The referendum and the relation of forces


1. LAWFUL. As November 9 approaches, more people are asking if there will be a referendum. I don't want to make a prediction because there are devilish variables that can crop up at any point and change the game significantly. But I would like to explain why it is so important for the referendum to be lawful. By lawful, I mean that it meets all the legal, organisational and political requirements for the result to be recognised internationally. In others words, that it can't be queried in accordance with the generally established canons. When a nation becomes independent, there is a radical change in the distribution of power. Independence affects huge, powerful interests that will do anything to keep their postion and privileges. It's not just a question of rights and collective will, but a real power struggle. In these circumstances, this is a rather uneven conflict. Catalonia has no great, intimidating economic power, nor strong international allies, nor sufficient funds in its coffers. Nor an army or any of the many other instruments that a nation usually has. It is obvious that the only strength that the pro-independence forces have to tilt the process in their favour is a massive turnout, large enough for the poll not to be queried. Therefore, an unlawful referendum would be a huge risk in terms of recognition, but also voter turnout. An illegal referendum may have a low turnout, which might disqualify the entire process. The Spanish government will obviously do everything it can to stop it. But there is a crack in the armour that should be exploited: the Spanish Constitutional Court's ruling on the Catalan Parliament's declaration of sovereignty of 25 March 2014, which states that the sovereignty "is exclusive of the Spanish nation" but reminds us that Spain "isn't a militant democracy" that can restric ideas that some might want to further. Therefore, holding a non-binding referendum based on the future Catalan law of consultations should be perfectly acceptable from a legal standpoint. A referendum has the advantage of clarity: we would know how much support either camp has and we'd be able to move on. But if a legal, officially valid referendum is not an option, then it's better to vote by different means (for instance, regional elections) than to run the risk of an illegal referendum. The strength of the pro-independence camp lies in the vote and a great deal of work is still needed to build up political momentum. In this sense, whatever happens on November 8 may provide an extra boost for the future, depending on how the Spanish government expresses its intransigence and stops the referendum.

2. IMPASSE. All the speculations on the Catalan process still revolve around two ancient ideas: either one camp gives up or the other gives in. The Spanish government still thinks that the Catalan independence bid will ebb away. And those who invoke the so-called third ways think that the PP and CiU will soften and the Spanish government will make concessions that are good enough to be presented as a victory in Catalonia. Separatists are here to stay and those who still see what's happening as mere electoral tactics by CiU are blind: what kind of electoral tactics could be costing CiU such a high price? Madrid won't lift a finger until the tide turns against them; that is, when the Catalan vote is so eloquent the Europe itself, once again, tells Spain what it must do. Until that day, Spain will remain unfazed. It's a matter of relation of forces

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