Thursday, 12 October 2017

Back to the drawing board for the Independence movement in Catalonia and Scotland

Has he or hasn’t he? That is the question. Has Catalan President Carles Puigdemont declared Independence or not? Has the October 1st Referendum he organised, where 90% of voters opted to become an independent republic, given him a mandate or not? Have the people of Catalonia spoken or not? If so, what have they said? For it is not at all clear. 

On the one hand Senor Puigdemont appears to have declared Independence only to suspend it for a week to allow negotiations between him and the Spanish Government to take place. Whilst the Referendum, declared illegal by the Spanish state and conducted under duress, resulted in a huge majority for Independence its validity is contested. The Catalan President insisted such an outcome would mean he had secured a mandate to declare Independence for Catalonia.

Whilst 90% of voters backed Independence the turnout was just 43% meaning most Catalans ignored the ballot. Both sides, for and against Independence, claim to have the majority behind them. The mood of the Catalan people is not at all clear as the massive demonstrations mobilised by all three sides in the conflict [those for independence, against and in favour of some negotiated dialogue with Madrid] showed. Each failed to conclusively prove where the majority of Catalans stand on the issue.

Furthermore the Catalan Government is now completely isolated at home and abroad in the ‘corridors of power. It has little support in the rest of Spain where all four main parties PP, PSOE, Podemos and Cuidadanos oppose Independence. The Spanish Constitution expressly prohibits secession by any of its constituent regions/nations without the consent of all others. And the ‘International community’ so called considers the matter an internal Spanish issue in which it is steadfastly determined not to become embroiled.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Popular Party [PP] government, has threatened to impose direct rule from Madrid the moment Puidgemont declares UDI. And despite the huge political escalation this action would induce – alienating Catalans even further from the Government in Madrid - no one doubts he will do so. The Spanish state will simply not allow Catalonia to secede. Its provocative use of the Civil Guards and Spanish police on the streets of Catalonia on October 1st left few in any doubt about the seriousness of its intentions. Rajoy knows the implications of Independence in Catalonia for politics across Spain - in the Basque country, Galicia and the Valencien community - would be incendiary. The break-up of Spain has been sharply posed and the forces of capital are not prepared to countenance such a possibility.

There was therefore only ever one outcome here. The independence movement in Catalonia has too little power. Worse, it has shown it was unprepared for this particular conflict. It now risks being routed by the emboldened Spanish state. The tactics the Independence movement employed in Catalonia in holding this referendum may well have back fired. It has not persuaded a majority of Catalans to support Independence. It has grievously underestimated the powers the Spanish state would employ against it and the huge inequity in the power relations it faced here. Moreover it has also threatened to split the governing coalition of Puidgemont’s centre-right nationalist party and the hard Left CUP [Popular Front].

Rajoy may in due course offer further devolution and increased funds to Catalonia in an effort to undermine the potency of the Independence cause. But this is unlikely in the short term. Meantime it looks like it is back to the drawing board for the Independence movement in Catalonia, just as in Scotland where following Nicola Sturgeons own INDYREF2 blunder morale has also been sapped.