Pro-referendum rally held in Montjuic, Barcelona, in June 2017, after President of the Generalitat Puigdemont announced the question that will be asked in the referendum slated for October 1st, 2017
Below is a timely article on Catalonia’s bid for independence in view of the fact that the defiant Catalan government under Puigdemont is threatening to push through with an illegal secessionist referendum on 1 October 2017.
Catalonia is at a fever pitch as the date draws closer, which prospective event is impacting almost every aspect of Catalan life, including even the alleged instrumentalization of the tragic terrorist attacks last 17 and 18 August in Barcelona and Cambrils.
by Josephine Cooke
Catalonia has long asked for independence from Spain. The separatist Catalan government has previously made several attempts, which as yet have not succeeded, to grant the Catalan people their independence.
On Tuesday the 4th of July the Government of Catalonia announced a draft bill for an independence referendum to take place on October 1st, 2017. The question they plan to put to the people is ‘Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?’ The C atalan government has announced that if the majority of voters were to vote ‘yes’ then Catalonia would declare independence immediately and could split from Spain within 48 hours. The bill will be put to a vote in the Catalan regional parliament where separatists hold a majority.
This is circumstantial however as the Central Government in Madrid is blocking this bill at every turn, like they did on the 9th of November 2014 when Catalonia carried out a simulacro referendum.* Madrid sees the bill as a threat to Spain’s national unity, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called in lawyers to block it. The Constitutional Court has already quashed a resolution that was approved by the Government of Catalonia calling for the referendum to take place and the Spanish parliament has threatened elected officials with legal consequences if they make arrangements to hold the vote. In 2014 Artur Mas, Catalonia’s former president, along with other leaders of the region, was convicted of disobeying the Spanish judiciary by holding the Catalan self-determination referendum. Catalonia is now introducing a law intended to extract the region from Spain’s legal systems, in an attempt to avoid such challenges.
“A coup d’état dressed up as democracy”
Xavier Garcia Albiol who is head of the Popular Party in Catalonia has called the bill “a coup d’état dressed up as democracy”. However, cracks may be beginning to show in Carles Puigdemont’s own party. Puigdemont sacked Jordi Baiget, Councillor for Business and Knowledge of the Government of Catalonia (Conseller d’Empresa i Coneixement de la Generalitat de Catalunya) after deviating from the party line and stating that “The [Spanish] state is so strong that we probably won’t be able to hold the referendum.” Puigdemont has come under harsh criticism from some members of his own party for deciding to go on with the referendum. The government of Catalonia has also faced difficulties in securing ballot boxes for the referendum and has no authority to oversee the vote and to make the said referendum credible.
Why does Catalonia want independence?
Catalonia is an autonomous community (comunitat autónoma) of Spain as per the actual Spanish Consitution. However, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia which was approved by the Catalan Parliament in 2005 and ratified by a referendum in Catalonia the following year, referred to the comunitat as a “nation”. That is, until the Constitutional Court ruled in 2010 that Catalonia as a nation has “no legal validity” and repeatedly underscored the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”.**
Catalonia has its own laws, customs and language. In 1977, with Generalissimo Franco gone, the Generalitat (exiled since the end of the Civil War in 1939) was restored but despite enjoying autonomy calls for independence have continued to heighten. Separatists have long argued that Catalonia should leave Spain not only for cultural and historical reasons but also economic. Catalonia is an economically prosperous region of Spain; in 2013 the comunitat made up nearly 19% of Spain’s GDP, thereby contributing slightly more than what Madrid did to the nation’s coffers.
Comparisons to Scottish independence
Many comparisons have been made between Catalonia’s bid for independence and the Scottish. However whilst Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum had the blessing of Westminster, Catalonia’s 2014 referendum, where 80% of voters supported independence, was nonbinding and did not have the support of Madrid. In a survey by La Vanguardia, a Barcelona based newspaper 42.5% of those polled favoured independence and only 37.6 opposed it. These figures are closer than the result of the 2014 Scottish referendum, which was rejected 55% to 45%.
Is it best for the central government to let Catalonia hold the long anticipated referendum? To do so could put the issue to bed once and for all (although, as seen in Scotland, a ‘once in a lifetime referendum’ may not be the end) or it could break up Spain for good. If Madrid does choose to support Puigdemont’s government, it could pay off for them as the Scottish referendum did for Westminster, or it could completely backfire on the central government as Brexit did. Whilst it is unlikely that Rajoy will do a U-turn and support the referendum, one thing is for sure: the issue of Catalonia’s independence is not going to go away anytime soon.
*This was the nonbinding Catalan self-determination referendum, more formally known as the Citizen Participation Process on the Political Future of Catalonia, to see how much support there was for Catalonia’s political future. It was first known as “Catalan independence referendum” but was rechristened a “participation process” by the Catalan government, to try to circumvent the decision of the Constitutional Court of Spain that suspended a “non-referendum popular consultation” on the same topic and for the same date.
**There are 17 autonomous regions/communities in Spain. Catalonia (capital: Barcelona), and Madrid (Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid), are two of them.
Featured image/Amandalvarez, CC BY-SA4.0
Moncloa/Flizzz CC BY-SA3.0, cropped
Autonomous communities/Rajzin, CC BY-SA3.0
Scottish referendum/Jim Barton CC BY-SA2.0 cropped
Josephine has studied at the University of Birmingham in the UK as well as Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Right now she’s doing human Geography, specialising in social, cultural and political geographies, specifically focussing on European society and politics. When taking a break from hard-hitting politics, Josephine can be found exploring the food, drink and fashion scene wherever she goes.
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