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By Jason Michael
Against the full force of the Spanish constitution and the Guardia Civil the people of Catalunya are about to vote for their independence. How Spain responds will inform London on how to check Scotland. We must be ready for that.
On October 1, in the face of massive resistance from Madrid and the open repression of the Spanish state, the people of Catalunya will go to the polls to decide the future of their country. In 2014 in a non-binding poll 80 per cent of Catalans voted in favour of independence from Spain, and as a million proud independentistas rallied in the streets of Barcelona yesterday the Madrid government knows it is losing. One report in El Nacional – the Catalans have one of those too – revealed that the international investment bank Goldman Sachs has taken it for granted that the Yes side will win when the country goes to the polls in just under three weeks.
Spain – in violation of the United Nations’ insistence that it must respect the right of the people of Catalunya to self-determination – has not taken this lying down. In reprisal for the 2014 unofficial poll, which the Spanish government – regardless of international law – deemed unconstitutional, the former president of the comunitat autònoma, Artur Mas, together with Joana Ortega the former vice-president, and Irene Rigau the former education minister, was put on trial. Found guilty, he was barred from holding public office for two years and ordered to pay €36,500 for organising an illegal referendum in defiance of the Spanish courts.
Catalan News (@catalannews) September 11, 2017
In recent days as the Catalan government has suspended the Spanish constitutional, implementing a transitional code in anticipation of independence, the Spanish military state police, the Guardia Civil, has made a number of arrests, cracked down on political activism, and made significant searches for the 1 October ballot papers. The Catalans are undeterred. Yesterday, in what may be the last pro-independence rally before independence, over one million people amassed in the city of Barcelona to show their support for complete separation from Spain.
Speaking to the Butterfly Rebellion ahead of the demonstration yesterday Francesca Garrido, a pro-independence activist in Barcelona, commented that “the Spanish government is trying to provoke us to […] violence on our side, but we are prepared not to respond.” She’s not wrong. Knowing now that the game is up, and that it will lose Catalunya if the vote goes ahead, Spain has cracked down with the use of armed police to shut down the democratic institutions of the country.
The situation, while on the surface like a carnival, is tense. It is understood that any violence – or perceived violence – whatsoever, on the part of the pro-independence movement, will likely result in a full military intervention by Madrid. This is what happens when those with the power have no options left, and Spain has nothing left to play but force.
Thankfully the UN High Commission has already intervened by sending a letter of instruction to the Spanish embassy in Geneva reminding Spain of its obligations under international law to respect the democracy of Catalunya, and – more importantly – to respect the decision of any referendum the country holds on the question of independence. This is not, however, a get-out-of-jail-free card for Catalunya. Spain can rely on the support of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France – three of the seven permanent members of the UN Security Council – to veto UN intervention. As always, what the United Nations says and what it is capable of doing are two entirely different things. One way or another, if the October 1 vote goes ahead, the ball will be in Madrid’s court.
Col·lectiu Emma (@CollectiuEmma) March 22, 2017
While in many respects the political situations of Catalunya and Scotland are very different, they are analogous in one key area; one to which we have already alluded – how the power holders respond to challenges to their power. Article 2 of the Spanish constitution refers to the indissolubility of the Spanish nation, and thus on the strength of this imposed constitution it cannot and will not recognise the legality of any decision for independence in the Catalan nation. This is not the same in the United Kingdom, but the various structures which are in place in the UK to safeguard the integrity of the union – to all intents and purposes – amount to the same thing.
Few would argue that the Edinburgh agreement, allowing Scotland to hold the 2014 referendum, was not a stunt by David Cameron’s government. With less than 25 per cent of Scots in favour of independence at the time, Scottish independence – when the referendum was granted – was never thought to be a realistic result. Now in 2017, in both Scotland and Catalunya, that assumption has evaporated. Secession is the most likely outcome of a vote in Catalunya as it is in another Scottish independence referendum. There will be no more stunts, but the precedent has been set.
London’s eyes are fixed on the situation in Spain and Catalunya right now. How Spain behaves over the next few months and what it gets away with – importantly – will largely inform how the British government will deal with matters in Scotland. Bearing in mind that devolution is an illusion of the federalisation of state power, London remains the only real power holder in the British state. Can the Westminster government suppress the Scottish parliament as part of its effort to maintain the union? Of course it can. But does Scotland, in the event of such a move, have any realistic hope of international pressure being brought to bear against London? Well this all depends on what happens next between Madrid and Barcelona.
Butterfly Rebellion (@Butterfly_Reb) September 11, 2017
Already Westminster is in the process of enacting a power grab from the devolved administrations, one – which if successful – will seriously weaken the Scottish parliament. Ultimately the Brexit process is the beginning of the rolling back on devolution, the creation and strengthening of a set of legal realities that will underpin the assault on Scottish democracy. From the point of view of London this is the most rational course of action.
In the coming weeks, assuming Spain does not back down from its present intransigence and gets away with the re-imposition of its constitution on Catalunya, then we can safely assume this will be the cookie cutter from which Better Together 2 will be shaped. Whether we realise it or not in Scotland the clock has been restarted and time has been taken off. Our only defence – possibly our last remaining route to independence – is in the re-energisation of the Scottish parliament under the leadership of the SNP and the rapid mobilisation of the Yes movement. Regardless of Spain’s next move with regard to Catalunya, it simply cannot defeat the momentum of the Catalan independence movement. If there is a vote and if that vote is Sí, then Catalunya will gain its independence. We must follow the example it is about to set, and we must get ready for that now.
Independent Thinking: Catalans rally ahead of secession referendum