A Tough but Worthy Road towards Catalonian Independence


By Mark McNaught
Having spent the last week in Catalonia, I am struck both by the difficulty of the task ahead for their independence movement, yet also the fierce determination of Catalans to see it through and chart their own destiny.
The Spanish government has steadfastly refused to engage with the Catalonian government over the referendum, citing as justification the ‘indivisibility’ clause of the Spanish constitution.

The 15-member ‘Advisory Council for the National Transition’ was constituted by the Catalan government to legally navigate the referendum process.  The Spanish government does not consider them to be legitimate interlocutors, and refuses to negotiate with them over independence issues.

In the next month ‘The Consultation on the Political Future of Catalonia’ will be released, which outlines several scenarios for the independence referendum to be held in 2014.

Each legal scenario for independence is contingent upon how the Spanish government reacts, but as a last resort the Catalans are prepared to call a Parliamentary election to confirm support and issue a unilateral declaration of independence.

With regards to the date for a referendum, the Scottish independence referendum factors heavily in their calculations.  Along with being perplexed as to why there is not more support for ‘yes’ in Scotland, there is genuine concern among Catalans that if their referendum is held after September 16, 2014, and the Scots vote ‘no’, that could damage their cause.  The current thinking on dates centres around just before the Scottish referendum, or several months after in December 2014.

There are major logistical hurdles.  The Spanish government runs elections and retains the electoral lists, so simply assuring everyone is registered and administering the referendum will be complex.

Also, it is very hard to get the most basic economic information about Catalonia from the Spanish government, to help with planning for an independent Catalan state.  How much taxes do Catalans pay compared to the rest of Spain? Exactly how much does Catalonia contribute to the Spanish GDP?  What would be Catalonia’s their share of the national debt?  What is owed to Catalan retirees? 

Not only are answers to these questions not forthcoming from the Spanish government, but there is real question as to whether these records exist, and if so in what form.

This lack of transparency and abysmal governance are part of what motivates Catalonia towards independence, but there is also a lack of recognition on the part of Spain of Catalan culture and language.  A great part of European nation building over the past centuries has involved subverting local languages and identities to promote the broader nationality. France for example suppressed Breton, Occitan, Romane, and other regional dialects so that French would be dominant. Gaelic suffered a similar fate in Scotland.

Spain is still at it with their treatment of the Catalan language.  Under Franco, people could be arrested for speaking Catalan.  It was only in 1978 that it became legal to teach Catalan in schools, after 250 years of Castilian primacy. 

In 1998, Catalan finally became the sole language of instruction in schools.  Nowadays, there continues to be constant disputes over road signs, whether Spanish should be taught on the same level of Catalan in schools, and much else.  The Spanish government continues to view Catalan as a regional nuisance, rather than a legitimate language as worthy of protection and promotion as any other.

The competencies of the Spanish and Catalonian governments are ill-defined, and the Spanish legal system is an incoherent, confusing morass of laws and regulations.  While this condition is not exclusive to Spain, the Catalans view independence as a means to construct a more coherent legal system, which treats all citizens equally and makes the judicial system and the application of laws much fairer.

Catalans simply want good, transparent, effective governance that invests in their people and infrastructure, and respects their language and culture.  Even in the post-Franco era, the Spanish government has proven itself incapable of providing this, as have so many governments currently operating in the world.

For Catalonia and Scotland, the only way to achieve their potential is to vote for independence, to construct modern, fair, egalitarian, non-corrupt democratic systems.

Upon independence, Catalonia and Scotland will be pioneers of modern democratic governance, creating beacons of popular sovereignty in a world overrun with corporate corruption and oligarchy.

If Scots and Catalans don’t, who will?

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.