When you live in Scotland and spend the week in Catalonia whilst they debate and declare Independence it appears to all sound strangely familiar. The only difference is in Scotland the vast majority of people feel to be represented by one side or the other. In Catalonia there are Catalans who feel betrayed by people on both sides of the debate.
Madrid lost its moral authority during the referendum when it sent in the police to confiscate ballot boxes and in doing so decided to rough up a few pensioners with batons and tear gas, this course of action hardened the views of many undecided voters. A little heavy handed but hardly surprising when you see humble security guards walk around armed with guns, pepper spray and handcuffs, Francisco Franco would be proud and given older voters still remember how the autonomy of Catalonia was eroded during the Franco years this was a harsh reminder of what they certainly don’t want to go back to. If Madrid lost the moral authority then Barcelona has lost the legal authority in calling an illegal referendum, it had no mandate to do so and this course of action is seen as little more than a coup d’état with a vocal minority on the streets being used as rent a mob.
You read the mainstream media who all appear to be highlighting the facts that Catalans are partying all night celebrating their independence while many balconies on apartments still fly the Spanish and Catalan flag side by side. Politicians of the world unite in siding with Madrid to call the actions of Catalonian Government illegal. It is strange times when you find the only two politicians to be siding with the Catalans are Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage, strange bedfellows indeed. However, when they are both calling for the two million voices of Catalans to be heard I fear they are only doing it for their own ends. Nicola will use this to further her own arguments for divorce from the United Kingdom. She would be wise to remember that this make further mockery of her stance of Independence in Europe given the view of Donald Tusk that, ‘for EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor.’ Nigel uses it to say the E.U. rejects democracy, ironic given it was an illegal referendum with a low turnout. Both appear to be doing so to support their own calls for independence, one from the United Kingdom and one from the European Union.
The reality is it can only be the people of Catalonia who can call for independence and after spending the past week here it would appear that a vocal minority are doing a very good job of doing so. The people I’ve spoken to don’t feel represented by either side, they were happy with the status quo, maybe wanting more autonomy but have lost faith in Madrid for their actions during the referendum.
With only a 43% turnout in what many consider to be an illegal referendum and a lot of ‘No’ supporters saying they didn’t want to legitimise the vote by voting at all, they therefore stayed at home. One would hardly call 39% of the electorate a popular mandate for Independence.
When Madrid rejected what the constitutional court called an illegal referendum many expected Carles Puigdemont, the Catalonian President, to call for an election. This would have prevented Madrid imposing direct rule and also allowed the people to decide if he truly had a mandate to call for Independence. If he had won the mandate would have been clear, if he had lost he could have retired gracefully. He has taken the bold move of calling for a vote in Parliament to unilaterally declare independence. The mainstream media are reporting he won this vote by 70-10, which is true. What they fail to mention is that MP’s from the three main national parties, the Socialists, Ciudadanos and the People’s Party had walked out in protest at a further call for Independence that the people don’t want.
The Spanish Prime Minister Rojoy now has little choice except to implement Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to restore the rule of law to which the Spanish Senate has already agreed. In doing so they will dissolve the parliament, dismiss the President and take control of the Police, again a painful reminder of the lack of autonomy the Catalans had during the Franco years. Both sides are playing ‘chicken’ with a country and Barcelona have called Madrids bluff. If the violence of October 1st was anything to go by one can only hope there is no violence but to say this would be optimistic is an understatement.
The latest twist has seen Rojoy calling a Catalonian election to be held on December 21st, one could argue a smart move, he has handed power to the people through the ballot box but needs the separatists to also participate to give it legitimacy. If they do participate they are also acknowledging the rule of law from Mardrid which some may see as a climbdown. Rojoy is also whilst playing a brave hand it is also a dangerous hand. If the Catalonian Nationalists resoundingly win the election in December independence will be difficult to stop.
In the U.K. before we had the Scottish Referendum we had both sides sign up for the Edinburgh Agreement which legitimised the vote for both sides and they could both fully participate in. If Alex Salmond and David Cameron did one thing well it was this. A heated debate was had, small amounts of intimidation but the vote in the end was a remarkably British and civilised affair. The best thing for Barcelona and Madrid now is to sit down and have a sensible debate.
The people I’ve spoken to this past week are divided, no great claims for Independence but probably for more autonomy, a great many of them feel betrayed by both Governments. One betrayed them morally and the other legally, both intent on confrontation rather than compromise. I sincerely hope a peaceful solution can be found for this beautiful region, the future is uncertain but the only certainty is these wonderful people deserve better from all politicians on both sides of the debate in order to stop this betrayal of Catalonia.