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.
Fellow traveler Kate Shea Baird sums it all up quite well. I feel it’s important for those of us on the left who support Catalan independence to remember that we want independence in order to deliver a better country. Not just any country. An independent Catalonia, sí o sí, is not the aim and never should be. I don’t consider Catalans to be living under a repressive regime (unless you mean the Mossos) and so I don’t buy the liberation trope. And while I wouldn’t like to see Artur Mas behind bars for organizing the consulta, I’d crack the cava open if he and the rest of his party were sent down for corruption.
The pro-independence left (mainly the CUP and elements of Iniciativa and a handful of people at ERC) must maintain its focus through all the twists and turns in this process. We must, above all, fight for our values as the keystone of our support for independence: we want a better country. We want a country that helps the poorest, defends labor, looks after its citizens’ health, educates its young people, invests in the arts and culture, promotes sustainable living and tourism, and rejects CiU’s corruption and the neo-liberal model. And because we’re on the left, we must want all these things for Spain as well.
That’s the Catalan republic that I defend.
As you’ll have heard by now. A referendum on Catalan independence “will be held” on November 9 2014. It will consist of two questions: “Should Catalonia be a state? And if so, should it be an independent state?”. CiU, ERC, ICV-EUiA and CUP agreed these terms. This represents a plurality of the parties in the Catalan parliament. The agreement came days before the potential collapse of the CiU government over a budget vote due next week.
The response from Rajoy was immediate: “It’s not negotiable. It won’t happen”.
Jordi Cañas of C’s (such a fitting name) maybe hinted at the unionist approach on TV3 just now: “There won’t be a referendum in November next year” he said, “there will be elections”. And as suggested here before, this is the most likely strategy of Spanish opposition to Catalan independence: deny the right to a referendum and thereby encourage the ‘other path to independence’ – elections followed by a unilateral declaration of independence. This would put Madrid in a much better position in terms of international support and negotiating power. It is, I reckon, the preferred outcome in Madrid because of how easy it would be to paint the Catalans as thoroughly antidemocratic, as well as sowing disagreement between the pro-referendum parties (Iniciativa won’t agree to a UDI as an election pledge, I shouldn’t think).
So, in short: this time next year, we’ll still be talking about what might happen.
Artur Mas has been on an official visit to France. He celebrated that Spain has permitted Catalonia its own sub-representation at UNESCO in Paris. He also took the opportunity to suggest that the concession for Rodalies commuter trains in Barcelona might be sold to SNCF when Renfe’s license expires in 2015.
Similar noises were made a while back when it was suggested that France be the defender of Catalan independence and territory, rather than Spain or Catalonia itself. A proposed meeting with the French minister of defence was cancelled – allegedly after pressure from Spain.
So it’s privatisation of public infrastructure, but done in a clever way that in theory could help get the French on-side when it comes to independence (and thus make us forget that we’re talking about basic state services). Going further down that road could be risky: an independent state with no infrastructure to call its own isn’t much of a state.
[I’d like to add that I raised the France question a while back on this blog, and had a lot of comments from Catalans who thought France’s position was utterly irrelevant. Rather short-sighted of them, in my opinion. I assume they’ll be writing to Vilaweb to complain, now that the pro-independence website has published an editorial entitled ‘France is key for Catalonia’s diplomatic recognition‘.]
UPDATE: the elections will be held on November 25th.
The Catalan newspaper Ara is reporting that Artur Mas is about to call early elections, likely to occur on November 18 or 25 or December 2.
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy stated in parliament today that he doesn’t agree with the Catalan view that a new fiscal pact ought to be agreed. This was supposed to have been the subject of discussion in a meeting between Rajoy and Mas tomorrow morning in Madrid. It is believed that Mas could call the elections tomorrow, immediately after this meeting.
There is widespread expectation that these elections could take on the form of a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain. For this to happen, the governing CiU will have to form a national bloc with parties sympathetic to independence: ERC, ICV and SI. The Catalan federations of the two main Spanish parties, PP and PSOE will oppose independence, with support from Ciudadanos.
The groups in favour of independence appear to see that speed is of the essence now. They aim to benefit from the upswing in support for separatism seen at last week’s demonstration in Barcelona. They probably also fear the Spanish government invoking section 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows for central government to establish direct rule over autonomous communities seen to be in breach of the constitution.
Does this render independence any more likely? It’s hard to say. There can be no doubt that more people here are taking the question seriously. But CiU will have to negotiate a pact with leftwing ERC and ICV to have a chance of an absolute majority. But I get the feeling that there are plenty of Catalans who might balk at the last minute, either due to the uncertainty that independence might bring or because of their dislike for voting for any CiU-led coalition.
Because of the speed with which the independence movement has gathered pace and the possible sanctioning of Catalonia’s self-government by Madrid, these elections will likely prove to be the supreme test that separatism must pass if it is going to succeed.
What do you think will happen?
If not precisely inevitable, Catalan independence now seems much more likely than it did a couple of years back when I first framed my questions for supporters and opponents of Catalan separatism.
Many of those questions remain valid. But my main focus has shifted. This reduced list should read as a demand from those leading and supporting the independence movement that they for once and for all clarify various matters that I believe worry many people currently. Because if Catalonia really will be the ‘Next State in Europe’, these matters need to be clarified now, not later.
1 – What social model will an independent Catalonia have?
While the right are currently in power, and have governed for the majority of Catalonia’s post-Franco years, there is a significant section of Catalan society that supports parties of the left. We’re deeply unhappy about the cuts that Artur Mas has made to public health, education, social assistance and public sector pay during the financial crisis. Mas has blamed these cuts on Spain’s mishandling of the national economy. Very well: if that is true, he must now guarantee to restore, improve and protect public sending and investment in the event of independence.
2 – Will you now, and forever, forgo all claims on the territories in Spain and France sometimes referred to as the Catalan Countries?
I shouldn’t need to explain the importance of this question. The only chance of success as a state depends on France’s and Spain’s recognition. That won’t happen unless you formally reject territorial claims on Rosselló, Valencia, the Franja and the Balearics.
3 – What status for non-Spanish residents in Catalonia?
OK, this is a personal one, but it affects lots of people and many businesses. Will you now guarantee our status as permanent residents? What chances for citizenship will we have?
This blog has seen plenty of debate concerning the whole independence issue. In May, I wrote that I wasn’t sure that Catalan independence had majority support. I now believe that it does.
As of today, I’m happy to declare myself in favour of Catalan independence. (You can now put the trumpets away)
We went to Barcelona today. It took an hour to get to Via Laetana from Gràcia FGC station. The police say 1.5 million people turned out; more than the organisers expected. The PSC didn’t support it. Convergència was taken by surprise. Unió was utterly shocked. All the parties have been sidelined by a popular movement that can’t be ignored.
Today’s demonstration was a step towards Catalan independence. The largest demonstration Barcelona and Catalonia has ever seen, and unequivocally in support of independence. I find it difficult to believe that Rajoy will offer us a ‘pacte fiscal’ that does the job. When he fails to do so, I expect early elections here and a national platform in support of a referendum.
Next Tuesday, Catalonia’s national day, will see thousands of people demonstrating in Barcelona, in support of Catalan independence. I will attend and support the demo on the basis of my support for the right of people to decide: the right to self-determination, especially after a retired Spanish army officer threatened us with violence last week; and support for the Catalan language, under attack in multiple Spanish regions governed by the PP.
Not all of Catalonia’s problems would be solved by independence. Indeed, independence would probably bring about the existence of new problems we’ve not even considered yet. But that doesn’t mean it’s definitely not worth looking into. A fair distribution of the revenue generated by Catalonia seems impossible to achieve. Would we have better social cohesion and healthcare and so on if we had all the money raised here? Would my EHIC application be approved a lot faster, allowing me to get health insurance before it’s too late? It’s not a certainty but we’d be in a much better place to argue for it.
To defend the right to self-determination in the face of threats from past-it Spanish colonels strikes me as a perfectly reasonable thing to do on a Tuesday afternoon. See you in Plaça Catalunya at 18h.