Don't be afraid of another vote, Catalunya

One of the attitudes that characterizes those who voted for Brexit in June 2016 is that we should stick to the decision to leave come what may. I have always thought that the UK should reverse Brexit if and when it ever becomes clear that public opinion has changed ... that opinion being expressed either in another referendum or in a general election if the winning party specifically included staying in the EU as part of its manifesto.

In short, we should always respect a democratic decision; but it would be wrong to maintain that a democratic decision, once made, is unchangeable in the future. We should never be afraid to ask people to vote as many times as is necessary to properly reflect their opinions. That is why, for example, I have never been afraid of "little and often" referendums on our National Assembly gaining more powers.

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But this isn't really a post about Brexit or Wales. There are more pressing things to concentrate on right now, and the situation in Catalunya is one of them. By now it should be clear to anyone in the world who has taken any interest in the subject that the Spanish Government does not want any discussion or dialogue about Catalan independence. They are determined only to force the Catalans to submit to their will, and independence is something they completely refuse to countenance. This really should come as a no surprise to anyone who has been following events over the last few years; but we need to remember that most of the world hadn't been following events and therefore, probably quite reasonably, had taken the position that the obvious thing for the Spanish and Catalan governments was talk, negotiate and try and reach an agreement.

It has taken these past three weeks for this to become clear to the world, but negotiations can't happen unless both sides are willing to negotiate. One side has shown that it doesn't want this, so each side now has no choice except to continue on their respective paths. But this isn't a disaster for, as it happens, both paths lead to the same place ... at least in the short term.

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The Catalan plan was to declare independence—which I expect them to do formally and unambiguously this week—and then hold new elections in Catalunya to establish a constitution for the new republic. It appears that the Spanish plan, agreed by the three biggest Spanish political parties (the PP, PSOE and Cs) is to dissolve the present Catalan Parliament with a view to holding new elections in Catalunya. It doesn't take a Baldrick to realize that this cunning plan to thwart Catalan independence might not be as cunning as the Spanish think it is.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. It really doesn't matter if one side calls this election a constitutory election for the new republic and the other side calls it an ordinary election to elect a replacement autonomous community government. Whether it turns out to be one, the other, or something else, will entirely depend on which way the people of Catalunya vote. If a majority of voters vote for parties that will establish a constitution for the new Catalan state, then those they elect will have enough seats to go ahead and do exactly that. But if the majority vote for parties who intend to carry on as if no declaration of independence had been made, then those they elect will have enough seats to run Catalunya as an autonomous community in Spain and the independence project will be over ... which is exactly what should happen in a democracy. No democrat should want independence for their country unless it is supported at the ballot box.

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In other words, I don't think those who want to establish Catalunya as an independent state should have anything to fear from free and fair elections later this year or early next year. It might turn out that pro-independence parties do not get a majority this time. That would neither validate nor invalidate the election on 1 October (no matter what people might claim) it would merely demonstrate that people had changed their minds and no longer wanted what they voted for earlier. It would be just like a vote to reverse Brexit.

But, on the other hand, if the pro-independence candidates again win a majority, the Spanish Government will then have exhausted its democratic options to prevent Catalan independence. They will either have to accept defeat with as much grace as they can muster, or will have to impose direct rule through the use of more physical force. After the way the Spanish State behaved on 1 October, I am sure that support for independence can only have increased.

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There is only one problem. I specifically said that those who want an independent Catalunya have nothing to fear from free and fair elections. But most of the world is probably not aware that the Spanish State has a far from unblemished record for holding free and fair elections. The most relevant example is the Basque election of 1 March 2009. Two left-leaning pro-independence parties, Demokrazia 3,000,000 and Askatasuna were banned right in the middle of the election campaign. Left with no opportunity to regroup, this meant that for the first time in some 30 years, Basque nationalists were unable to form a governing coalition, and a Spanish nationalist government was formed instead.

If left to their own devices, I am sure the Spanish State would try something similar in Catalunya now. They would probably argue that any political party or group that wanted something contrary to the Spanish Constitution was seditious in nature and therefore had no right to stand in elections. Spain has shown that it is quite prepared to pervert the law to serve its own purposes with the current imprisonment of the leaders of the ANC and Òmnium. So it is a cast-iron certainty that they would try and do more of the same if they thought they could get away with it.

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So what, practically, can be done to stop them getting away with it in the same way as they did in 2009? One thing would be to try get international mediation for any new elections, even though the international community has been reticent to get involved and will probably continue to be. So the best thing would be for pro-independence candidates to form one, and only one, united group. If the group is split into smaller groups, the Spanish State will find it that much easier to pick off one of them. The present Catalan Parliament is includes a cross-party pro-independence group, Junts pel Sí, and then CUP, who refused to join that list even though they also support independence. Imagine a situation where Spain only banned CUP. If the vote were the same as in 2015 the loss of the 10 CUP seats would mean that pro-independence candidates would not have a majority. Put bluntly, the world probably won't bat an eyelid at the suppression of a small party, because their focus will naturally be on the bigger one. But if there is only one pro-independence group, and Spain bans it, the world will no longer be able to maintain the pretence that Spain is behaving as a Western democracy.

Personally, I have no doubt that in a free and fair election, the those wanting independence for Catalunya would again win a clear majority and if so, this time round, neither Spain nor any other country would be able to deny it or cast a shadow of doubt over the result. Bring it on.

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