Yesterday, 6 September 2017, the Catalan Parliament approved the law that sets in motion an independence referendum to be held on the 1st of October 2017, the so-called 1-O.
The controversial law was supported by the MPs of Together for the Yes (Junts pel Sí, a coalition made up, mainly, by the centre-right catalanist PDeCat, formerly Convergencia, and the moderate left-wing pro-independence ERC). The MPs of CUP, a revolutionary left wing organisation who supports straight disobedience to the Spanish State, also voted in favour.
Sadly, yesterday’s unprecedentedly shambolic session of the Catalan Parliament means only one thing: the Catalan political institutions, which the Catalans themselves have recovered from history and updated to modern times, have lost a great deal of their democratic legitimacy and credibility. The legal advisors of the Catalan Parliament, as well as the opposition parties, had objected to the process chosen to pass this controversial law, as it prevented any debate and amendments. A majority of MPs of the Catalan Parliament (a very slim one which certainly does not represent the majority of voters) have broken the rules of their own institutions and decided that anything goes.
Walk on the wild side
I can see why one would morally object to abiding the law in certain situations. Dictatorial regimes impose their will not only through political violence. Their Rule of Law becomes an instrument of repression. However, this is not the case in Catalonia. The levels of personal, economic, cultural and political freedom in Catalonia are unparalleled in Europe.
Yesterday’s parliamentary session represents a blatant abuse of power. It may carry criminal sanctions for the perpetrators. But why would a sector of the political elite of the right-wing liberal Catalan Regime, well connected with the economic establishment, support a measure such as this in the Catalan Parliament? Why would the moderate left-wing ERC betray their tradition of respecting the Rule of Law?
Mr Fawlty has sacked Manuel. Was it constructive dismissal?
In my view, the Catalan right-centre and moderate left are actually scared of holding this independence referendum. Whatever the result, the outcome will be extremely controversial and hard to deal with. The referendum is illegal and the question of independence is extremely divisive within Catalonia and beyond. The propaganda used to promote the pro-independence cause in the Catalan public media has fueled anti-Spanish hysteria coupled by economic delusion. This state of mind in society will be difficult to handle whether independence is declared or not. Deep down, the two main catalanist parties (ERC and PDeCat) want to pause the independence process and continue using it as a bargaining chip with the main political parties in Spain. The best way to achieve this, in the current scenario, is to foil their own plot by giving plenty of reasons for the public prosecutors and the media to step in and make a full mess of it.
But, why have they gone this far?
The surge of the option for independence, which during the 1990’s and 2000’s always attracted less than 20% of the Catalan population, was orchestrated in 2012 by the Government of Convergencia (now PDeCat). President Artur Mas decided to use the independence threat as a response to the rebuttal in 2010 of part of the 2006 new Statute of autonomy of Catalonia by the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal. It was also in 2012 when Spanish media started to denounce that Jordi Pujol, former president of Catalonia and predecessor of Artur Mas in Convergencia, had amassed notoriously unjustified amounts of money, using members of his family to disguise his wealth. Mas, Pujol and Convergencia are now at the epicentre of a scheme whereby his party, allegedly, used to extract a 3% commission from businesses who were granted public contracts by the Catalan Government. Its party is being surrounded by police investigations and the judiciary. For Mas and Convergencia (now PDeCat) the independence process was a tool to reinvent themselves and confront the institutions of the State in a variety of fronts.
PDeCat later had to concede that their party was in severe decline. They then agreed to form an electoral coalition with ERC, Junts pel Sí, for the 2015 elections whose objective would be to push for the process of independence. Unfortunately for them, they did not achieve an absolute majority in the Parliament and had to rely on the support of the pro-independence revolutionary CUP, whose support to the minority Government of Junts pel Sí came at a price: the independence process must be for real and must be quick.
Whose fault is all this?
I blame first of all the PP, Spanish Conservatives, for having quashed, with their appeal to the Constitutional Tribunal, the revamped 2006 Statute of Catalonia, which so much effort took to negotiate and agree both in the Catalan and the Spanish Parliaments. I also blame them for their wait and see attitude with the Catalan issue for the last 6 years.
I blame the inability of the left in Spain to win elections and engage, from a position of Government, with progressive-thinking Catalans who understand that undoing a political union with the rest of Spain that has lasted, in different formats, more than 500 years is like separating the two eggs of an omelette.
In so far as the Catalan nationalist politicians, I can’t help to emphasise that their behaviour is despicable. They constantly misrepresent the relationship between Spain and Catalonia. An example can be found in an interview to Puigdemont, the current Catalan president, in Al Jazeera, in which he suggests very solemnly to a totally unprepared interviewer that Catalonia has been losing political autonomy since the death of Franco in 1975 -That is the year when it started to recover the autonomy, not the other way round! You can see the response from 5’45’ to 6’15’’ in the interview (1)-. The propaganda machine of the pro-independence camp, including the Catalan Government, has created a monster comparable to that of the Brexit. Their pro-independence discourse is based on a concoction of cultural prejudice, historic distortion and the lowest of the survival instincts (all dressed with genuine political indignation, one has to admit, just a pinch of it, though). If at least they had a sincere revolutionary ideology for radical social transformation like the CUP or Catalonia Sí que Es Pot (the Catalan Podemos), I could see some nobility in the pro-independence process, even though I do not believe independence is the way.
Should there be a referendum?
There should be more much more political participation in society, and more referenda, but after the Brexit experience I am inclined to start any discussion on this issue by stating that no democratic revolution can be based on asking people, under the pressure of bigots and powerful media moguls, one-off, life-changing, complex questions, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.
I believe that Catalonia is a nation, but so is Spain. For many Catalans being Spanish and being Catalan is compatible. For a majority of Spaniards the territory and the culture of Catalonia is felt as part of our own nation. For a substantial number of people in Catalonia their Catalan nation expands beyond the limits of historic and political Catalonia, encompassing the Països Catalans (Places in other parts of Spain and France where Catalan is spoken). The boundaries of nations lie in the eyes and the heart of each individual. Who votes what in which referendum?
Apart from very regrettable expressions of public sorrow, disfranchising and disenchantment, hopefully not much more than that, elections in Catalonia are looming. The left-wing ERC seem to be preparing already their way out the coalition with PDeCat, and a revamping of their whole strategy. They have been holding conversations few days ago, under the auspices of the influential media chief Jaume Roures, with Podemos and PSC (Catalan Socialist, affiliated to Spanish socialist PSOE), for a possible left-wing coalition government in Catalonia after the referendum. This would facilitate new alliances in the Spanish Parliament to push for a new federal Constitution for the whole of Spain that accommodates mainstream catalanists demands. This is the only possible way forward for the Spanish State and its constituent components to secure some emotional-territorial karma for the next decades.
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