Catalan independence: the debate

Independence or secession?

That is the question. It may seem that it is a mere idiomatic difference but it is not. Let me explain it. We, the Catalans as a political community, have been participating in the Spanish political system in an equality of conditions as all other people of the country since the end of the Francoist dictatorship in 1975.

Nos queremosWe have the right to vote and participate in Spanish politics through our representatives in El Congreso de los Diputados, for example, and we have influenced the final political outcomes many times. We also have some representatives in the territorial legislative chamber, El Senado, which could be improved by being granted more power in regional matters but which is, nonetheless, a clear federal trace. As a Catalan polity, we have our own democratically elected parliament and an indirectly elected President who both have many competences attributed to them in an exclusive manner or in cooperation with the central government in Madrid in areas such as Education, Public Health or Social Affairs. As well as this, a very important issue in Catalonia, the Catalan language, is completely safeguarded through the successful policy of language immersion; meaning that all the compulsory education is taught, exclusively, in Catalan so as to compensate for the social predominance of the Spanish language.

Therefore, we cannot say that we have not been granted the so-called Right to Decide, which has been a very used phrase in the last years to denounce that the Catalan people does not have a say in the on-goings of the Spanish state. What is more obvious, then, is that we cannot call the secessionist movement a typical independentist one, as if it were a colony where its inhabitants and its territory are simple possessions of the Metropoli. We have only been dependent on the Sovereign Spanish citizenry of which we form a very important part. What we are talking about, my fellow colleagues, is not about the right to self-determination, because those who have been actively participating in a democratic res publica are already self-determined. We are talking about the secession of a part from the democratic whole, and whose main driver is a cultural differentiation willingness, as well as a discontent about what some call an excessive fiscal deficit after redistributing public funds to the rest of the regions in Spain.

Those are legitimate political drivers, in my opinion, but I do not share those views. Thus, I consider that the Catalan people is legitimated to have a say, even to the point of being able to vote on the secession, as long as there is an honest democratic public debate about it. However, I cannot plead for this aim of separation in a 21st century where the world is becoming more and more globalised and, above all, in the specific context of an even closer European Union, which I hope will become a federation of united European states, overcoming the decadent nation-states of the past centuries.



What’s going on in Catalonia?

Protest for Catalonian independence
Protest for Catalonian independence

On Sunday, September 27, Catalonia held one of its most important elections ever. These were elections for the Catalan Parliament, but there was only one cleavage: independence from Spain. Catalonia has been living her own process towards independence since 2012, when the Catalan President, Mr. Artur Mas, decided to ask for a referendum to be held two years later. This referendum had been strictly forbidden by the Spanish Central Government, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The two main pro-independence forces have won the majority of the seats in the Catalan parliament. They won the elections, but they lost the plebiscite. The overall turnout was circa 78%.

Politics in Catalonia are complex, though. Very complex. Catalonia is a Mediterranean, Latin-European, Hispanic and Iberian nation, with its own culture, language, traditions and history. Polls such as CIS or CEO show that more than the 80% of the Catalan people regard their region as a nation within Spain. Catalonia also represents 20% of Spain’s GDP and is one of the most industrious and solidary regions of the Spanish Kingdom. Additionally, Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, is the second largest city in Spain, the first Spanish harbor and one of the main industrial towns of the country.

Many Catalans would prefer to hold a referendum, which Rajoy’s government does not want. Mr. Rajoy and his People’s Party (PP) have used the Catalan issue for electoral purposes since 2005. Ten years ago, the Catalan parliament reformed its Statute of Autonomy. The Spanish PM at the time was José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and Rajoy was the leader of the opposition. To weaken Zapatero, Rajoy and the PP decided to campaign against the reform of that Statute, collecting signatures “against the Catalans”, to make it simple. It was a cynic maneuver that was stopped by neither the late king, Juan Carlos I, nor by the Socialist government led by Zapatero. The Constitutional Court took that Statute and re-reformed it in 2010 – it was not the one wanted by the Catalans. Since then, Catalan–Spanish relations are filled with tension. Many people already started demonstrating in July 2010 in Barcelona, a preview of what came to be normal every September 11th onwards.

The Great Recession, which started in 2008, has also been an engine for the pro-independence movement. Catalonia is one of the most solidary regions of Spain, but it would like to have more fiscal competences, not depending too much on the Central Government in Madrid. Instead of negotiating, Mr. Rajoy, who won the Spanish legislative elections in 2011 with absolute majority, has always had the same answer to the Catalan government: No. No to more fiscal competences, no to a referendum (which was, in the end, a popular consultancy held on November 9th, 2014), no to devolution. This procedure has an antithesis: Scotland and Mr. Cameron. Last year, a referendum was held in Scotland, and “No” won while granting Scots more competences, more devolution. In Spain, Rajoy’s government has only threatened and insulted all those wanting independence – the lack of democratic culture of some Spanish politicians is outrageous.

Eventually, it is important to know that this process is actually lead by pro-independence civic society stakeholders such as the Catalan National Assembly (a non-profit organization with more than 50.000 members), Òmnium (a cultural NG), Súmate (which gathers Spanish-speaking people) and many others. It is not a mere political issue of and by politicians. It is an organized movement which was started by activists in the streets, not in the offices of policy-makers.

Victor SOLE

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One thought on “Catalan independence: the debate

  1. Why “Catalonian” independence, but “Catalan” people, parliament, and president?

    Oops, fair point ! We are correcting it straight away, thanks 🙂


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