Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Thinking ahead?

On Sunday, the people of Catalunya were given a chance to vote in a “consultative” ballot run by volunteers, on the question of independence.  Those who voted were overwhelmingly in favour.
The result has inevitably been dismissed by the Spanish government.  The Unionist parties argue that the ballot cannot legitimately reflect the wishes of the region because it was organised by the pro-independence parties.  On this point, I cannot but agree with the Spanish government.  No referendum organised on this basis by the supporters of one side of the debate was ever going to give a mandate for independence.  For such legitimacy, a proper vote would be needed using the formal electoral roll – a ballot, in fact, of the sort which the same Spanish government went to court to prevent happening.
It’s a legalistic Catch-22 for supporters of independence.  The Spanish centralists are relying on a provision in the Constitution laid down by a dictator who had no time for either democracy or sub-state nationalism, and using it to stifle the voice of the Catalans.  Would the Catalans still vote for independence so overwhelmingly in a properly held ballot?  That’s an open question, which can only be answered by holding such a ballot; but trying to prevent such a ballot from being held seems to me more likely to lead to an increase in support for the proposition than to defeat it.
Where next in the process?  (And it’s not entirely academic for us in the UK – it’s the sort of situation in which the UK could find itself if instinctive conservatives such as Jack Straw had their way and enshrined in law the concept of an indissoluble kingdom.)
It seems likely now that the next elections in Catalunya will become a referendum on the issue; and it currently seems more likely than not that the pro-independence parties will win a majority for the proposition.  What then? I wonder whether the Spanish government have really thought further ahead than the court case outlawing the ballot – do they understand the potential consequences of their stance?
There’s no sign of them becoming any less intransigent on the question; and a Catalan government with a clear majority faced with such intransigence probably has little alternative to a unilateral declaration of independence, given the pressure from its own supporters in such circumstances.
Faced with that, the centralists in Madrid would have only two logical options – to accept reality, or to send in troops from the rest of Spain to depose the government and impose direct rule.  I find it really hard to believe that a 21st-century European democracy would resort to the latter; and even if they did, rule from the centre would serve only to further inflame Catalan feelings.
“Trech gwlad nag arglwydd”, as we say in Welsh.  Ultimately people cannot be coerced into remaining part of any state against their will for the indefinite future.  A state exists only by the will – or at the very least the acceptance – of its people.  The Spanish prime minister reminds me increasingly of King Cnut – the difference being that Cnut knew that he could not control the tide.

1 comment:

G Horton-Jones said...


Catalonia 80% of 2 million out of 5.4 est eligible to vote cannot be ignored.

The Scottish vote can be compared.

Where ? does Wales stand