Catalonia is one of the most important European regions in terms of linguistic identity, economic potential and global scope (mainly thanks to its capital, Barcelona). It has legislative powers, its own police and health powers – but little ability to raise taxes or change foreign policy. Proponents of a referendum on self-determination claim such a vote is necessary to “reset the relationship between Catalonia and Spain.”
In 2005 Catalonia renegotiated its competences and economic relations with the Spanish State. Amid a large dispute, the region was granted a little more self-government. The Spanish Government, some of the Autonomous Communities and the Popular Party went to the Constitutional Court of Spain over the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia (Catalonia’s basic institutional regulations), calling the changes illegal, and in 2010 the court repealed the concessions.
At that moment a red line was drawn: everything that goes beyond the status quo is unconstitutional, regardless of the political support for autonomy in Catalonia. This leads us to a basic conclusion: we should give a voice to the people, the citizens.
The right to decide is the end of a theoretical formulation of a fruitful relationship of exchange and negotiation between Catalonia and Spain. As it is not possible to reach an agreement over decentralisation, let’s give a voice to citizens to decide how they want to interact with the rest of Spain. Obviously, one option must be the possibility to become an independent state, a desire that, according to surveys, is gaining more support among the public.
In any case, Mariano Rajoy’s government has never wanted to reach an agreement; he doesn’t want to let the Catalans vote and he also declines to support a federal State through which the Catalans’ demands could be “solved”. On the contrary, the independence option is now the only option which advocates democracy. The independence debate in Catalonia should involve a constituent process in which the citizens can choose firstly if they still want to be part of Spain and secondly, whether to write a Constitution and take part in the construction of a new State.
Catalans don’t desire differential treatment. They just want to make their voices heard and for their politicians to act according to what the public wants.
More than 80% of Catalans want to be consulted and approximately 90% would accept the result of an independence consultation.
The Spanish Government has deceived us with a falsely legalistic debate, when we could instead have a legal referendum as Scotland has. The legality question has been accompanied by the political will of Cameron’s Conservative government, which has risked losing a part of Britain in exchange for offering a fully democratic choice. Of course, Catalans would like to have the same opportunity as the Scots have had – but Catalonia is not Scotland and Spain is not Westminster.
However, the EU will have to react in a pragmatic way but in any case, it will have to react democratically once the people have given their verdict at the ballot box. Both Catalans and the Scottish want to continue to be part of the EU; despite its contradictions, the EU is still a reference point for protecting people’s rights and freedoms.
Catalonia is dealing with a democratic revolution, with huge civil demonstrations that are internationally relevant; it is a precedent to challenge every kind of global injustice. Two large-scale mobilisations that demonstrated on Barcelona’s streets, The Catalan Way in 2013 and the Gran V in 2014, reflect a Europe-wide protest and gained global attention. A large number of citizens have decided in Catalonia that they want to equip themselves with the proper tools to govern themselves; these tools are the ones of a State. Designing a state throws open a constituent process that is plural and participatory, with a strong Welfare State and struggles against unemployment and inequalities.
Which European country has the oportunity to engender a democratic process suported by liberals, democrats, the centre-left, many socialists, green ecosocialists and communists? The time has come to listen to the voice of the Catalans and send a message around the world: in Europe, we resolve our problems through the ballot box.