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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland votes, Catalonia waits: Will there soon be another independence referendum in Europe?

FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags at Camp Nou
The world is watching Scotland today, and the Catalans will watch closer than most.

Spanish news sites are featuring pictures of FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags during their team's Champions League game yesterday, and it is widely reported that delegations from the Catalan (and Basque) nationalist parties have travelled to Scotland to follow the latest developments on the ground.

This is because the debate around Catalonia's independence referendum is approaching its own moment of truth:
  • Catalonia's ruling parties agreed long ago that the independence referendum (carefully described as la consulta, the consultation) would take place on 9 November. However, the Catalan government has yet to officially call such a referendum. 
  • The Spanish government maintains the referendum is unconstitutional (and as we explained here, the Spanish Constitution is actually on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's side).
  • The Catalan government will tomorrow try to get around the legal obstacles by asking the Catalan parliament to adopt a new law on 'non-referendum consultations' (consultas no referendarias). Catalan President Artur Mas is then expected to convene one of these consultations for 9 November. However, the legal status of the result of such a consultation is unclear at the moment.     
  • Reports in the Spanish press suggest the Spanish government has everything ready to launch a legal challenge against la consulta at the Spanish Constitutional Court, as soon as it is officially announced.
  • If the Spanish Constitutional Court were to strike down the referendum (which is what Rajoy expects), the 'Plan B' of Artur Mas would be to resign and call early regional elections - and then present the election results as a referendum on Catalonia's future. Recent polls suggest the strongly pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC) would come out as the largest party, albeit short of an absolute majority. For Rajoy, having to deal with ERC instead of Mas would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Are the Scottish and the Catalan cases similar?

There are similarities between Catalonia and Scotland. Both are proud regions with long histories of independence movements, and both have also been embedded in decentralised systems. Also with respect to the consequences of leaving there are similarities, not least the prospect of joining the EU and the difficulties that could potentially arise.

However, there are at least two fundamental differences:
  • The Spanish government has never considered accepting the outcome of an independence referendum in Catalonia. On the contrary, it is determined to use all the legal instruments at its disposal to stop the referendum taking place. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has not even ruled out making use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution - which gives the central government the power to "adopt the necessary measures" to force a regional government to comply with its constitutional obligations. In practice, despite the planned date for the referendum being less than two months away, the Catalans still don't know whether - and in what form - it will actually happen.
  • Constitutional reform and greater devolution of powers to Spanish regions as an alternative to independence has so far not been discussed properly, mainly because the Spanish and Catalan governments have never really engaged in negotiations. 
Will there be a 'contagion effect'?

Pro-independence Catalans would no doubt get a boost in case of a 'Yes' victory in the Scottish referendum, whilst, naturally, Madrid would love to see the 'No' camp win. Irrespective of the outcome in Scotland, the status quo doesn't seem to be an option anymore for Catalonia. Just think of the 500,000 to 1.8 million people, depending on the estimates, who took to the streets last week to celebrate La Diada, Catalonia's National Day.
Sooner rather than later, the Spanish and Catalan governments will need to give up posturing and start talking to each other. At that point, reforming the Spanish Constitution to give regions greater power to set and collect taxes may well appear as a valid alternative. The Scottish episode, whichever way the referendum goes, may ultimately serve to accelerate further devolution in Spain.


Alt Keynes said...

Here is an alternative way of looking at it:


Anonymous said...

There will be an independence Referendum in the UK in 2017 to free us from the authoritarian, undemocratic and unaccountable evil that is the EU.


Rik said...

What it shows is that close to 50% of the electorate (turn out here was as good as it gets) apparently is willing to really vote for a populist with a bad plan. Very likely as these people as totally fed up with the traditional parties.
Hard to see that will be less in say Catalunya, very likely more.

Furthermore independence for Catalunya makes alot of economic sense. And so does independence for nearly every part of Northern Italy/Spain/Belgium.

It also shows that governments simply donot have a clue how to run a proper campaign. Salmond only covers one part of the total political spectrum to start with. In other countries it is often several parts (so a lot more potential). Salmond's plan had some horrible weaknesses but simly the other side was not able to come up with a strategy to properly attack them. Hard to see Spain doing that better (almost certainly much worse seen the first signs).

This simply gives a good script how to run a successful independence campaign. Just make it fit for the local circumstances and donot make the same mistakes Salmond made.

IP should now attack the EU (which clearly is happy with the no vote(see statement Barosso)) on this issue. Would make them (EU) look like an even bigger bunch of idiots than the show them selves usually off either from one side or from the other.

Average Englishman said...

@Alt Keynes

It would seem from your blog post that you think 'more Europe' would be the answer. Well no.

Have we been living in a different Europe of late I wonder? The one that I've been occupying has a number of new 'alternative' parties rising dramatically in the polls in different countries in Europe, courtesy of people who are demanding more control over their own lives by the return of powers to their countries that have already been given away to the Commissars in Brussels.

Many of the problems and lack of influence complained of by voters at a local level are due to these people's national politicians having no power to do anything about local problems, (like revitalising the Scottish fishing industry to give just one example) and if these powers were returned to their national governments it would be possible for them to address these local complaints more effectively.

So, let's forget 'more Europe' and concentrate on giving back to the people in the countries of Europe proper democratic control over their own destinies. Giving the 'big issues' to a self serving elite in Brussels to deal with whilst leaving only the small issues for local democratic control simply will not work.

By way of example; haven't the boys and girls in Brussels done a wonderful foreign policy job in the Ukraine of late, - not? And anyway, at the micro level, the EUSSR cannot resist trying to control every little part of our daily lives; whether it's what refuse must be recycled or the shape of our fruit.

So, less Europe not more is required. I remember voting for something like that in 1975 called the Common Market but not the current disaster that is the EUSSR. Oh, and before someone says that more Europe is essential to avoid World War Three, it seems to me that the current 'ever closer union' trend will be more than likely to start one, whether it's brought on at the macro level by prodding the Russian Bear or at the micro level by stirring up a hatred of immigrants (Golden Dawn) or promoting anarchy in general in people who have lost any hope that they have an influence upon their lives.

Anonymous said...

Aversage Englishman - well said.

The people don't seem to get it though. The sinister, vile and greedy undemocratic EU will bring anarchy to the streets yet.

People need to wake up to them and fast!

jon livesey said...

Alt Keynes: I don't want to seem rude, but the piece you pointed us at reads as if it is the year 2000, not 2014.

It's the usual bland assurance that people want a federal Europe, and that the problem is nation states that are too big and so on and so forth.

That's a narrative that you can afford to waste your time on in when things are going well, and you can amuse yourself with the theology of Europe.

But in the real World, the EU has an average unemployment rate near 12%. It has high and rising sovereign debt. It has lost six million jobs since the euro crisis began. It has zero growth and is headed into its third recession in five years.

The EU is running on fumes. As an economic model, it has clearly failed. The strongest growth and the lowest unemployment is found in the "bad European" UK.

As a narrative for the elites, a dream of a federal Europe may lull some to sleep. But if Europe is about its people, the EU has become useless decoration and getting the economy started again will have to happen at the national level.