Friday, 8 September 2017

The people will decide

I can’t remember the exact date, but sometime in the late 1970s I once met the founder of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, Jordi Pujol, who later became the leader of the Generalitat in Catalunya.  It was not long after the death of Franco, and it was still illegal for anyone even to advocate the idea of independence from the Spanish state.  That, he told me, was the reason that Convergència at that time argued for more autonomy, rather than for independence.  However, others always saw him, until the latter part of his period in government at least when he gave up on the idea of progress within the Spanish state, as more of a natural federalist than an independentista.  So, whether his commitment at that time, and for many years thereafter, to building a federal Spain was down to principle or pragmatism may well be open to debate, but it has become largely irrelevant in the context of the twenty-first century.  Things in Catalunya have moved on (in large part because of the actions of the Spanish central authorities in amending the statute of autonomy in 2010) and independence, rather than federalism, is now the mainstream of debate.
As Syniadau posted yesterday, the Catalan Parliament – in which an overall majority of the members were elected on a platform calling for independence – voted on Wednesday to proceed to hold a referendum on 1st October.  The central authorities in Madrid have been quick to denounce this as an illegal act and have promised to prevent it happening.  Whether they will succeed or not is an open question – Syniadau argues cogently that they are unlikely to be able to prevent it taking place, and that the likeliest outcome, as things stand, is a declaration of independence within days after the votes are counted.
Strictly speaking, there is no doubt that the central authorities are correct in arguing that the move is contrary to Spanish law.  The Spanish constitution makes it clear that Spain is a single and indivisible whole and that no part has the right to secede.  Things have improved since that meeting with Jordi all those years ago, in the sense that it’s no longer illegal to advocate independence, but the only legal way to achieve it involves first persuading the rest of Spain to approve a change to the constitution.  It’s an impossible barrier – but that was always the intention.  That leaves a political movement which has won the argument in Catalunya itself, and has an electoral mandate to move forwards, with little choice.
I’ve argued in the past that I can devise no satisfactory objective definition of nationality.  Nationality is in essence both subjective and fluid; it changes over time.  And sometimes people can feel that they are members of two or more overlapping nations at the same time.  Some independentistas deny that – despite it being the everyday reality of most of the people around us – and demand that everyone choose one, and only one nationality.  That seems to me to be a futile and self-defeating quest.  But there is another point to this as well – whether defined objectively or not, is nationality the only basis for deciding whether the people living in a defined geographical area have the right to govern themselves or not?  I don’t see why it should be, and in the context of Catalunya, it doesn’t matter whether the people see themselves as Catalans, Spaniards, or a bit of both – if they decide on self-determination, who has the right to stop them?
It’s an issue which goes to the heart of what ‘sovereignty’ is and where it resides.  For those of us who believe that it belongs to all of us, the right to self-determination is one which cannot be denied once the majority desire it.  The Spanish authorities start from the perspective that ‘the law is the law’, and as a result, no part of the whole has any rights unless the rest of the whole agrees to them.  It’s an unbridgeable gulf in perceptions, which is why all attempts at negotiating some other way forward have failed.  It doesn’t look like it will be an easy ride, but the decision is now going to be taken where it should be taken: by the people of Catalunya themselves.


huw meredydd said...

The 'people' are sovereign. Act as though we were 'free' - with confidence and vision - and the constitutional niceties will fall into place.

Theoretically (as you suggest).

Pete said...

The Catalunya argument is the one that started the American civil war. Although the states had an economic interest, obnoxious as that may be. If the Spanish government adopts the Lincoln argument that "A house divided against itself cannot stand" then Spain might use the force of law and all that that may entail.
I can't help but compare the brave actions of the Catalan government with the behaviour of Gwynedd and other councils who capitulate so easily to the will of the UK parliament. I fail to see the point of a Plaid Cymru led authority if all they will do is fall down when confrontation raises it's head. Where Catalunya takes a brave stand even though they are placing personal safety at risk, the defenders of Wales surrender.
Of course I'm referring to planning applications imposed on authorities by London, but if enough councils said no and if the Assembly backed them, big ifs I know. Wales would be defended and we could show that we are a nation, not a region to be pushed around when and as it suits Westminster.