Category Archives: Polls

Coercive democracy and the legal argument against Catalonia

Consider the following situation: a democracy cracks down on a wave of peaceful street protests against its elected president, citing the constitution and the rule of law. The protests are illegal. Unconstitutional. The protestors undemocratic. Legal methods are found for making protest even more difficult. Some of the street protesters comlain that the protests should be permitted. A government spokesman responds that if the protesters want to be allowed to protest, they should try to get the constitution reformed (a process made practically impossible by the fact that the ruling party has an absolute majority in both houses of parliament, and the constitutional and supreme courts both generally agree with the government). Commenters mutter that protest doesn't have anything to do with democracy. That in a constitutional democracy like theirs, universal suffrage and the rule of law are what counts. That maybe the army should be sent in.

Who you consider to be right in a situation like this might well depend on your understanding of the possibilities and limitations of constitutional democracy. It's true that the protests are against the law. It's true that avenues of action exist for the protesters, but also true that they are practically useless. It's true that a basic or universal right seems to be threatened by the constitution itself. But is the right to protest really inalienable ? Isn't it accepted that the right to protest is curtailed in most democracies one way or another? Couldn't you argue that protest is inherently undemocratic? What about the people who feel scared when they see a protest march?

How should the government act, then? Should it maintain its position: 'rule of law trumps all'? Should it toughen its stance and jail the ringleaders? Or should it look for a negotiated settlement? The choice is between two forms of constitutional democracy: coercive and consensual. And it's a problem which most countries struggle with at one time or another, in one way or another. The decision the government goes for will generally reflect its ideological position: does it tend to liberalism and consensual democracy, and so want to negotiate? Or does it tend towards authoritarianism and coercion? But it will also reflect a calculation: is the section of the electorate which needs to be coerced big enough to cause problems for the government?

The right to self determination isn't the same as the right to protest. No rights are exactly the same. But it has interesting similarities in that few countries accept either right unconditionally. I don't think that any of us doubted that the PP would tend towards an authoritarian, coercive method of government when it was elected. We've seen multiple examples of this approach over the last few years (though to be fair to them, their abortion law reform was dropped – proof that the PP can be pragmatic when it comes to moral and ethical political issues, if not others).

I've written this to make it as clear as possible that when SCC/PP/whoever trots out the argument about the rule of law and democracy, they're really using a smokescreen. Every government has it within its power to push for a pragmatic solution to a problem like Catalan separatism if it chooses to. The PP has made a calculation that in electoral terms, ignoring Catalonia is the best policy. This is a political issue, not a legal one, and arguments to the contrary are misleading.

Do you think the Catalonia question is a legal question or a political one?

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Latest poll data shows 50-point lead for independence in Catalonia

A follow-up from my recent post taking a quick and dirty look at polling numbers. As per usual, these polls are certainly not 100% reliable.

In this case, the poll [PDF] was carried out by GAPS for the pro-independence AMI. What that means is hard to say but they certainly don't appear to have asked respondents about a possible '3rd way' of increased self-government for Catalonia. This option, were it made available to voters, would reduce the weight of the independence vote. This is pointed out by another poll carried out by pro-federal newspaper El Periódico. Their poll suggests equal support for increased autonomy and independence, but confirms 80% support for some change in the relationship between Catalonia and Spain.

The other potentially misleading change in the GAPS poll is that it includes 16 and 17 year-olds and non-Spanish citizens. That is to say, everyone aged 16 up and registered legally with a town hall in Catalonia. This is not the same as other polls that have used the same electorate as vote in elections to the Catalan parliament, which is limited to Spanish citizens of 18 years and over registered with a Catalan town hall.

It's difficult to say how much of a difference this would make: 16 and 17 year olds in, say, Olot are probably a lot (heh) more likely to vote yes to independence. But there aren't that many of them. There are plenty more people of South American origin of all ages in BCN metro who are less likely to vote Yes.

All that said, this newest poll results in a 50% point lead for the Yes vote. Even an enormous margin of error would still leave a significant majority voting in favor of independence. Here are the numbers:

1% = 54138,50
5413850 electorate*

YES 3167102 (58.5%)
NO 1044873 (19.3%)

Remove undecided and abstentions.

Total: 4211975 (1% = 42119.75)

Yes: 75%
No: 24%

*NB – I have just used the same number for the electorate as before because it would take me too long to work out the adjusted number. It doesn't affect the percentages anyway.

My opinion: if a referendum were ever held (which doesn't seem likely), it would naturally come down to the question. If a 3rd option of increased autonomy were included, this would successfully split the pro-independence vote. If it was a simple Yes/No question, the Yes response would win a massive victory.

I feel that this makes the likelihood of a referendum being held seriously unlikely. Spain will find it much easier to avoid negotiating with Catalonia if it prevents a vote from happening. Currently, the situation probably favored in Madrid is that Catalonia doesn't hold a referendum but rather issues a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). This would seriously limit vital international support and enable Madrid to depict the Catalan government as acting undemocratically.