One day after the people of Scotland voted against a referendum that would have made their country independent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK), the parliament of the autonomous community of Catalonia in northeastern Spain overwhelmingly approved a measure to defy the Spanish constitution and give their president the power to schedule a non-binding vote on independence. Lawmakers voted 106 to 28 in favor of the measure.
Spain’s Constitutional Court has said it will immediately review the matter, possibly as early as Sunday. If, as expected, it finds the referendum to a violation of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, it has the authority to suspend the vote.
Catalonia is arguably Spain’s richest region, highly industrialized, and known for its individualistic people. Gradually, Catalonia has gained more autonomy from Madrid since ratification of Spain’s Constitution and, later, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. Along with Galicia and the Basque Country, Catalonia is recognized as a “nationality” within the larger nation of Spain.
To the extent they can be relied upon, polls have shown growing support for Catalan independence. In a late 2012 poll, 51 percent said they would vote for independence, 21 percent against it and another 21 percent said they would not vote at all.
Polls in the two weeks prior to last week’s vote in Scotland showed the race neck-and-neck but with up to 8 percent undecided. The poll that finally mattered – the actual vote – seemed to show that the undecided in Scotland broke almost entirely against the initiative.
In addition to the region’s claims to a distinct language and culture,two more practical matters appear to be driving the nationalist sentiment in Catalonia. First, Spain’s Constitutional Court declared in 2010 that part of the region’s 2006 Statute of Autonomy is unconstitutional. Second, it is well-known that, although Catalonia’s citizens and businesses contribute 19.5 percent of Spain’s tax revenue, it receives back just 14 percent of federal spending.
A member of the nationalist block in Congress that governs Catalonia, Pere Macías, commended British Prime Minister David Cameron for allowing Scots to vote and “choosing to convince rather than conquer,” saying that silencing citizens (by not disallowing an election) and “knocking down your adversaries” does not end problems.
Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, delighted in Scotland’s “no” vote, saying Scots consciously chose between security and risk and chose “the most favourable option for everyone,” including Europe itself.
The heart of the conflict over the Catalan vote, which could happen on Nov. 9, is that the Spanish Constitution does not allow unilateral, regional referendums. One interpretation says, instead, that nationalists should advocate for constitutional change in order for their vote to be legal.
Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce has not yet gone after the Catalan government as it has not defied the Spanish Constitution by going ahead with the non-binding independence vote. Should the Constitutional Court rule against the vote but it is pursued nevertheless, that is when Torres-Dulce would be allowed to initiate a pursuit. He said that the situation “would be a jungle” without the supporting framework of the law. The Basque government recently wanted to hold a similar referendum but it was rejected by the Constitutional Court in 2008.
By Gregory Baskin
Guardian Liberty Voice – Catalonia Independence Emboldened by Scotland Vote