Thursday 4 October 2012

Catalunya - On the Way to Independence?

While the debate about independence for Scotland continues its slow march towards the referendum in 2014, things have suddenly become very heated in Catalunya.  The nationalist government in Barcelona has called for early elections, set for 28th November and if it wins has vowed to hold its own referendum.   In all this it is clear that there are many similarities between the situation in Catalunya and here in Scotland.  However the differences may be even more significant.

In the first place the so-called Nationalists in Catalunya are not in favour of independence.  The nationalists are made up of two centre-right parties,  Liberals and the Christian Democrats.  They have always worked together and present themselves as a coalition at elections, when they are know as Convergència i Uniò - simplified to CiU.  They mainly represent the Catalan speaking middle class and want better status for their own language - Catalan - and more and more powers, including fiscal powers for Catalunya.  There is a relatively small party - the Left Republicans, ERC, who do actively campaign for independence, but to date they have remained fairly small.  This is one of the key differences with Scotland, where it is the Nationalists who lead the campaign for independence.

Another key difference with Scotland is that the centre left, represented by the socialists - PSC, and the smaller left wing parties are all in favour of more powers for Catalunya.  Only the right wing PP, the party of the current government in Madrid opposes this.  There is thus ample support throughout Catalunya and across the political spectrum for more powers - what might be termed DevoMax, here in Scotland.  In particular the Catalans have pretty much united in calling for a new Fiscal Pact to give increased tax raising powers to the Catalan parliament.  This has recently been resoundingly rejected out of hand by the Spanish government.  And it is this point blank refusal in Madrid to even talk about more powers which has set alight the touch paper.

This all led to the massive popular demonstration in Barcelona in early September, when between one million and a million and a half people crowed onto the streets to demand independence, shown in photo at top.  And here is another key difference with Scotland.  All the recent initiatives seem to have come from the ground up.  There has been a long standing campaign at local level in support of independence which has involved local councils holding local referendums about independence.  With in most cases large majorities in favour.  The recent big demonstration was itself not organized by political parties.  But once they realized how big it was going to be, they quickly jumped on board.  It is this massive demonstration calling for independence which seems to have been the game changer in Catalunya.

The nationalists, at least some of them, have started to talk about independence, or Catalunya acquiring the institutions of a state.  They cannot, as yet, openly talk about independence.  Even the proposed referendum will be about sovereignty as opposed to independence.  The Socialists are now apparently all in favour of rewriting the Spanish constitution so that Spain can become a Federal state.  In the hope of giving Catalunya sufficent powers, while preserving the unity of Spain.   Apart from the right wing party, the Spanish governing PP, just about all the other Catalan parties are coalescing around the demand for more powers and in particular a new Fiscal Pact.  What will happen if the Nationalists are returned to power with a mandate for a referendum and the Spanish government continues to say NO, NO, NO, is anybodies guess.  Some nutters on the right - former politicians and retired military - have already called for the Guardia Civil to be deployed.  This is another difference with Scotland.  Despite the rhetoric on the Unionist side it is hard to imagine either David Cameron or Ed Milliband sending in the tanks to squash the unruly Scots.  We can only hope that cool heads prevail in Madrid.

However the opposition of Madrid to significant additional powers for Catalunya is something that is common to both situations.  London is equally set against more powers for Scotland.  Another similarity is that despite the best efforts of the SNP and the other pro-independence parties, the majority of Scots seem to want to stay in the UK.  Like their Catalan colleagues however the overwhelming majority want increased powers, including financial and fiscal powers for Holyrood.  The key difference is that in Catalunya the Socialists are also in favour of increased powers, whereas in Scotland the Labour Party has become entrenched in a “this far and no further” paralysis.  The LibDems too, while they proclaim their federalist crudentials seem only too happy to align themselves with the staunchest do nothing Unionists in the Conservative and Labour parties.

Another all too depressing similarity is the negative posturing of both governments in Madrid and London.  Both continually assert, with no evidence, that Independence will be bad for Scotland and for Catalunya. They also like to wield the EU card.  Independence will entail leaving the EU and we (Spain and the UK) will veto any chance of joining.  With supposed friends like these, who needs enemies?  It is interesting to note that one EU Commissioner, Viviane Reding, has already come out and denied that independence would mean leaving the EU.

For the pro-independence movement in Scotland, the changed political situation in Catalunya can only be a welcome shot in the arm.  Much will of course depend on the outcome of the elections in November.  But a renewed mandate for the Nationalists will surely provide some food for thought amongst the unionists over here.  For what is most noticeable about the Unionist campaign so far is its complete refusal to think beyond the UK.  One gets the impression from Unionists that independence has never, ever happened before.  They seem stuck in their own little world of make believe.  Events in Catalunya may just shake them up a bit.

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