The problem is not the Statute, but the State

Catalans have learned that there is no point in negotiating a Statute, because it will not be honored

Pedro Sánchez has insisted that the solution to the Catalan conflict is via a "referendum on self-government", a euphemism so as not to directly say a vote on a new Statute of Autonomy. This proposal cannot be considered in itself an offer to Catalonia, because it would first have to have specific content. For example, would jurisdiction over language and culture be protected? Would the Generalitat have control over Barcelona’s El Prat airport? Would it have its own Treasury Office and a unique and fair financing system? But even ignoring all of these issues, the experience of the 2006 Statute has shown that the problem is not so much reaching a pact with the Spanish left (a feat in itself), but rather the inability or lack of real will by the Spanish side to comply with it. In other words, Catalans have learned that it is of no use to agree on a new Statute that broadens their self-government if later the State, through their institutions or official apparatus, boycotts it. Because that is exactly what happened in 2010, when the Constitutional Court (TC), politicized and delegitimized in the eyes of public opinion, watered down the Statute that expressed the will of the people as voted in referendum.

Therefore, if Pedro Sánchez wants to lend credence to his offer of a new Statute for Catalonia, he would first have to present the basic outline of a Constitutional reform that would shield the Catalan charter and would prevent, for example, the TC from striking any of its precepts. In fact, this seemed to be Sánchez's initial proposal —to amend the Constitution— but now it seems that he has shelved it in the face of his party's own internal divisions and the usual hostility of PP and Ciudadanos, who have turned the unity of Spain and their aversion to diversity into their sole reason for existing.

Beyond Spain’s institutional and legal architecture, Sanchez should be aware that the underlying problem is the strong unitary and corporate culture of Spain's central administration, which resists any transfer of powers because it is not prepared to share the power that it now exercises in a monopolistic regime. The problem, therefore, is not the Statute, but a strongly nationalistic Spanish State that opposes decentralization and views managing the public sector as its own personal business.

It is clear that Spain does not have the federal culture nor sufficient political sensitivity to recognize Catalonia's unique nature by building a space where it can be comfortable. And this lack of sensitivity has led hundreds of thousands of citizens to come to believe in independence as the only way out. Independence is not the result, as some claim, of manipulation by Machiavellian leaders and indoctrinated citizens, or of a special set of circumstances, but rather, a largely rational option that responds to the accumulation of specific failures, such as the statutory process of 2006.

A majority of Catalans want a referendum to decide on independence. Therefore, if Sanchez wants to resolve the Catalan issue, his only options will require a vote. Now it remains to be seen if he will be able to launch an ambitious reform of the State that can convince part of the Catalan public that it is still possible for Catalonia to have a place within Spain, and present his offer as an alternative to the option of independence at the polls.

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