English national character? Perfidious Albion. And this is how others see us.
Franchescini has also noticed something interesting about the possible future of Scotland. They might have three female political leaders. He mentioned Johann Lamont (female), lawyer and Labour leader and Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader. He talked at more length about Nicola (a female name in English, unlike Italian, he says) Sturgeon. He credited her (and Davidson) with being able to run a family and succeed at a taxing job – “the grit of Braveheart”. Franchescini quoted Hugh McLachlan, a philosophy Professor at Glasgow Caledonian University saying that Sturgeon had “reached the heights” entirely on her own abilities.
Finally, said Franchescini, “ Not for nothing have the Scots descended in good measure from the Vikings. They would be proud to find that the parliament of their descendants is in the hands of women.”