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Written By: - Date published: 10:58 am, October 28th, 2017 - 62 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, democracy under attack, Europe, International, liberalism, political alternatives, Politics, socialism - Tags: , , ,

I wholeheartedly support the right of the people living in Catalonia to determine their own modes of governance. That shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who’s been a reader of the standard for any length of time. Neither should it come as any surprise that I view the machinations of the Spanish state with disdain.

The reaction from governments and government leaders is mostly, predictably  somewhat less than enthusiastic. Here’s a sampling.

Donald Tusk (European Council President)  “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force.”

Trump admin. “Catalonia is an integral part of Spain, and the United States supports the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united..

UK Government “The UK does not and will not recognise the Unilateral Declaration of Independence made by the Catalan regional parliament.”

I’m expecting the editorials of leading liberal newspapers to “toe the line” and, as always, back the legitimacy of existent political and economic power over that of peoples’ wishes. The Washington Post has already amplified the Spanish states  claims about fake news and (surprise, surprise) hoisted the Russian bogeyman again.

It’s not clear who was responsible for the fake news. El Pais reported that Russians were to blame, suggesting that news outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik were circulating the fake stories to deepen divisions in Europe. According to Politico, Russian state-backed news organizations and bots aggressively pushed misinformation about the politically charged vote.

I just found this little cracker of an apologist line a so-called Guardian analysis  that predictably peddles the “project fear” line that UK liberal media seems to prefer to the “Mendacious Russians” line –  “Such popular upheavals are inherently destabilising, and thus frowned upon by established powers.” Yes. Rathaar. So verily we must choppeth them up and stompeth them down.

Okay. Some positive stuff. “Scottish Government backs the right of the Catalan people to determine their own future” reads the headline in “The National” which also rather helpfully provides a link to the full text of Catalan’s “Declaration of Independence

Democracy isn’t dispensed from on-high. An independent Catalonia is a small step in the direction of democracy and so ought to find the support of any who are uncomfortable with degrees of authoritarianism. But more than that, the desire people are expressing – to have control over their own affairs and lives – needs to be encouraged. Independence, whether for Catalonia or Scotland or whatever other regions, can only be very temporary way stations on any path to democracy.

62 comments on “Catalonia”

  1. Antoine 1

    > I wholeheartedly support the right of the people living in Catalonia to determine their own modes of governance.



  2. Sparky 2

    If Spain claims to be a democracy I can see no reason why they should not respect Catalonia’s decision.

    As to the EU well I place its currency in the same basket as the UN. That is to say for me it has none.

  3. Democracy isn’t dispensed from on-high. An independent Catalonia is a small step in the direction of democracy and so ought to find the support of any who are uncomfortable with degrees of authoritarianism. But more than that, the desire people are expressing – to have control over their own affairs and lives – needs to be encouraged. Independence, whether for Catalonia or Scotland or whatever other regions, can only be very temporary way stations on any path to democracy.

    And all these people who want to prevent these independence movements conveniently forget that such right of self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter that they’re signed up to.

    If a nation wants to be separate from the present political system that they’re part of then all nations should actually be helping them. So should the political system that they’re presently part of as well if they’re a member of the UN.

    The fact that they’re not is just proof that they’re all a bunch of two-faced arseholes that are more concerned about their personal power than about the wishes of the people.

  4. Adrian Thornton 4

    Hardly surprising to see the Liberal media coming down hard on independence in Catalonia, as I have stated on this site a hundred times, so called Liberal media ie. The Guardian etc are the most dangerous enemy of any real progressive movements going forward..divide and maintain status quo power structures is their only perceivable agenda.

  5. DSpare 5

    This (probably incomplete) map on the Guardian shows why the EU member states aren’t keen for any one area to gain independence. That said, it is hard to see advantage of remaining a member of a conglomerated state for areas within a larger union, except fear of their military.


    It doesn’t seem too far to call the actions of the Francoist Spain ethnic cleansing in Catalonia (and for the Basque country too). I can see why they want out, and the current crackdown isn’t convincing anyone of Madrid’s benevolence. The descendants of the Spanish settlers in Catalonia from that period are going to be key to the imminent conflict.

  6. When you say liberal media do you mean neo liberal media? Thanks.

    • Bill 6.1

      I mean, for example, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Independent, the BBC, CNN… and all the other mainstream outlets, some of which might claim to be “left wing”, many of which are “right wing”, but all of which embrace the basic political philosophy of liberalism and whose politics are accordingly and wholly positioned within the parameters of that ideology.

  7. Agora 7

    The Spanish civil war did not end until Franco died in ’75. The situation is developing quickly …

    http://www.independent.co.uk/…/catalonia-independence-live-latest-news-updates- spain-barcelona-parliament-rajoy-puigdemont-a8023256.html


  8. Whispering Kate 8

    Don’r forget Gibraltar – the Spaniards have wanted that territory back for years. They had an attempt back in 1969 or thereabouts and closed off the border. I know as I was working there during that time and stayed when the crisis was happening. The UK had almost its entire fleet and army out there, paratroopers you name it protecting their “so called” territory. I had a bird’s eye view of the entire trial manoeuvres they did. It works both ways.

    The Spaniards love a good stoush and the Spanish Civil War was certainly a stoush of the greatest order. It was a clarion call for all those left leaning university students to take the call and go and join the Civil War that occurred. What a emotive time that must have been fighting fascism, poets, writers, artists all went and joined. Man there are a whole lot of unemployed young men and women world-wide who are just ripe for the plucking to rush and join the Catalan cause. It could easily happen again.

    • Obtrectator 8.1

      Why do you refer to Gib as the UK’s “so-called” territory? My understanding has always been that the Gibraltarians are overwhelmingly against reintegration into Spain. Maybe they aren’t totally at ease with a British military presence, but as far as they’re concerned it’s very much the lesser of two evils, if withdrawal means the Spaniards come marching in the following day.

      • Whispering Kate 8.1.1

        The pub I worked in as a barmaid wasn’t at all concerned if Spain took over the rock, the publican that I worked for was British and his comment was “if it happens I shall just change the till over to pesetas”. I don’t know what the rest of the Gibraltarians thought but it still doesn’t alter the fact that the UK was a presence there that Spain didn’t welcome – I repeat it happens all over the world that countries take over territories and in the end the locals want to be autonomous and free from overlords.

        • Andre

          If Spain had any collective sense of shame, they’d be quietly pondering how they should gracefully resolve the issue of Ceuta and Melilla just across the strait in Morocco while they’re busy shouting about Gibraltar.

          • Exkiwiforces

            Yeah, pigs might fly for that happens.

          • Sanctuary

            A friend of mine was, according to the Spanish border guard who spent some time looking at his computer, the first New Zealander to ever be processed into Morocco from Melilla. True story.

  9. Drowsy M. Kram 9

    How much is the recent push for Catalonian independence fuelled by the GFC fallout? And is the movement well supported by the influential Catalan 1%? Maybe the Flanders/Wallonia examples are a possible halfway house solution for Spain/Catalonia?

    I support the principles of autonomy and self-determination, and also believe that we’re collectively better off when the weak and strong stand together.

    Struggling to reconcile these views. Don’t want Brexit (despite the popular support at the time), but favour increased Scottish independence if that’s what the majority of Scots want.

    Would prefer Quebec to remain part of Canada, and would like to see (eventually) the amicable re-unification of Ireland, but think that the Kurds deserve more autonomy.

    And Lombardy/Veneto regions should continue to contribute disproportionately to the common wealth of Italy.

    Don’t have any opinion on Greenland, Abkhazia/South Ossetia, or Ambazonia – why can’t we all just get along?

    Some NZ farmers are feeling embattled; wonder if any of them are considering the ‘Hutt River Province’ option? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Hutt_River

    Or (closer to home) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whangamomona

    • McFlock 9.1

      yeah, I don’t know enough about the Catalan issue to comment on it specifically.

      I usually have an impulsive support for the group wanting independence, but that’s normally because the dominant group is clearly oppressing them.

      In this case (like Brexit), it could just be that a major driver isn’t a desire for independence so much as a desire of the wealthy in a wealthy province to not pay its fair share to its poorer neighbours – sort of a reverse Atlas Shrugged.

      Where does that stop – should Epsom be able to declare independence?

      • ropata 9.1.1

        Yes I think that’s a factor, and so is religion. Extremist elements happy to foment instability to further their own agenda http://www.dw.com/en/catalonias-islamic-extremism-problem/a-40155371

        Catalonia is a tasty plum for Arab states to pluck

        • boggis the cat

          You misunderstand that article. There is no threat of Catalonia becoming ‘Islamicised’. Southern Spain was conquered by a Muslim empire at one point, but not Catalonia.

          This is simply the issue of a multi-cultural city having elements within the population that are at risk of radicalisation by Jihaddist groups. As per London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, et al.

      • AB 9.1.2

        “should Epsom be able to declare independence?”
        The make-up of its Parliament would be of interesting…

      • Sanctuary 9.1.3

        “…I usually have an impulsive support for the group wanting independence…”

        So do I, but reading the sort of ill-informed, emotive and plain ignorant rubbish the likes of No Right Turn and some people here have written on the topic has provided a timely and salutary reminder of the need to show caution and to get properly informed when forming an opinion on an issue like this one.

  10. Sanctuary 10

    Having lived in Spain, and speaking Spanish, and having lots of Spanish friends, and therefore actually having a clue as to what to is going it has been real eye opener to me see the apparently insatiable psychological need of Anglosphere liberals to see the world in Manichean terms of victims and perpetrators. I’ve been alternately amused at the ignorance and outraged on the behalf of my Spanish how quickly the gains of Spanish society and democracy are airly dismissed and how readily the label of Francoist applied when it suits a peculiar psychological need to defend someone – anyone – “downtrodden”. For all the over-heated and adolescent Robert Capa-esque imaginings of heroic defenders from the CNT at the barricades in Barcelona defending themselves from evil rightists, Spain is a nowadays a better democracy than New Zealand in many ways – and a better society in many as well, with a lot of freedom granted to the regions. Rather than mocking the Spanish as nascent Francoists at the first opportunity we owe them at least the courtesy of an informed opinion.

    The first point is that there are no good guys here. Rajoy is playing to a domestic audience for short term political gain, of that there can be no doubt – although Puigdemont is making it easy for him. The Catalan government is made up of lawless and reckless desperadoes, bent on destroying Spanish democracy largely to cover up their own corruption. It may just be that the lukewarm reception to Catalonia “declaring independence” is because everything the Catalan government has done has been downright illegal and the Rajoy government has the courts, the law, and international precedent all firmly on it’s side. For Gods sake, even PODEMOS doesn’t support the Catalans, whilst the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos are bipartisan in their condemnation of Catalonia’s iillegal referendum and illegal declaration of independence. Why is it illegal? Because the 1978 constiution is explicit:

    “…The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all…”

    Another ridiculous claim made in this post is independence somehow represents the will of the Catalan people. But Catalonia’s pro-independence politicians have more in common with Farage and Boris Johnson than they have with plucky freedom fighters or pan-European idealists. The last reliable vote showed support for independence at 42%, with support concentrated in the middle and upper classes of Catalan society – a group that feels it is subsidising the rest of Spain (read Castilla-La Mancha, Andalusia and Extremadura). Am I to believe that the readers of the Standard, such erstwhile defenders of the poor, really think it is OK for dirt poor children of agricultural workers in Andalusia to miss out on a free government lunch paid by taxes gathered in Catalonia because an entitled bunch of middle class Catalans want a slightly higher standard of living? Perhaps the author of this post thinks it is fine for the people of Remuera to unilaterally succeed from the super city on the grounds their rates subsidise school lunches in Otara?

    Investigations for corruption amongst the ruling elites and ruling politicians has plagued Catalonia this decade, and for good reason. The corruption of the Catalan elites is rife, even by Spain’s lax standards. You can be sure these investigations will be killed off if Carles Puigdemont and his cronies get their way. Now it is true that in Spain in general corruption amongst the political elites (many of whom, including those in Catalonia, are survivors of the Franco elite) is scandalous but no one in the PP (or PSOE for that matter) is proposing using illegal referendums as a literal get out of jail free card. It is also true that Rajoy and the PP are adopting a hard line because it plays well to the patriotic Spanish audience, and it is also true it was the PP that challenged the 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia for political gain (of it’s 223 articles, the court struck down 14 and curtailed another 27- mostly ones to do with active discrimination against Spanish speakers and unconstitutional attempts to seize control of the local courts). But none of these thing at all justify the Catalan government’s contempt for the laws that govern them and their reckless rabble rousing for selfish ends.

    The last thing that really makes me wild is just the utter, stupid, recklessness of Puigdemont’s government. What was/is his plan? What outcome did he expect? Did he really think he could just defy the constitution, defy the courts of Spain, and defy the will of a probable majority of Catalonia’s residents and get away with it scot free, that Madrid would go “oh well, ta ta then”? You see, even if the majority of Spaniards were happy to let Catalonia go (and they are not) behind all this lurks the long shadow of the Ejército de Tierra – and if Francoism still exists anywhere it is very much in the army. The Spanish army is charged with guarding “…the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation…” It would act if the government won’t to protect Spanish unity. And that is the idiocy of Puigdemont laid bare. His best outcome was only ever going to be the one unfolding now – the rule of law being followed, article 155 being invoked, direct rule from Madrid, and new elections. Next up would be the use of the Civil Guards possibly leading to significant unrest they are unable to quell in a quasi-insurrection that would see tanks on the streets and martial law in Catalonia. The worst outcome could be armed resistance leading to a military coup, and the loss of forty years of democratic gain and civil rights for over thirty million Spaniards, and lots and lots of deaths.

    Any all because why? Because of reckless political adventurism by fools and criminal desperadoes in Barcelona, that’s why.

    • ropata 10.1

      +1 thanks for injecting an informed opinion rather than third hand assumptions based on MSM clickbait

    • Matthew Whitehead 10.2

      I actually came to this post to make some of the same points as you are that the situation is more complicated than simply a small good guy declaring independence against a large bully getting the foreigners on their side using the scare of territorial integrity, but I think I’m probably a tad more pro-Catalan than you are, which I suppose is understandable given you’ve lived in Spain and I haven’t. (I do speak a little Spanish, but I’m so rusty I’m probably next to useless in trying to speak or write it) I think everyone following the situation should definitely start with reading your comment and then look at arguments on BOTH sides of this issues, and I agree that Spain is not a francoist state, but it is acting like it’s not a democracy in respect to Catalonian independence, and it’s discrediting its own reasonably legitimate arguments that a bilateral approach to allow greater Catalonian autonomy is the proper way to proceed at the moment.

      The one part anglophone media has been good about covering (if you cast a wide enough net) is the very real disagreement on taxes in Catalonia, and how there’s an element of Atlas Shrugged going on with this independence referendum, where the wealthy Catalonians are to some degree essentially saying “screw your welfare state, we want to pay less taxes.” There’s more to it than that, as you say, but this is a valid part of the story, and it’s absolutely fair for Catalonians to look after other parts of Spain by paying a high proportion of the country’s taxes. We do the same thing to Auckland.

      I will point out that just because the Spanish constitution says it’s illegal for regions to declare independence doesn’t make it so, just under Spanish law, and if the people of Catalonia don’t want to live under Spanish law anymore, it’s a very circular argument to point to the Spanish constitution. Technically, there is a similar proviso about dissolving the Union with Scotland, but the UK wisely allowed them a vote. There are legal precedents that are largely on Spain’s side here, but the moral argument is absolutely on Catalonia’s, that Spain claims to be a democracy, yet it is trying to hold on to a region that has some strong signs it wants to secede, and by very undemocratic measures.

      Spain can always amend its constitution to be even more democratic, and allow for regions to vote on independence, and given the sentiment that way in Catalonia, they definitely need to be thinking about doing this. If Spain values its status as a democracy, it is obliged to provide a legitimate path for Catalonia to declare independence given that they’ve consistently voted for it, (power should rightly come from the people most affected by an issue in a democracy, which in this case is Catalonians) even though those votes have been questionable- the correct answer would have been to say that Spain will honour a vote that is held in a free and fair fashion where opponents of independence will participate rather than boycotting. There are very real arguments that there may in fact be an anti-independence majority, but that the pro-independence faction is more influential, louder, and are mostly the only ones who participated in previous referenda. I think it’s reasonable for the central government to have a veto on independence or autonomy votes, so long as they only use it when the justification is that the vote isn’t structured in a way that will allow for a fair, democratic, and peaceful decision.

      Likewise, Catalan has some very legitimate points against Spain’s position too, such as that there was no need to violently shut down the independence vote, (they could simply have declared it invalid, and declined to arrest the politicians who organised it despite having the right to, in the spirit of peace and conciliation) and their insistence that no vote is legitimate unless the whole of Spain is counted is ridiculous. England didn’t get a say in Scotland’s vote, but they still managed to convince them to stay. If Spain has a similarly strong argument, they can campaign to Catalonians with it.

      It’s messier than either side is willing to admit, and I’m really hoping NZ’s position will be simply that both sides need to return to bilateral talks and hash out an acceptable compromise, rather than perpetrating more violence (in Spain’s case) or silencing voices of dissent and ignoring legitimate legal avenues to independence or at least greater regional autonomy. (in Catalonia’s case)

    • Bill 10.3

      The Catalan government is made up of lawless and reckless desperadoes, bent on destroying Spanish democracy.

      Were they not voted into office? Why yes, they were. And was there not a free vote? Why yes! There was.

      So hardly lawless then. And no more “desperadoes” than say, the Scottish government (by way of comparison) “bent on destroying (British) democracy”(as you would have it).

      • Matthew Whitehead 10.3.1

        The vote wasn’t exactly free, with Spanish authorities interfering, and even if they hadn’t, there’s a good argument that it was boycotted heavily enough due to the depth of feeling about the illegality of the vote under both Spanish (the constitution explicitly forbids secession from the country) and Catalonian law (the Catalan referendum wasn’t passed by the agreed margin under local law, so even if it wasn’t ruled unconstitutional, the local opposition still had a right to say the referendum was illegal and should be boycotted) that opponents of independence may actually constitute a majority of the region. Both sides have reasons to feel aggrieved at how that vote turned out, even if people like you or I might find the excessive violence used to suppress the vote to be worse than simply holding an illegal referendum that Spain could have simply relaxed and invalidated if their concern was purely about its democratic legitimacy and illegality.

        There’s actually a really GOOD argument that any referendum on Catalan independence needs to have better voter turnout than this to be considered binding, and that a better process should be gone through before independence can be declared. (not that the government in Madrid has been helping matters with that, essentially acting in bad faith by refusing to give Catalonia the autonomy it wanted, or a legitimate democratic path to declare independence under Spanish law)

      • Sanctuary 10.3.2

        “…So hardly lawless then. And no more “desperadoes” than say, the Scottish government (by way of comparison) “bent on destroying (British) democracy”(as you would have it)…”

        I was waiting for someone to bring up the Scottish independence referendum. If the holding of the Scottish referendum was ruled illegal by the British law lords, and the Scottish government wanted to pass laws that actively discriminated against English speakers, and the Scottish parliament was run by leaders who were deeply mired in corruption scandals, and if they were using independence to to set Scot against Englishman as a diversion from that corruption, and they had ordered the Scottish police to refuse lawful directives from the parliament in London, and they decided to proceed to independence despite the referendum result, then you might begin to approach the situation in Catalonia.

        • Bill

          Some links to back up some of that would have been helpful.

          What laws are being passed in Catalonia that actively discriminate against Spanish speakers?

          What parliamentary leaders are deeply mired in corruption scandals and what are the scandals?

          Which of those leaders has been pitting Catalan against Spaniard?

          I don’t know who hold the various powers with regards different police forces. (I’m not entirely clear on the Scottish situation, never mind the Spanish one)

          The referendum result was in favour of independence.

          • Matthew Whitehead

            Catalonia has a pretty aggressive immersion program to teach Catalan rather than Spanish, (or, locally, “Castillian”) and if there’s no option but to go through education mainly in Catalan, you can see that as being pretty discriminatory, especially as Catalan is already spoken by a majority of the population and doesn’t seem to be at risk of dying out. It’s certainly arguable that this policy hampers the ability of people undergoing it to speak Spanish, and if most of the schools in your area don’t offer an option to be educated in Spanish, I can understand that feeling pretty discriminatory even if there’s no actual bullying or denial of other rights to Spanish-speakers. One of the issues that sparked the second referendum push was Catalonia trying to give Catalan an official status above above Spanish, and being denied by the national courts.

            There are apparently active investigations into corruption by Catalonia’s ruling party, and it was against independence until recently, (although I believe their leader wasn’t?) and changing its stance has significantly bouyed its poll results, which suggests to some extent this is being driven by partisan politics rather than necessarily part of the independence movement.

            For some context around the referendum, you should really see this article in the Atlantic, it seems very balanced:

            I will also point out that with Spain declaring the vote illegal and taking aggressive action against polling places, opponents of independence would be highly disincentivised to vote, making it very difficult to tell the difference between lack of turnout and actual opponents of the referendum. (those who support the referendum but oppose independence likely constitute the observed “no” vote. There was a minority turnout to the referendum as well, which is a really poor mandate for independence) Would you go out and vote in a referendum you opposed, among danger from the police, just to make it clear you didn’t want independence, when you thought the whole thing was illegal anyway? There were similar, but less dramatic, issues with the last referendum, which was indended to be binding by Catalonia but was struck down to only being indicative by national courts.

            Unlike Sanctuary, however, I think both sides are pitting Catalans against the rest of Spain and vice-versa, with Rajoy being equally as bad, as taking a strong approach against Catalan makes him look reasonable to more left-leaning centrists who worry about what will happen without the tax revenue from Spain’s wealthiest region, while paradoxically making the actual desire for independence among his opponents in Catalonia stronger.

            • Matthew Whitehead

              Well, actually I shouldn’t speak for Sanctuary, he might actually agree that Rajoy is making this problem worse too.

            • Bill

              Is the language situation so far removed from that in Wales?

              The aggressive action by Spanish authorities would surely intimidate “yes” voters, rather than “no” voters given the wider political environment. (There has been no violence between those opposed to independence and those who support it as far as I know)

              I mean. If British authorities had moved against the Scottish referendum in such a fashion, it would obviously have intimidated “yes” voters.

              The sub 50% turn-out comes with suggestions that some 700 000 ballots were confiscated by Spanish authorities. If that claim is correct, then the actual turn-out was above 50%, and given the 90% in favour of independence from those votes tallied, it would seem reasonable to assume a 90% in favour among those confiscated ballots too.

              On corruption, I’d suggest the judiciary sits somewhat separate to the political sphere and any charges or whatever will proceed, but I’ve no idea if Catalan has an independent judiciary (as Scotland has) or if it’s wholly subject to Spanish law, or if that’s even relevant.

              In the final analysis, it was people who voted for independence. That’s what matters and dismissively saying it’s “the Russians” or corrupt pollies or just a bunch of selfish middle class wankers who want to pay less tax is, well, I just say it’s disingenuous.

              Off to read the Atlantic article now …

              • Matthew Whitehead

                Yes, the police situation will intimidate some “yes” voters. My point is that “no” voters are likely to be even more depressed between the police action (why would you risk being hurt to vote in a referendum you oppose and a cause you don’t believe in?) and the view that the referendum is illegal and therefore illegitimate, and this is backed up well by the low turnout, so there is a legitimate argument that there may be a “silent majority” for retaining union with Spain. I agree that it’s entirely possible that confiscated ballots do show a larger support as well, which is why we really need the EU being tough on Spain and requiring them to act more like a democracy in response to this situation, because democracies don’t confiscate ballot papers, even if the vote was illegal.

                The turnout was 43.03% without counting the confiscated ballots, or 57.51% if you grant the Catalan government its number of confiscated ballots. (I expect that like Spanish authorities downplaying the injuries, the Catalan authorities will have played up the confiscations, so I expect the truth is somewhere between those numbers.) Compare and contrast to the 2015 Catalonian election turnout of 74.9%, which suggests that even counting the most optimistic projections of supressed votes, there is a massive boycott of the referendum going on.

                The 2014 indicative referendum achieved a vote of 2,305,290 people, but did not provide an official figure for turnout. It was estimated between 37%-41.6%, and I would expect the difference to largely be that more Yes voters showed up to the referendum they saw as binding. (Note: the structure between the two was a bit different too, with the 2014 referendum being a two-question one where a “yes, yes” indicated support for independence, while the 2017 was a single-question referendum) There was a stronger yes vote in the second referendum, despite the lower official turnout, (92.01% vs 80.76%) however if you count mixed votes the result was roughly the same, suggesting that the second referendum’s question was structured to encourage the roughly 11% of voters who showed up to vote “yes, no” or leave the indepence question blank to simply vote yes this time.

                I agree that the referenda are indicative that Catalonians want independence and are beginning to head in the direction of giving the region a mandate to pursue that path further, and that Spain should provide them a valid bilateral legal pathway towards it, but I don’t think they constitute a mandate to go independence right now, especially when it was actually illegal under Catalan law to proceed with plans for declaring independence after failing to secure a super-majority. It seems a little like poisoned fruit to claim a mandate from a referendum you couldn’t even legally hold under your own regional laws, let alone the issues with the Spanish constitution. (on that latter front I’m a bit more sympathetic given that Spain seems to be stonewalling the entire process)

                The language situation doesn’t compare with Welsh at all. Wales educates pupils with Welsh taught as a second language compulsorily in schools. Catalonia mandates most classes use Catalan as the language of instruction, and teach Castillian/Spanish as a second language instead, despite its status as the national language. Also, around 30% less people in Wales are able to speak Welsh when compared to Catalan in Catalonia. The kiwi equivalent would be it being very difficult to find a school that didn’t instruct entirely in Te Reo Māori outside of three or four hours of English classes a week.

                Catalonia has its own court, however it is under the jurisdiction of the Spanish government, not the Catalan government, so who knows how that plays into the whole mess.

            • boggis the cat

              My understanding of this is that the pro-independence vote was around twenty percent until relatively recently, and it is the government in Madrid that have managed to fan the flames of the independence movement. The aggressive behaviour is thus likely to prove counter-productive to Spain’s integrity.

              Independence based on a fifty-fifty split in public agreement (as a reaction to an unpopular government in Madrid) is a ‘Brexit’ level of stupidity, in my view.

              The smart thing to do would be to agree to hold a binding referendum in five years time, and let the arguments evolve. My guess is that support for Catalan independence will fade back.

              • Matthew Whitehead

                Depends what you mean by “recently.” The lowest vote on anything was the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2006, which had support of 78% of voters and roughly a 48% turnout. (I have no idea if opponents of independence boycotted that one too or not, but it’s a similar turnout to the 2014 and 2017 referenda which were actually on independence rather than further autonomy) That’s a drop of around 12% from the previous vote on that issue, and independence referendums have been held three times in three different ways, all with high returns for Yes, but poor turnout. (the earliest one had about 30% turnout, and I give the figures for the other two in the reply above IIRC)

                There’s no real way to know what the actual split is because the opposition to independence is definitely boycotting the referenda to a large degree, but I doubt it’s as high as the 80-90% support that the official results are showing.

                • Matthew Whitehead

                  You might be thinking of coverage that is taking into account both the turnout AND the yes vote. In which case, a majority of registered Catalans have never officially supported independence.

                  • boggis the cat

                    It seems doubtful that there is a clear majority support for independence, and probably not much understanding of all of the ramifications. Trying to push through independence when half the population aren’t in agreement is a recipe for civil war.

                    I disagree with the heavy-handed tactics from Madrid, and don’t like their right-wing government, but that doesn’t automatically make the secessionist movement in Catalonia legitimate.

                    (This seems to be a very complex situation with ancient roots, so it wouldn’t require a lot of effort to gather enough correct information to be properly informed. Given this, my opinion isn’t of any great worth.)

  11. Angel Fish 11

    I’ve no sympathy for disgusting secessionists!
    I hope Spain stands strong and that it doesn’t submit to Catalonia.
    Imagine if North Island wanted to form their own country by saying something,
    like we pay the most taxes in the country, so it should only be spent on the North Island or some garbage like that?
    It’s selfish and unpatriotic!

    • Matthew Whitehead 11.1

      I think if there was a legitimate independence movement in the South Island, (realistically I don’t the North Island needs an indepence movement, as it’s the one with more political influence due to its population) if New Zealand wanted to continue claiming we were a democratic country with a legitimate mandate to govern the South Island, we would have to make reasonable concessions to their demands, and maybe even let them vote on independence if our attempts to reconcile with them didn’t work. (Of course, your North Island analogy is more appropriate to the Catalan situation, given that it would be a bit like cutting Auckland out of New Zealand, there’s just no practical way a Northern independence movement would ever happen in NZ, lol)

      That said, I’m a little radical in thinking that the doctrine of territorial integrity (ie. that you can’t run off with part of a country without their permission) is inherently BS in terms of its application to independence movements. Kosovo, for instance, probably had a right to declare independence, even if it was controversial, and Serbia made a lot of similar arguments to the ones Spain is making right now.

      • Exkiwiforces 11.1.1

        Well you damm Northerners do take 70% of our electricity and everything else.

      • Matthew Whitehead 11.1.2

        Some examples of legitimate arguments for independence:
        * Divergent culture or language from the larger country.
        * A history of having previously been an independent political entity.
        * Resources or money extracted from the region without a return investment in necessary infrastructure or cultural/social development.
        * Suppression of regional concerns in the national legislature.
        * The larger country is not providing reasonable steps towards more autonomous government when it is democratically asked to, and/or is acting in bad faith in its agreements with the region or its voters.
        * Violence or oppressive behaviour towards those in the region, such as a population that’s an ethnic minority in the country at large but is a majority within the region.
        * A peaceful and democratic separatist movement.

        Likewise, some legitimate arguments against independence:
        * It’s technically illegal to do it without the consent of the larger country, and as it will be their neighbour they will need to achieve a reasonable relationship after independence, so a bilateral approach to independence must at least be attempted in good faith if the region wanting independence can’t secure its own borders.
        * Not all independence movements are democratic and peaceful, some are corrupt or violent, and don’t legitimately respect the democratic process regarding those who don’t want independence.
        * Independence shouldn’t be used to shirk financial obligations to the whole country when adequate infrastructure is being provided to the region.
        * The region is acting in bad faith and overstating the case for independence.
        * There is a shared cultural tradition or language.
        * Fears that minorities in the region will be oppressed, possibly in a similar way to what has happened in the larger country.
        * A poor process is followed to declare independence.

        As you can probably tell if you go through looking at news from a few different respected sources and comparing this situation to those lists, there’s mud on the faces of both sides in this particular example, and they both need to put more effort into negotiating a reasonable bilateral compromise. Not all of these apply here of course, thankfully.

        If we wanted to look at what a reasonable compromise could look like, let’s say Catalonia could agree to a guarantee of smaller, but still reasonable, subsidies paid through the EU to Spain in return for Spain allowing an independence process and supporting their entrance into the EU if they vote for independence. Meanwhile Catalonia concedes to holding a new, fairer independence vote with peaceful and independent observation to ensure the process is a genuine secret ballot and isn’t corrupt, and to waiting until Spain passing enabling legislation and (a) constitutional amendment(s) making the process legal before actually holding the vote. Both sides agree that no military or police action will be taken to prevent a democratic vote, or to prevent people leaving the region for other parts of Spain. Spain agrees only Catalonians will vote in any referendum, and Catalonia agrees they will observe a transition period if they do vote for independence, during which it will operate under progressively increased autonomy and Spain will sponsor its pre-entry into necessary international agreements to facilitate a smooth independence process where Catalonia isn’t internationally isolated on independence, even if it does end up waiting outside the EU for a period of time.

        Naturally this outcome is probably a pipe dream, as there’s so much hard feeling and unwillingness to back down on both sides that truly reasonable negotiation would be incredibly difficult, especially with so much of the EU having explicitly backed Spain on this issue, it also limits the number of other countries able to act as genuinely neutral arbiters between the two parties, as leaders from more distant countries may not have the cultural background to understand the relevant history and political challenges.

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          • marty mars

            I think indigenous independence movements in colonosed countries where the groups seeking independence never ceeded authority or acquiessed to the colonial power is different. Certainly i hope the extra nuances are considered.

            • Andy

              I’ve always been a fan of Maori independence but can’t resolve in my mind how independence can be achieved when its not based around a geographic area.

              Any thoughts people?

              • Big question – May need a post of its own that one Andy. You could put it up on open mike on Monday and see what people think. The question of tino rangatiratanga, independence, The Treaty, at tribal and pan Māori level are complicated to say the least.

          • Matthew Whitehead

            That would be a fair point in favour of a Māori independence movement, sure.

        • Sanctuary

          Thanks for the thoughful input BTW!

          • Matthew Whitehead

            Of course. Just because we support the principle of independence movements being able to unilaterally declare independence in principle when there’s signs that a bilateral approach isn’t being honoured in good faith doesn’t mean we should ignore the signs that this isn’t a clean example of a completely justified independence process in practice. There are legitimate concerns here that opponents of independence have not been fairly represented in the referenda thus far, and of course Catalonia does at least have to follow its own regional laws in declaring independence, which to my understanding it’s barred from doing without achieving a supermajority, and that it failed to secure one in this vote.

            Even before the regional government declared independence I had made up my mind that although the referendum was technically illegal whichever side’s law you looked at, it still wouldn’t have hurt Spain to have let it go through peacefully and simply have released a statement saying “We can’t treat any referendum as indicative on Catalan independence until it meets these criteria,” and then actually have compromised a little on its position on constitutional indivisibility. Instead by playing to the other parts of the country and trying to suppress the vote with police action, they have made themselves look like villains when the situation is analyzed quickly, which leads to the kind of negative news coverage you’re describing. While I disagree with the characterisation of Rajoy’s government as Francoist, you can understand why that’s happening given that he took a violent approach to a peaceful, if not necessary wholly legitimate, independence process.

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              Spain has already given Catalan massive degrees of autonomy under its existing constitution.

              Catalan now needs a fresh election for state government – the existing government have made at least as big a mess of this as the federal government.

              To me the missing issue isn’t the Spanish government’s back-handed response, but the inaction of the European Union. France, like Spain, has already refused to recognize full statehood. The EU has to step in.

              The lack of EU leadership with Spain in the middle of Brexit, and all the other clear votes from across Europe against the EU, shows how this is the time for EU leaders to stand up, rebuke perpetual Balkanisation, and start asserting the benefits of unity.

              • Matthew Whitehead

                I don’t disagree with you that the EU’s hands-off approach is incredibly stupid and risks escalating the situation further. I would have favoured their acting as mediators rather than backing Spain, but there is a legitimate argument for them taking partisan sides if they do so in a way that promotes a peaceful negotiation. (also they’ve already backed Spain now, so they can’t credibly try to be neutral arbiters at this point, so your approach of them being leaders and talking democratically about the benefits of unity is really the best option still available to the EU, and the role I would back them taking now)

                I agree that a fresh Catalan election is absolutely a good idea, given that technically they broke their own laws in declaring independence, meaning they really need a new mandate to continue legitimately on any course of action.

                I honestly have no stake either way in this particular independence fight, and I supported Scotland’s democratic move for independence even though I’m actually a UK citizen and arguably it might be bad for me personally if I ever decided to move back to England. (also, I think they probably have a right to have another go at independence now Brexit is happening, but that it’s reasonable for them to wait until after a deal is hammered out before voting again, assuming that voters in Scotland actually want a second independence referendum)

                I actually think, done well, an independence process for Catalonia would enhance relations with the rest of Spain no matter what happened, and that there is still a chance to pull back and have a moderately positive outcome, if both sides stop being so stubborn and behaving so badly. An independence movement succeeding doesn’t have to mean balkanization, and it’s entirely possible that an independence process managed with respect and peacefully would result in Catalonia’s relationship with Spain being enhanced as fellow members of the EU, and thus still a unified political force. You may be right however that an independent Catalonia, if nothing changes, is heading for poor relations with its neighbours, regional acrimony in Iberia, and further independence movements, but I don’t think we’ve yet seen the warning signs of anything other than tensions with the rest of Spain.

              • boggis the cat

                The EU has serious problems with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics thumbing their nose at the rules on refugees. They need to be cautious lest they feed the anti-EU movements within such member states.

                (The nightmare scenario for Brussels is to have such states stay within NATO, but leave the EU. That delivers full control of NATO to Washington DC, when they’re having a pissing contest with Russia. Another major war in Europe isn’t really on the EU’s preferred roadmap.)

  12. peterlepaysan 12

    How many of the current Spanish Government ruling party government members have links all the way back to Franco?

    How about the rest of the the ruling party?

    Austria appears to be doing a rerun of early Hitlerian times.

    Brexit was largely fuelled by xenophobia, ironically it was D Defoe who called England the cesspit of europe because its entire history has been characterised by endless westward flows of people from europe. A flow accelerated by the rise of the British Empire as british persons from outlandish places settled in “little england”.

    Right wing fascism is alive and well on this planet.

    Viva Franco Spain!

    • Sanctuary 12.1

      “…How many of the current Spanish Government ruling party government members have links all the way back to Franco..?”

      This article sums up the complexity of the Spanish establishment and Spain’s uneasy reconciliation with the past quite well:


      I LoL’d a bitter little lol at this bit –

      “…The archbishop of Madrid put it even more bluntly. Sometimes, he remarked, “One has to know how to forget…”

      Pretty rich given the Catholic Church’s complicity in human rights abuses under Franco, but also perhaps accurate.

  13. Henry Filth 13

    It all seems a dreadful failure of the Spanish and Catalunyan politicians.

    It’s a political issue, and the politicians, who are paid to deal with political issues, have manifestly failed to deal with this one.

    Hopefully they can get their collective politician arses back into gear before the non-politicians get too deeply involved and the whole thing goes to Hell in a handbasket.

    • Sanctuary 13.1

      “…It all seems a dreadful failure of the Spanish and Catalunyan politicians.

      It’s a political issue, and the politicians, who are paid to deal with political issues, have manifestly failed to deal with this one.

      Hopefully they can get their collective politician arses back into gear before the non-politicians get too deeply involved and the whole thing goes to Hell in a handbasket…”

      Well, yes. I think you’ve summed up the views of the average Spaniard.

  14. From the “so-called analysis” in the Guardian that you linked to:

    A non-binding referendum in 2014 and surveys of public opinion since then have shown that while most Catalans do not support outright independence, a significant majority is very attached to Catalonia’s autonomous status.

    So, not the brave struggle of a people for independence, but a depressing display of brinkmanship by politicians who should know better. And yes, you bet the Russian Federation is egging them on via its propaganda arm.

    • boggis the cat 14.1

      And yes, you bet the Russian Federation is egging them on via its propaganda arm.

      Why? Do you think that Russia does not have problems with independence movements among their multitude of geographically concentrated ethnicities?

      Crimea has been a double-edged sword for them (‘independence’ referenda OK for ethnic Russians, so why not [insert ethnicity]), so they aren’t taking a pro-independence stance.

      • Psycho Milt 14.1.1

        Oh, sure, when it comes to independence movements within the old Russian empire they’ll dish out immediate military responses (eg Chechnya wars 1, 2 and whatever number they’re up to now). But if there’s an independence movement that could cause discord and bring democracy into disrepute with the EU, their propaganda arm is all over it.

        • boggis the cat

          This is exactly the same in any large nation. The USA, China, India; even France, Italy, and — in this case — Spain.

          Recall Kosovo, which is a region with an historically very marginal ethnic Albanian representation, was stripped from Serbia through a good old-fashioned war of aggression. Meanwhile, the Kurds are still getting shafted in the ‘national homeland’ lottery, despite having existed for millennia.

          Political games to assert control over people always take precedence over considered and well reasoned approaches to such issues.

  15. cleangreen 15

    “Donald Tusk: (European Council President) “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor. I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force.”

    Donald trust must learn what democracy means and it is not his barbaric style of ‘draconian rule’ he & his former 1932 leader advocated, asTrusk looks & sounds now a lot like the old ‘regime’ again with those words coming out of his nozzle.

    Trusk learn what “self determination” means and ‘heil’ to you.

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