If, eventually, the referendum on independence slated for October 1 (1-O) is not held, it will be the end. But perhaps more for Spain than for Catalonia. If there is no vote, it will mean that the Spanish government will have resorted to impeding measures well beyond what is deemed reasonable. It will mean that a line will have been crossed to suppress those who support Catalonia’s right to self-determination which, it must be stressed and remembered, are a vast, wide-ranging majority in Catalonia and, above all, they form an entirely peaceful, democratic movement. Basque-style street rioting? Come off it! This movement is neither radical nor violent, but the best face of politics, the face of people who demand a basic right in the streets and in parliament, without a fuss. It is formed by many law-abiding, upright citizens who mean well and merely wish to exercise their right to decide the political future of their community and cannot understand how the law could possibly stand in their way. These are people who are simply asking to vote, as they did on November 9 2014, when 2.3 million Catalans cast a ballot in an unofficial referendum. What are they being accused of? What is their crime?
If these people —a majority in Catalonia— are not allowed to vote on 1-O, the feeling of grievance and abuse will grow and become widespread. The certainty that there is no hope within Spain will become more solid. Once again, Spain’s nationalism will have shown its intolerant face, its inability to listen to the voice of its peoples and reach a compromise with its diverse reality. Spain will have raised its time-honoured fear of freedom. As a result, independence support will grow among the Catalan people, who have historically seen themselves as a nation. Many of those who support self-determination today —polls suggest that over 65 per cent are willing to vote on 1-O, even if the ballot is deemed unlawful— would choose to vote No in a referendum granted by Madrid, but would have more reasons to lean towards Yes if the Spanish authorities blocked the ballot. Any hopes of transforming Spain, among those who still entertain any, would be wrecked once again. In Catalonia, the socialist party and the new alternative left, who endorse a federal solution, would struggle.
If the independence referendum is eventually aborted, Catalonia will grow stronger and Spain weaker. This argument is no sleight of logic. I am surprised that nobody in Madrid has come to the same conclusion, not even as a hypothesis. And, above all, I am surprised that the Catalans who want to remain in Spain have not rushed to put it forward to Madrid, desperately. How come they simply jump on the bandwagon of scorning the referendum? Can’t they see that, sooner or later, all this will lead us to a vote? In the end, we will have to have a head count. I dislike using war as a metaphor but —without a referendum— Spain will have won a battle, but will be closer to losing the war. Mentally, Catalonia will have shifted further away.
A frustrated 1-O would immediately lead to a new election cycle. Does anyone honestly think that independence support would wane? Experience has shown us quite the opposite. The root of the conflict lies precisely with the reaction against the Constitutional Court’s ruling that struck down the new Catalan Statute. The independence movement grows stronger with every blow it is dealt. Blocking the 1-O vote could easily boost separatism further. Imposition has merely strengthened the democratic reasons of self-determination and secession supporters.
So, I understand Rajoy and Sánchez’s problem. Perhaps I understand it even better than they do, because they appear to be ignoring part of the problem. If they allow the referendum to go ahead, there is a risk that it might be a success; that is, that many people will turn out to vote and there will be a clear Yes win. They realise that and are afraid of it. But if they do whatever it takes to block the ballot —as they have decided to do—, they might find themselves with an even stronger secessionist majority in the Catalan parliament. Apparently, they have chosen to ignore this because they have been ignoring Catalonia’s reality for quite some time now. But, in the end, reality always prevails.