The Catalan Referendum Law and Some Background to the Catalan Independence Movement
This is the first of a series of posts looking back over the past couple of months in Catalonia based on the videos I make for my YouTube channel, which will hopefully reactivate this blog.
The truth is that over the past year or so I had become tired of the Catalan independence process and very sceptical of whether the pro-independence politicians had any intention of keeping their word and bringing the process to its logical conclusion.
My dwindling interest was also in part due to my disagreement with some of my former left-wing pro-independence friends over the issues of immigration and Islam. I haven’t really discussed this in my current clutch of videos but I am worried about what Esquerra Republicana and the CUP might do to an independent Catalonia. I know their opinions and I’m very worried that, if in power, they’ll pursue an open door policy and turn Catalonia into the Sweden of the south of Europe.
However, as events have picked up over the last couple of months, I’ve realised that Catalonia is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The attitude of Spanish politicians and the media and therefore, most Spaniards towards Catalonia is that of an owner towards a slave and until the country escapes the whip hand of an often cruel master, we’ll never be able to decide our own political future.
So my concerns over immigration have to be put to one side until after independence, when hopefully I’ll become a Catalan citizen and be able to put forward my opinions in the political arena. Without sovereignty, and hopefully borders, Catalonia will always be controlled by policies imposed from outside, which are liable to change without warning.
At the moment that Spanish government takes a reasonably strong anti-immigration line. However, the economic situation could change at any time and Spain would be forced to accept EU migrant quotas in return for a bailout. Given that Castile is not keen on accepting migrants itself, I fear that Catalonia would end up being the chosen destination for many of them and my virtue-signalling friends would welcome them with open arms thinking they’d got one over on Madrid.
Anyway, it was the Law on the Referendum of Self-determination that got me focusing on Catalan politics again for the first time in months. It was passed by the Parliament of Catalonia on September 6, 2017, after more than 11 hours of heated debate. The law was passed by the 72 votes of JxSí and the CUP and the traditional battle lines on Catalan independence were drawn once again as CSQEP abstained and the rest of the parties, Ciudadanos, PSC and Partido Popular, left the chamber.
Here’s the video I made the following morning.
In the video, I divide the actors involved into three groups: the Catalan pro-independence parties, the Catalan anti-independence parties and finally, the Spanish government and the rest of Spain and complain that the event was a pretty poor show with everyone hurling the word democracy around and claiming that their opponents knew nothing about it.
The Catalan pro-independence parties were angry because they believe they have a democratic right to hold a referendum and vote on whether they want to be part of Spain or not, while the anti-independence parties were upset because some of the parliamentary procedures were skipped by the pro-independence speaker of the parliament, Carme Forcadell. They claimed that the pro-independence majority were behaving undemocratically and in a discriminatory way to the anti-independence parties. Meanwhile, the Spanish government and the rest of Spain claim that a referendum on independence for Catalonia is unconstitutional and therefore illegal.
The two relevant clauses of the constitution are Article 1.2 which states that “National sovereignty resides in the Spanish people, from whom the powers of the state emanate” and Article 2 which states that “The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards, and recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions that comprises it and the solidarity between all of them.”
Based on these articles, it is unconstitutional for a part of Spain to hold a referendum on anything which would affect the whole of Spain, which is indissoluble and indivisible.
In the video I also give some background to the Catalan Parliament, which is made up of 135 deputies. The largest bloc is the coalition Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), which comprises the centre right/liberal PDCat, the left-wing SNP-style Esquerra Republicana and a few independents, who have 62 seats, and so are dependent on the far left CUP, who have 10 seats to reach a total of 72 seats, which is over the parliamentary majority of 69 and so get legislation through. I express my dislike for the CUP, who I describe as being similar to the Socialist Worker party and quip that it’s a bit like having Antifa in Parliament.
It was surprisingly that the Law of the Referendum was passed then. Actually what happened was the 11 members of the fence sitting CSQEP abstained whilst the anti-independence parties left the chamber.
I go on to make the point that whether you agree with independence for Catalonia or not is almost irrelevant because is an issue that, like it or not, isn’t going to go away. Catalonia has been trying to break away from Spain for about 400 years.
The first attempt came in the Reapers’ War of 1640 to 1659 then Catalonia and Castile were on opposing sides during the War of the Spanish Succession from 1705 to 1714. It was following defeat in the latter war that Castile effectively annexed Catalonia and abolished its laws, charters and political institutions, and for many people, the end of the war marks the creation of modern Spain.
After a long period of subjugation a movement known as Political Catalanism began to appear towards the end of the 19th century. This led to an early attempt at autonomous government in the Mancomunitat or Commonwealth of Catalonia, which lasted from 1914 until it was abolished in 1925 by Spain’s first 20th century dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera.
During the Second Spanish Republic just before the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia tried declare independence in 1931 but the left-wing Spanish government persuaded the Catalan leader Francesc Macià to back down in return for the restoration of the Generalitat, which had been abolished in 1931. Macià’s successor as President of the Generalitat, Lluís Companys, made another independence attempt in 1934 and was arrested. In many respects, the issue of Catalan independence was one of the cause of the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939.
Franco’s victory in the civil war led to another period of Catalan subjugation and when he died in 1975 the Catalans had hopes of their nationhood being recognised. However, in a process known as Café para todos (Coffee for everyone) 17 Autonomous Communities were created in 1978 as a way of diluting the Catalan and Basque claims. The Catalans accepted this because Spanish democracy was very fragile at the time and there was the threat of another military coup.
By 2003, when Spanish democracy was well-established, the Catalans decided to have another go and began drawing up a new Statute of Autonomy. The text was passed by the Catalan Parliament in 2005 and after a few modifications it was approved by the Spanish Congress of Deputies in Madrid. It was then passed by the Catalan people in a referendum later the same year.
However, the Partido Popular took the Estatut as it was known before the Spanish Constitutional Court and after a long drawn out process the text was returned with almost all the reforms either deleted, modified or deemed inapplicable. This events was in many respects the start of the modern independence movement and it provoked the first major demonstration under the banner of “Som una nació. Nosaltre decidim” (We are a nation. We decide.)
It was at this point that people like me and my friends began to take the idea of independence seriously. Up until that point, a little more recognition and protection for the Catalan language and a slightly better tax deal would have been sufficient. However, the Constitutional Court decision and the anti-Catalan hate campaign led by the Partido Popular, which backed by many so-called socialists, made many of us realise that there was no dealing with Madrid.
This really took off on La Diada or National Day of Catalonia on September 11th 2012, which was the first major event organised by the newly-formed Catalan National Assembly. 1.5 million people took to the streets of Barcelona under the slogan “Catalonia. New European State” and since then every year the demonstrations have been of a similar size. Had Mariano Rajoy’s ruling Partido Popular been prepared to make some concessions in 2012, the independence movement would have disinflated but they weren’t and now the problem will only be solved by allowing Catalans to vote.
It was clear to me that the Spanish Constitutional Court would declare the Law of the Referendum unconstitutional because this is how the Spanish government and judiciary have reacted for the last five years. The Catalan and the Spanish are at loggerheads. They hold two completely opposing positions and there is little to be done without one side backing down.
With the referendum planned for October 1st and the Catalan National Day on September 11th marking the start of the campaign, no solution to the problem was on the horizon. I was also concerned that there could be violence for the first time on September 11th.
It was also evident to me that whatever happened the referendum wouldn’t be the end of the independence process and predicted that the only way to remedy the situation was through international mediation. I also predicted that the Spanish police would behave violently on the day of the referendum.