Catalan independence is possible

At last, the time when the future of Catalonia will be decided at the polls is here: September 27. We cannot wait any longer. Much energy has been expended to get us this far.

The starting gun shot for the so-called independence process was likely the demonstration on July 10, 2010 against the ruling that struck down Catalonia’s new Statute. Still, the world came to know the Catalan bid for independence following the massive 1.5 million-strong rally on September 11, 2012. This demonstration showcased the wish of many Catalans to become independent, as well as the demand on Catalan parties to set their sights on this political objective.

Since then, the so-called process has followed its course and gained momentum, despite going through some difficult times. Owing to Madrid’s refusal to allow a referendum or a consultation to find out whether Catalans want to be independent or not, we have spent a long time discussing the manner in which we might exercise our right to self-determination, rather than spend time discussing the pros and possible cons of independence,.

Spain has laid many hurdles on the path of the process hoping that it would peter out. There were times when Madrid thought it might succeed, but they didn’t. Today the process is alive and kicking and a Yes win on September 27 is a real  possibility. Having said that, there are two feelings that might cause them to lose: fear and defeatism.

There are individuals who long for an independent Catalonia but are afraid of the consequences because it would mean entering uncharted territory. Their doubts are mainly of an economic nature: Will pensions still be paid out? Will Catalonia leave the EU? Will businesses leave Catalonia? Will the nation get poor? Such doubts are fuelled by those who oppose independence and the Spanish government, as they are forever casting doubts and panic-mongering so that people will vote against independence for fear of its consequences. We are likely to see a surge in those messages over the coming weeks.

Another feeling that might militate against the pro-independence vote is defeatism. Some believe that independence is impossible, that Madrid will never sit down to negotiate, no matter what we do; that the international community will not help either, and that even the EU will make things difficult. So we might as well give up. This feeling of defeatism is also encouraged by those who oppose independence, who systematically deny any chance of success to the secession process.

Therefore, the forces that support independence must fight those feelings during the campaign leading up to September 27. First, they must explain that the benefits of independence clearly outweigh any costs, and that an independent Catalonia will be economically viable. There is a wealth of material available on such matters, prepared by experts and top scholars, that can clear doubts and add rationality to the most troublesome aspects.

Secondly, they ought to emphasise that independence is a unique opportunity to build a better, fairer society where everyone has more opportunities. Independence will not resolve all our problems and mistakes will probably be made, but we will be able to do all those things that Madrid denies us with its policies. The alternative is to endure the high costs of remaining in Spain and stay as we are now: with a huge fiscal deficit, a lack of investment spending from Madrid, with our government’s finances choked by inadequate funding, enduring policies against our language and culture and the loss of devolved powers caused by the Spanish government’s recentralisation process. And so on and so forth. And one might add that attempting to reform Spain is a waste of time. After 300 years trying, we have failed.

Lastly, it must be said that Catalan independence is possible, provided that a majority of Catalans support it. Our strength must come from the ballots. It must be a peaceful, democratic force. At first Madrid will probably refuse to negotiate, even if the Yes camp wins by a landslide. But the countries that have a long democratic tradition and the EU itself, with democracy at its core, cannot look the other way if there is a democratic mandate.

If the EU believes that Catalan independence is inevitable because that is what most Catalans have decided, peacefully and democratically, it will stop pretending that this is a Spanish internal affair and will play a major role in the process, thus minimising the transition costs that many are afraid of. After all, the manner in which Catalonia becomes independent might affect the EU itself and generate instability in Europe’s economy and its currency. Therefore, prompted by the EU, Spain will have to sit down to negotiate and Catalonia will become independent.