How to understand Catalonia’s looming independence vote (The Herald)
Something will happen in Catalonia on October 1 – but nobody knows quite what. This is the date chosen by the Catalan government for a referendum on independence from Spain. It is not their first attempt.
By Michael Keating
SOMETHING will happen in Catalonia on October 1 – but nobody knows quite what.
This is the date chosen by the Catalan government for a referendum on independence from Spain. It is not their first attempt.
In the 2000s, there was a series of unofficial referendums in Catalan towns. In 2014 the Catalan government staged its own referendum, not recognised by Spain and boycotted by unionists.
The Yes vote was predictable but not meaningful.
This was followed by ‘plebiscitary elections’ intended to produce a pro-independence majority. It did produce a pro-independence majority of seats but not of votes.
Now they are set to try again.
This time, the Spanish government, supported by the main opposition parties, is determined to stop the vote happening. Catalan ministers responsible for the 2014 effort have been prosecuted and, in some cases, barred from office.
The same fate beckons for current ministers. A series of court cases has sought to obstruct the process, affecting civil servants, town halls and even firms producing ballot boxes.
For its part, the Catalan government insists that the process will go ahead, to be followed, in case of a Yes vote, by a declaration of independence. They have been putting in place ‘state structures’ including a tax and revenue agency and the outlines of a diplomatic service, all fiercely contested by Madrid.
Catalan civil servants are caught between their duties to their ministers and to the Spanish law and even the loyalties of the Catalan police could be tested. The Spanish government, for its part, can count on the Spain-wide Guardia Civil.
Support for independence has been growing in Catalonia for the last decade because of complaints that it pays too much into the Spanish coffers, and because a reformed devolution statute was undermined by the Constitutional Court in 2010.
Some polls have put it above 50 per cent, but mostly it is in the mid-40s. Closer examination reveals that most Catalans would actually settle for less – a new financial settlement; more autonomy; recognition as a nation; and guarantees for their language.
It is the refusal of Spain to concede that drives many people from what in Scotland is called ‘devolution-max’ to ‘independence-lite’. So Catalonia might have to come out of Spain in order to forge a more equal partnership.
A large majority of Catalans now support a referendum to resolve the issue, including many of those who would vote No. The ‘right to decide’ has itself become the central issue rather than the details of the independence prospectus.
So the debate about the economic and social aspects that were such a feature of the Scottish referendum campaign has been largely absent.
The Spanish parties’ attitude is rooted in a Spanish nationalism that sees Spain as a single nation and insists that an independence referendum is unconstitutional and therefore illegal. Many Catalan legal scholars dispute this and argue that the constitution could be interpreted to allow a consultative vote, if not a binding referendum.