The 11th of September is the National Day of Catalunya – or more commonly just “La Diada”. Precisely three hundred years ago Catalunya lost the Siege of Barcelona ending the Spanish war of Succession and effectively establishing the basis of what has become modern Spain.
And so perhaps unsurprisingly this regional day of holiday has become a focus for the Catalan independence movement. This year, the movement has become more powerful than ever as the region prepares for a vote on independence from Spain on the 9th of November. As the slogans and T-shirts proclaim: Ara és l’Hora (now is the time).
The discussion around independence has become highly polarised and ideological. The central PP government, with its strong Francoist roots, runs the country on the basis of ideology rather than reason and has declared that the proposed referendum is illegal under the Spanish constitution (which, technically, it probably is). And therefore it will not be held.
Rajoy is not exactly regarded as a great intelectual and has singularly failed to understand and address the growing sense of nationalism here in Catalunya. By some estimates, there were more than 1.8 million people engaged in the Via Catalana, people who are increasingly alienated by the central state. Regardless of what the constitution says, it is beyond credibility that Rajoy’s government is not only doing nothing to address the concerns of people here but is also actively increasing tensions with controversial laws such as the Ley de Wert and the refusal to engage.
It is interesting the contrast the Catalan situation with Scotland, where a real and binding vote on actual independence will shortly be held.
If the Scots do ultimately choose independence from the rest of the UK this will only serve to increase tensions here. Expect the Spanish government to do all it can to disrupt the Scottish independence process further, as already demonstrated by its implied veto for a possible future entry in to the EU for an independent Scotland.
And of course, if the Scotts do not vote for independence, it appears that they will receive a fairly substantial increase in the existing devolved powers, which again sets another precedent that the Spanish government could well do without.
The crux of the problem is that people here feel that they are being suppressed by Madrid, explicitly culturally and less explicitly economically (just do not mention Pujol to anyone protesting that Catalunya no és Espanya). The mere existence of the Scottish referendum makes it clear to people here that it is possible for an historically independent region to be given the right to decide its own future, and there is a strong feeling that this right is being denied to the Catalan people.
It is also interesting to contrast the debate around independence in Scotland and Catalunya.
In Scotland, much of the discussion has been practical and looking at issues such as the ability of a newly independent country to manage its finances and economy. Here, there has been almost no such discussion, perhaps because the central Spanish government would regard that as conceding that the route to independence is potentially open.
As a result the discourse here is mostly based around the right to self determination and inevitably nationalism. Given the central government’s intransigence, it is difficult to see where this will lead other than to large scale social unrest.
There is the potential for the EU to evolve in to something closer to a large scale version of the Swiss Federal system, incorporating smaller regional states such as Scotland and Catalunya, and perhaps eventually resembling a large-scale version of the Swiss Federal system. Recent research suggests that this could ultimately lead to a more democratic and stable political environment than the current system of Westphalian countries. Unfortunately, this would require assent from the governments such as that of Spain.
Whatever the outcomes, the next few months here and in Scotland are going to be interesting…