A Catalogue of Repression in Catalunya

For any who are interested, this article by Dick Nichols provides a fairly comprehensive report of what the Spanish government is trying to do to prevent the independence referendum in Catalunya on 1 October, now less than a week away.

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What action and by whom?

I was disappointed by Leanne Wood's reaction to today's announcement that the Welsh Government is setting up a commission under John Thomas, the retiring Lord Chief Justice, to look at justice in Wales, and in particular the need for Wales to be a separate or distinct legal jurisdiction. She said the Welsh Government was

"... in danger of talking Wales to sleep with endless commissions".

"Plaid Cymru has argued for many years that Wales should be granted control over its own legal system. The case in favour of devolving policing, probation and justice is already overwhelming. The support of the legal profession for these changes is also growing and their expertise should be heeded. We need action, not another talking shop."

BBC - 18 September 2017

That's all very well, but who does she expect to take what action?

I'm sure she intends to imply that Welsh Labour don't have a policy position on this, but they do. In March 2016, when the Tories were busy pushing through the Wales Bill, Labour published an alternative version which included the commitment to a distinct Welsh legal jurisdiction to be brought in by 2026.

So, if it were up to the National Assembly, Plaid and Labour could have voted this through last year. But of course it's not up to our Assembly, it's up to the UK Parliament in Westminster.

Carwyn Jones then managed to win a considerable internal victory by getting the UK Labour party to include this commitment in their manifesto for the general election in June this year, as I noted here. But, unfortunately, Labour didn't win that election.

So what action does Leanne expect? Clearly, the only ones at the moment who can give Wales what Plaid Cymru and Labour both want are the Tories, so all we can do prior to another Westminster election is put pressure on the Tories to change their mind.

The simple political reality is that the Tories in Westminster won't listen to either Labour or Plaid Cymru. So I find it hard to think of a better way of applying pressure than to get an undoubted legal heavyweight like John Thomas to chair a commission. It's a smart move. And for him personally, it will neatly fill in the gap between his retirement as Lord Chief Justice and becoming Chancellor of Aberystwyth University next year.

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Wylfa is completely dead

I have a big smile on my face today. I knew the auction figures for the next round of offshore wind farms would be low, but I didn't expect them to be as low as £57.50/MWh.

     

A lot of the reports today compare this with strike price of £92.50/MWh agreed for nuclear energy from Hinkley Point C ... apparently forgetting that this price was agreed some time time ago, and increases with inflation, so that the nuclear subsidy is, even now, closer to £100/MWh.

In short, anybody who still thinks nuclear is a good option needs their head examined. But I have no doubt that there'll still be some that do, especially those who have previously set out their stalls in favour of it. Of course those who work in the nuclear industry will claim that nuclear is still necessary. I agree with them completely when they say that we need to generate electricity from a range of sources because of the intermittency of wind, but why that range needs to include nuclear when there are so many better alternatives to include in any mix is beyond me.

The other group that will find it hard to change their minds are politicians. For those in Wales who wanted or expected Wylfa B to go ahead, my advice would be to let those expectations quietly fade. Politicians are stubborn creatures, and I think that it might be possible that Hinkley C progresses, simply to save face because contracts have been signed. However I think it will be subject to inevitable delays and increased costs, so I have doubts about whether it would ever be completed.

After that, we need to remind ourselves that the finance agreement with the Chinese put Sizewell and Bradwell next in the queue. So, at best, Wylfa B was only ever in fourth place, as I noted in this post a year ago. It would only ever have been built if the others had gone smoothly and, if our previous experience of nuclear projects has taught us anything, we know they won't.

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Five Things to Remember

I've been following the independence movement in Catalunya since 2009. My first post is here, and somehow I've managed to write another 60 posts on the subject since then.

Of course I'd be very flattered if anyone were to read them all, but there's a much more succinct way of understanding the situation. I've taken the liberty of reproducing this post by Vicent Partal, editor of VilaWeb, in full, because I think it gives a very good overview of the situation from the perspective of someone who supports independence for Catalunya.

Five Things to Remember

     

Given the transcendent nature of this moment, we thought it would be a good time to summarize how we arrived at this point and to explain the special nature of the decision that Catalan Parliament took yesterday.

 
1. Spain broke its own rules when the Constitutional Court nullified the 2006 statute of Autonomy

The origins of all that that we have experienced over the last several years can be found in the Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision to strike down key elements of the 2006 Catalan statute of autonomy. Today it is widely recognized that this amounted to a de facto coup against the constitution that broke the judicial balance established at the end of the Francoist era. The relation of power between Spanish centralism and the Catalan Autnomist Government was based on the so-called “two keys”. Should a Catalan desire to alter its regime of autonomy arise, Madrid held the “first key” of being able to demand that the new law pass through Madrid’s legal filters where it would be subject to alteration. Catalonia’s “second key” was the right, should changes be made in Madrid, to reject the altered statute through a referendum. The process was clear, transparent and balanced. One key furnished guarantees to Spain, the other to Catalonia. Each side had a voice in the process. However, the forced entry into the process of a “third key” that had never existed and that was invented by the Popular Party destroyed this constitutional balance and broke the existing conditions of coexistence. The responsibility for bringing us to where we are today lies squarely with the Spanish state which, through its unilateral actions, abolished the pact forged in the transition to democracy.

 
2. Spain has refused to engage in dialogue with Catalonia about independence or, for that matter, anything else

Catalonia does not have the right to impose secession upon Spain. Nor does Spain have the right to impose unity upon Catalonia. Should a conflict such as the one that is now being played out in the Principality of Catalonia arise, the only solution is negotiation, as the Supreme Court of Canada made clear in its opinion on the now widely celebrated referendum on the question of independence for Quebec.

Such a negotiation could have taken many forms and could have centered on many different aspects of the impasse. After the first September 11th (Catalan National Day) protests in 2012, the Catalan government proposed that the two sides engage in a renewed dialogue about fiscal matters and cultural rights. This proposal was not only rejected, but treated with open disdain. Catalan political forces have appealed on nearly twenty occasions for a negotiated solution to the celebration a referendum designed to clarify the true political will of the Catalan people. As is the case today, the party that has always refused to negotiate in the recent past has been Madrid. The Spanish state has consistently disdained the core democratic principle that disagreements should be resolved through good faith negotiations that respect the democratic expression of all political projects. This consistent pattern of disdain delegitimates the arguments of the Spanish government.

 
3. The people of Catalonia gave the Parliament of Catalonia a clear democratic mandate for a Proclamation of Independence

In elections held on the 27th of September 2015, the citizens of Catalonia awarded the proponents of a program to pursue a proclamation of independence an absolute majority of the seats in the Catalan Parliament. The fact that this result fell just short of 50% of the popular vote has led the members of the winning coalition to the conclusion that they should seek validate their program through that most democratic of methods: a referendum. It has always been hoped that this referendum would be sanctioned through negotiations with the Spanish state. However, this has been impossible to do. It is precisely this refusal on the part of the Spanish Government to negotiate anything that justifies, and imbues with legal force, the unilateral vote that the Catalan Parliament will hold tomorrow. There is currently no other way that the representatives in Parliament can give voice to the political desires the people of Catalonia.

 
4. International law provides a legal basis for both self-determination and unilateral secession

The right to self-determination of all peoples is an essential element of international legal doctrine. It is an absolute right that trumps national legislation, as is spelled out in the two 1966 UN conventions on human rights which the Spanish constitution recognizes as the supreme law of the land. The Parliament of Catalonia is thus able to legitimately invoke this general principle as the basis for the referendum. In addition, there is the decision of the International Court of Justice regarding Kosovo that definitively resolved two important matters. The first is that there is no provision in international law that invalidates the unilateral proclamation of independence of a territory. The second is that the principle of the inviolability of borders only applies to conflicts between states and thus cannot in any way be used to impede the secession of a part of a state.

 
5. Recent international practice has given explicit support to processes of national self-determination thus creating a norm characterized by the acceptance of new states within the international community

A few figures are worth bearing in mind. Since 1991, 53 sub-state entities, like Catalonia, have held referendums on self-determination. Of this total, 27 referendums were carried out in agreement with the states of which the entity seeking self-determination was then part. The other 26 were convened unilaterally. The Spanish state has recognized 26 of the 27 new states constituted in the world since 1991, the majority of which were proclaimed unilaterally. In fact, 7 states that today are part of the European Union were, in 1991, parts of other states and thus in situations quite similar to that of Catalonia today. These 7 European Union member states that were not independent in 1991 (Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic) were all created through unilateral mobilizations, and in 5 of those cases, through the specific modality of a unilateral referendum. All of them are recognized by Spain and are part of the European Union.

While the European Union has no provision spelling out what is to be done in the case of the secession of a part of a member state, there is a consistent practice when it comes to recognizing the results of referendums on self-determination. For example the EU took important decisions in response to the referendums of the Saar (1955), Greenland (1982) and Brexit (2016), and did not block the referendum in Scotland (2014). All of these referendums were held within the territory of the Union. And as we have seen, it accepted as member 7 states born of unilateral processes while also giving support to the practice of self-determination in cases such as that of Kosovo. This, in clear contradiction to Spain’s current posture in regard to Catalonia.

 
Summing up

If we have come to this point it is basically because of the legitimacy that the Catalan people bestowed on the Parliament of Catalonia in the September 27th, 2015 elections, and also, the legitimacy that the international community has bestowed upon the right of self-determination. But we have also arrived at this point as the result of the persistent delegitmation of the Spanish position, which flies in the face of international rules and practices as well as the provisions of its own constitution.

Now is the moment to take the next step, conscious both of the civic strength built up over the last decade, and the fact that the international community will react as it always has: by resolving a political problem that cannot be wished away through the deployment of legalistic maneuvering.

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Unstoppable Democracy

Here are two pictures from the Catalan Parliament yesterday. The first shows one side of the chamber rising to its feet to applaud the vote to hold a binding referendum on independence on 1 October.

     

From a different angle, the second shows what three of the opposition parties thought about it. They left just before the vote took place.

     

Walk outs aren't uncommon in politics. And even if the PP, PSC and Cs had all stayed and voted against, it wouldn't have made the slightest difference to the outcome of the vote.

     

This is the ballot paper, which asks "Do you want Catalunya to be an independent state in the form of a republic?"

  

So what happens next? The ball is in the Spanish Government's court. Of course they will denounce the vote, call it illegal, and get the Constitutional Court in Madrid to confirm their opinion. That's what they do every time ... and, just as every time before, the Catalan Government will take no notice and go ahead anyway. They have their own mandate from the 2015 election.

The real question is what the Spanish Government will do after that. If they try and arrest any politicians or public officials, they risk inflaming public opinion, resulting in more people being more determined to vote in the referendum. So I doubt that they'll do any more than issue warrants. They dare not attempt to enforce them.

Catalunya's National Day is on 11 September, only a few days away, so we can expect a couple of million people on the streets of Barcelona, most of whom will be carrying flags and banners supporting independence – just as has happened every year for the past five years or more. The only thing that might spoil the party is the very real threat of another terrorist attack.

So my guess is that the Spanish Government will leave it until the day of the vote. A lot will depend on the anticipated turnout. If it looks like being low, they will probably decide it is best to do nothing, and claim that the result is invalid because most people in Catalunya didn't vote. But if it is clear that a majority will vote, they will then either try and stop people voting, or try and seize the ballot boxes after people have voted. A few isolated incidents of disruption are almost certain to happen somewhere, though probably not by people in uniform.

If the disruption is organized and systematic, implemented either by the military or by the Spanish Guardia Civil (the police force in Catalonia, the Mossos d'Esquadra, is answerable to the Catalan authorities) then the Catalan government will declare independence anyway on the basis of their majority in Parliament. I think the Spanish authorities would be well advised not to try this. They are currently telling the media that this referendum is undemocratic, so they will look pretty stupid on the international stage if they are seen to either prevent people from voting or prevent their votes from being counted. Their best bet is to ignore the vote, and hope that the rest of the world ignores it too.

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From the perspective of the Catalan Government, therefore, the only thing that will prevent them making a unilateral declaration of independence is if the result of the referendum is No. I don't think there is any political commentator who believes the vote will be anything other than a Yes. There's room for disagreement over the margin of victory and the turnout, but—provided the vote is not systematically disrupted by Spain—the result will be a Yes.

We must therefore prepare ourselves for an inevitable declaration of independence in the first week of October. The EU and the rest of the world will not be able to sit on the fence any longer.

But it really won't matter too much what the rest of the world thinks. The only question is whether Catalunya can operate as an independent state. The most critical institution for Catalunya to function as a independent state is now in place. After a few years of preparation, the new Catalan Tax Agency was set up only last week, so they are now able to collect taxes for themselves. Madrid will not be able to fiscally strangle an independent Catalunya by depriving it of the funds necessary for it to pay its police, teachers and the whole host of other public sector employees necessary for a state to operate.

Spain might try and close its border with Catalunya, but Catalunya will still have a land border with France, and it has its ports and airports. I have no doubt that things will be tough for a while ... but I doubt that it will be any tougher than life will be for people in the UK if and when it leaves the EU.

So what's left for Spain to do? Use their army to invade with troops and tanks? Use their navy to blockade the ports? Use their air force to bomb the airport runways? I'm sure Franco wouldn't have hesitated for a moment, but that was forty years ago, and western Europe is a completely different place today.

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"A natural right of any group of people"

I've just come across a very interesting statement from the US Defense Secretary, James Mattis, who was in Erbil yesterday for talks with Masoud Barzani.

Discussing the planned independence referendum for 25th September, Barzani reiterated that the plan is “a solution and not an obstacle”.

“He then briefed Secretary Mattis on the old and modern issues that the people of Kurdistan have had with Baghdad and that no real partnership has ever been accepted by the latter. The President then reassured Secretary Mattis and the accompanying delegation that the referendum would not create any problems for the operations against the terrorists of the Islamic State and that the courage of the Peshmerga forces shall remain unwavering against this brutal common enemy which poses a threat to all of humankind and not only to Iraq and Kurdistan,” reads the press release.

Secretary Mattis stated that he understands the grievances of the people of the Kurdistan Region and also added that such step is a natural right of any group of people.

However, he said the announcement of independence vote last June was unexpected for the government of United States, especially due to the military operations against the terrorists of the Islamic State."

Basnews - 22 August 2017

With the proviso that this is taken from a press release by President Barzani's office, this is a remarkable statement with far-reaching consequences.

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Those of us who believe that President Trump is an embarrassment to the world probably have good reason to wonder how seriously we should take any statement from the current American administration; but not every aspect of their foreign policy is bad.

One of the positive changes after Trump came to power, an improvement on Obama's position, was a marked increase in military support—both in terms of equipment and troops—for Kurds in both Iraq and Syria, despite these two groups having very different political ideologies. In simple terms, I think the American administration believed that the Kurds offered the best hope of defeating ISIS, and that this mattered more to them than anything else. They probably didn't think much about the political solutions that would need to be developed after ISIS are defeated. Perhaps it wouldn't be too cynical to point out that the Americans have always been more eager to take military action than work out what to do afterwards.

That explains why Mattis said that the US was taken by surprise by Barzani's announcement in June this year. But the Trump administration have now had a good couple of months to think about it, and I think they have to be commended for standing behind the principle of democracy and self-determination. That's exactly what the world has a right to expect from America.

The big question is whether the US will be consistent. To say that holding a democratic referendum on whether you want to remain part of an existing state is "a natural right of any group of people" means that the US Administration must also respect the result of the Catalan referendum a week later. We should remember that both the Kurdish and Catalan referendums are unilateral referendums which are being held without the consent of the governments of their respective currently-recognized states, Iraq and Spain.

Also, if the US are consistent towards both the Kurds and the Catalans, then it is quite likely that the UK Government will feel obliged to follow suite, as it usually does. The critical thing in the formation of a new state is not the declaration of independence, but whether other countries then recognize you as an independent state. Having the US on your side is a tremendous advantage because of the considerable influence they have over so many other countries.

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Will Catalunya vote for independence?

In my opinion the two most significant political events this year are going to be the independence referendums in southern Kurdistan on 25 September and Catalunya on 1 October.

The reason I'm writing this post is because what I've seen in the media about Catalunya is only a part of the truth, and isn't providing us with an accurate picture of the way Catalans are likely to vote. For example, this is what was reported by the BBC yesterday:

How strong is the appetite for secession?

"It is hard to say," says the political scientist [Professor Arias-Maldonado] from Málaga University. "According to polls, secessionists are now around 41% of Catalans - numbers have been going down for some time. Around 49% are against it.

"These data come from the Catalan public polling body. How will the terrorist attack affect this situation? Who knows? But my bet is - not very much and if it does, it will reinforce the unionist side."

BBC - 20 August 2017

To get a more accurate picture, I think it's worth showing a few graphics from the CEO poll itself, which can be downloaded from here:

     

The first graphic does indeed show 41.1% support independence and 49.4% don't. The graph at the bottom shows that the figures were just about equal a year ago, but in fact the figures haven't really changed all that much in the last three years, fluctuating in the range between 40 and 50%.

     

The second graphic shows the breakdown by party. Junts pel Sí and CUP supporters almost entirely in favour; the PSC, PP and Cs supporters almost entirely against; and CSQP supporters split (their preferred option is a federal Spain, but that isn't on offer, which explains why they are more evenly divided).

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But, as we should all know, even though people will express an opinion in an opinion poll, this doesn't always translate into actual votes at the ballot box. Even with the unusually high turnout in the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014, only 84.6% of the electorate actually voted. So it would have been possible to win that vote if only 42.4% of the total electorate had voted Yes.

According to the CEO poll, the turnout in the Catalan referendum would be a still-respectable 67.5% (roughly equivalent to recent Westminster general elections: 65.1% in 2010, 66.4% in 2015 and 68.8% in 2017) and that Yes would win a very substantial victory by a margin of nearly 25%, as shown in the graphic below:

     

I should perhaps explain that a "blank vote" is a valid vote for "none of the above" (a number of countries have long had this option, and in my opinion it should be available here too) and a "null vote" is the equivalent of a spoilt ballot paper here.

The reason for the apparent discrepancy is that those who want independence are very much more determined to get out and vote for it that those who don't. Of the supporters of the two parties in favour of independence, only a tiny percentage will abstain (3.1% and 1.9%) but the abstention figures for supporters of the three unionist parties are 39%, 28.8% and 28.3%, as shown in this final graphic:

     

Now of course, opinions could change between now and the referendum. But it's now less than six weeks away, and I don't think things will change much.

This means that after the referendum things will get very messy, with different people claiming different things. We can be sure that the leaders of the Catalan Government will point to the substantial margin of victory as justification for declaring independence.

We can be equally sure that the Spanish Government will say (as they have said all along) that the vote is illegal and unconstitutional. But I have no doubt that they will also claim that the reason Yes won was because those who abstained did so not because of the level of political apathy common to almost all western democracies, but because of a principled refusal to take part in an illegal and unconstitutional vote. That will be true, but only to a small extent, and we need to understand why that argument is a fallacy.

True, the unionist parties may not recognize the legitimacy of the vote; but the insurmountable problem they face is that a majority of their supporters clearly do recognize the legitimacy of the vote. As things stand at present, they are caught between a rock and a hard place. If a majority of their supporters were to boycott the election, they might well be able to claim that Yes only won because of the low turnout. But if 64.2% of PSC supporters, 55.9% of Cuitadens supporters and 66.1% of PP supporters defy their party leaders and go out to vote in the referendum (even if most of them vote No) then Mariano Rajoy—Prime minister of Spain and leader of the PP—is going to look pretty silly if he claims that the result is not democratic ... two-thirds of his own party supporters in Catalunya will not have agreed with him.

I've no doubt that he'll try it anyway, because the official referendum results won't be broken down by party allegiance. So he'll think that he'll be able to get away with it because people won't understand the underlying maths, and he'll hope that influential world leaders will commit themselves to rejecting the result on the basis of a specious argument before their research assistants get round to doing that maths.

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Forewarned is forearmed. Those of us who want to see Catalunya become independent need to make the case that democracy, the will of the people expressed at the ballot box, is more important than the niceties of the Spanish constitution or any political inconvenience that a vote for independence might cause for other countries.

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