Whence those paralyzing tropisms sprout ...

No, I’m not entirely sure what it means either. I did ask, and someone suggested that it must have something to do with Brussels ... because of the sprout, I suppose. It’s a line from an article about Catalunya, and I thought it provided a good enough excuse for another update on what is happening there.

The article in question is by Alfons López Tena, a pro-independence deputy in the previous Catalan parliament, and I found it here in Business Insider. It's worth a read.

In essence what he is saying is that the Spanish state will never give their permission for Catalunya to become independent, and that Catalans are not determined enough to seize it for themselves. I agree with the first assertion, but I don’t think even he quite believes the second. It seems designed to spur Catalans into adopting a more assertive mindset. He included a nice quote from 1820 which is worth repeating:

“Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed.”

Lacon, Chapter CLXXVIII – Charles Caleb Colton

So far as the Catalan Government is concerned, everything is on course. Although Artur Mas left it until the last minute before resigning, he did the right thing in the end. It was a change of personnel rather than a change of direction. The new president, Carles Puigdemont, is going to carry through exactly the same programme to set up the institutions necessary for Catalunya to function as an independent state as before, because that was the whole point of the September election. The Spanish Government will object and the Spanish Constitutional Court will instruct the Catalan Government not to do this, but they’ll just go ahead and do it anyway. The only way Spain could stop them would be to arrest and imprison members of the government, or send in troops and tanks.

So far as the Spanish Government is concerned, everything is still up in the air after the elections of 20 December. Mariano Rajoy remains in charge of a caretaker government while negotiations are progressing to form a new one. Normally, they would have to do this within three months ... but as the clock doesn't technically start ticking until the first vote, and no-one has yet tabled a motion to vote on, the situation could remain in limbo indefinitely. No-one seems to be in much of a hurry to sort things out, and they still have some way to go before they break Belgium's record.

As I’ve mentioned before, the only one of the four main parties that might offer hope for an agreed settlement between Catalunya and Spain is Podemos. They are committed to the Catalans being able to hold a binding referendum on their future, even though they would prefer them to stay part of a constitutionally reformed Spain. As it happens, they re-affirmed that position only yesterday, saying that a referendum was an "indispensable" condition in any agreement with the PSOE to form a left-of-centre government.

Hardly surprisingly, the PSOE responded by announcing that they “will say no to this referendum” and admitted to having received Podemos’ proposal “with perplexity, concern and disappointment”.

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The reason for not allowing a referendum is perhaps not immediately obvious. On one level people might think it would be a good idea for Spain, because if they offered the Catalans a suitable “vow” such as full fiscal autonomy of the type enjoyed by the four Basque provinces, they might just vote No to independence. But there are two reasons why Spain can’t realistically do this: first, they can’t afford to lose Catalunya as a cash cow; and, more importantly, if they allowed Catalunya a referendum it would set a precedent for all the other autonomous communities to be able to do the same. Asymmetric devolution is not in Spain’s DNA, it has to be coffee for all.

The result would be that the three Basque provinces in the autonomous community would get out straight away; the only thing that might possibly delay them is trying to get a majority in the fourth province, Nafarroa, to break away with them. If Catalunya voted for independence it is very likely that the Balearic Islands would follow, because they suffer the same sort of fiscal outflow as Catalunya does and have recently seen the Spanish state take draconian steps against the language. Perhaps they would join the new Catalan Republic, or perhaps they might set up a Catalan Confederation which Valencia and North Catalunya (in France) could join in due course. Galicia might also vote for independence, or perhaps for some confederal relationship with Portugal, with whom they share a very similar language.

In short, if the Spanish state opens the door for one nation to vote on independence, there would be nothing to stop at least five more autonomous communities voting to leave too.

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Which gets us back to what I’ve said since the election last September. There will not now be an agreed, binding referendum on Catalan independence. The time for that has passed. Instead, in 18 months or so, the Catalan Government will organize a vote to approve the constitution for a Catalan Republic (one draft was published last year, but there are other versions and the final document needs to be worked up by consensus with input from wider civic society) and the Catalan Parliament will then unilaterally declare independence on that basis.

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