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21 de nov. 2014

The Case for Catalonia's Independence

I welcome this opportunity to discuss with you the main reasons why the independence option has overtaken the classic pro-federal model that for many years had appealed to many Catalans (as a way of indicating their dissatisfaction at the state of affairs). Thank you Dr. Dowling for your invitation, and also Dra. Susana Beltrán for sharing the floor. Playing in a «neutral» venue makes it easier to keep the debate at an academic level and style: back home debates like this one can easily get quite heated!

To read the whole paper, please click below on "Més informació" 

I shall structure my initial contribution by defending four statements:

1. The Catalan people have a right to their national emancipation, to independence.
2. The Catalan people want independence.
3. The Catalan people deserve independence.
4. The Catalan people need independence.

I hope they are controversial, because otherwise the debate may be a little dull!

1. The Catalan people have a right to their national emancipation, to independence.
What defines «a people»? Well, there's less of a need to answer that question in Wales than in, say, England!
If the Welsh are a people, I contend, then the Catalans are also a people.
DEFINITION: A people: «a body of persons that are united by a common culture, tradition, or sense of kinship, that typically have common language, institutions, and beliefs, and that often constitute a politically organized group». http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/people
What right do peoples have?
a) Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960
2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
This was written for colonial countries and people. But the UN extended it beyond documents on such countries and people.
b) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) and c) the InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) both repeat that same text again in article 1.
Well, very few national Constitutions make allowance for their constituent peoples to be able to enjoy this right. (In small countries there is no minority «people» it could be applied to: Liechtenstein, Iceland, Luxembourg, Malta, ...). Neverthless, the number of independent countries has grown steadily. Moreover, none of the emerging countries in Europe in the past 25 years can be described as "colonial"). 

In Spain there are such peoples, and in the preamble to the 1978 Spanish Constitution says the Spanish nation proclaimed its will to...

Protect all Spaniards and peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, of their culture and traditions, languages and institutions

In the text of the Constitution, two statements are worth noting:
Section 1.
...2. National sovereignty belongs to the Spanish people, from whom all State powers emanate.
Section 2.
The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to selfgovernment of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.
Many Spaniards (though having little idea of history beyond their secondary school classes, which more likely than not have not substantially changed certainly since Franco, if not well before) claim that Catalonia are not a people, or were never «independent». Well, we can go into this further if you like, but the truth is for centuries, while sharing the head of State (that is, within a federation), Catalonia enjoyed virtually complete home rule: currency, taxation, import duties, civil law (land ownership, inheritance laws), exemption from military service...
We can return to this issue (whether or not there are «historical» justifications for the Catalans claiming a right to independence) later. Suffice it to say that it isn't true, as even the Spanish government claims, that Catalonia owes its home rule to the 1978 Constitution: for, the president of Catalonia had returned from a 38-year exile, and had been officially recognised as such by Spain, a year earlier, after a huge demonstration in central Barcelona calling for "Llibertat, Amnistia, Estatut d'Autonomia").
The Catalan people have a right to independence.
2. The Catalan people want independence.
When people were asked which, for them, would be the best fit for Catalonia in Spain, the typical distribution eight years ago was «Independence» 14%; a federal system, 33%; the current system, 38% and a centralised system, 8%.  
The latest poll in the series reveals very significant changes: «Independence» up from 14% to 45%; a federal system, down from 33% to 20%; the current system, down from 38% to 23%; and a centralised system, down from 8% to about 4%. What has happened in this short space of time?
In February 2007, a leading Catalan journalist Enric Juliana coined the expression «el català emprenyat» (the annoyed or angry Catalan).
Just a few months later (in November), the president of Catalonia, José Montilla, warned Spaniards of an increasing «desafección» with Spain (a mental turning-off or disconnection) which, he said, could become irreversible. The fact that this prophetic warning came from a Socialist born in Andalusia, and not a hardline Catalan «nationalist» did not, however, make anyone sit up in their chair and take careful notice.
The reason was that there were growing suspicions that the text of the regional constitution, revised in 2006 and put to the people shortly afterwards, was going to be further slashed by the Constitutional Court. The very fact that in 2003 all the main parties (they were to take 89% of the seats in that election) pledged to overhaul the 1979 Statute only goes to show how it was felt to be outdated, and that successive Spanish governments and Constitutional court judgments had in practice considerably reduced Catalonia's level of home rule.  

As widely expected (thanis to a shameful series of leaks to the Madrid press from inside the Court) the judgment in June 2010 slashed the 2006 Statute (that had already been "lathed" in the Spanish parliament). It sounded the death knell, in the view of many, for any hope of a federal Spain. 
However, when I say «the Catalan people» I really ought to clarify things. Just like South Wales in the 19th century, whose population grew rapidly as a reuslt of an influx from English-speaking counties to the east, the population of Catalonia also grew very fast because of the influx of what were called «immigrants» from the rest of Spain, and especially the poorer regions in the south, on a large scale in the 1920s and then between 1950 and 1974 approx.
Even today nearly one in five residents were born in the rest of Spain (and 15% were born outside Spain, a phenomenon that took off around 1998). So Catalonia is no place for "ethnic" Nationalist discourses!
Right now, a large part of the population are second-generation Catalans (I'm a first-generation Catalan, on the basis of my birthplace, in England!). That is, they are the offspring, and in more and more cases the grandchildren, of the influx of people from the rest of Spain that I talked about. In linguistic terms, these Catalan-born people are, in the vast majority of cases (except for some urban «backwaters») as bilingual as anyone else.
What relationship (in terms of identification) do these people have with Catalonia, and with Spain, compared with that of their own children, born in Catalonia, or with members of families whose Catalan roots go back centuries? In identity terms, when interviewed for surveys they range from feeling primarily Catalan to feeling primarily Spanish (or even, in some cases, the same regional identity as their parents) or «equally» Catalan and Spanish. Most of the overall population to at least some extent enjoys a form of dual identity. And there are no unified phalanxes facing each other here. You can even find «ethnically pure» Catalans (ocho apellidos!) who are against independence. And you can hear vibrant speeches calling for independence being delivered in Spanish by people who are certainly are not Catalan ascendancy. But the future of Catalonia is in the hands of the central group with divided loyalties, which may, when the binding referendum is held, vote for or against, or in the face of the dilemma, abstain from voting.Those opposing independence hark insistently upon identity issues, as if people after independence would stop feeling Spanish, or being Spanish, at the wave of a wand. As if they would be forced by Spain, or Catalonia, to hand in their identity cards.
How do we know that (a majority of) Catalans want independence?
a) Surveys. Since at least 2009, large-scale surveys asking what people would do in the event of a referendum on independence show a 20-point lead for the Yes vote.
b) The last election, in 2012, the winning coalition (it got more than double the number of MPs than the second most voted party) promised to undertake a «National transition» towards independence. An high-level Advisory council on National Transition was set up, and it has produced a detailed 900-page White Paper on the steps needed to legitimately attain independence, and the political and administrative structures that will have to be in place, as well as outlining some of the main options Catalonia's leaders will have to decide upon.
c) Since 2009 there has been a rapidly growing network of pro-independence groups. These first organised unofficial polls on independence (on a «right to decide» ticket, and without the organisers expressing an opinion as regards independence). They then to a large extent amalgamated into the Catalan National Assembly, which since it was founded in 2011 has grown to over 39,000 paid-up members. This NGO (and others) has been severely attacked. The Spanish authorities are desperate to find it engaging in illegal activities (they will have to look very, very hard!). It has found itself as a main target in a new, virtually one-sided cyberwar which I personally have been a victim of. If anyone is interested I can give them more details.
 The Catalan people want independence.

3. The Catalan people deserve independence.
The amount of enthusiasm that has arisen in Catalonia in the past 4-5 years is colossal. After decades, perhaps centuries, of feeling inferior, second-class citizens, of thinking that independence was a dream shared by a select few, we have woken up to the fact that that dream is held by many many people, and that a large number more have been drawn to believe that independence is the only way forward for Catalonia. Even outspoken regionalists have come over to that view. 
Noone in Catalonia, noone (despite what we sometimes hear and read) thinks that independence will provide an automatic solution to all our problems. That is not the point. The point is to be able to find OUR OWN solutions to our problems, not someone else's. Noone in Catalonia is promising the promised land overnight (despite what we sometimes hear and read). And I think everyone agrees that the most fragile segments of society stand to gain the most from independence (ironically, because in such segments support for independence is lowest!).
In the past three years the number of people and institutions, outside the Catalan government, working towards this aim is into the tens of thousands. The 80,000 members and sympathisers of the ANC also belong to one of nearly fifty "sectoral assemblies", many of which have worked on documents looking into the future. Nearly three quarters of the local authorities are working together. An initiative made into place by the ANC and a dozen other organisations, "El País Que Volem" (the Country We Want) organises round tables at which people make concrete proposals for the future, free Catalonia. These are stored by the hundred in a database and will soon by sorted into a final report classified by thematic areas. Even the Barcelona city council has worked in this area, and has published an 800-page White Paper, "Barcelona, capital of a new State" with contributions by 148 specialists. It will soon be launched in Spanish and English.

With a more humble aim (the right to decide, the right to hold a referendum to decide our political future), a National Pactfor the Right to Decide has brought together over three thousand organisations of all kinds. The number of studies on the pros and the cons of independence can be counted by the dozen. Websites and TV programmes on questions and answers on the issue abound.

This, coupled with the success of the three largest demonstrations in Catalonia's history, all clamouring for independence (on September 11, 2012, 2013 and 2014), give a clear idea of the level of enthusiasm, commitment, and serious preparatory work for independence that Catalonia has mobilised. 
In short, then, the Catalan people deserve independence.

4. The Catalan people need independence.
I think this is the case on three scores: the issue of powers to solve problems; the issue of the economy and the funding of our public authorities; and the issue of Catalonia being used as a political scapegoat in the rest of Spain.
a. Powers. Many, many people in Catalonia feel that the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which was a pact that included the Catalans, has been broken in spirit more and more, by increasingly biassed Constitutional court judgments (as seen in changes in its doctrine) and by a consistent recentralising pressure from the Madrid apparatchiks. 
For centuries, Catalans have made efforts to recover their home rule, in the face of an increasingly centralised, uniformising and nationally assimlating Spain. It is the failure of Catalan federalists (in, for instance, the Socialist party) to get their Spanish counterparts to actually do anything in practice, when in power, that has led to support for a federal model to collapse since the 2010 judgment, which led to one of the largest demonstrations in Catalonia's history (with the first spontaneous, generalised call for independence).
In the meantime, we are told that our language can't be used in the supreme court, in ministries (your application for a subsidy or a grant will be turned down if the statutes or articles of association of your University or company aren't translated into Spanish), or in European institutions. We are told that our government can't laid down support for families that can't afford to pay for basic facilities (energy, water...) because that would be a privilege compared with Spaniards elsewhere... We are told that our government will have to cut back its budget far, far more than the central government will for its part.
The ability to carry out policies without interference from central government (immigration policies, economic policies, education policies, environmental policies...) has stopped being a dream, and is now a clear objective, perceived as attainable and necessary - by a very large part of the population of Catalonia.

b. The economy. We have a crippled economy, mainly thanks to the amount of taxation not being reinvested in the region. The devastating Japan tsunami cost the country 4% of its GDP that year. But Catalonia loses 8% of its GDP every single year. This has been going on for years (even in the height of the Olympic games building fever!) and is not only dragging the Catalan government towards bankruptcy, but also decapitalising the country's industry at a time of globalisation in which competitiveness is crucial to success.
In recent years the Spanish government seems to be carrying out a scorched earth policy, grossly underinvesting (from any point of view: population, GDP, share of revenue...) in Catalonia: Barcelona port railway connections, the Mediterranean freight railway corridor, the Barcelona-Valencia passenger railway line, the N2 main road to the French border...).
The much-repeated claim that Catalonia is richer than other regions, to justify this level of fiscal spoliation, can be countered on at least four grounds.
  1. One, that as an industrial powerhouse, it cannot pull Spain out of the crisis if its oxygen lifelines are cut.
  2. Two, that the redistribution of tax revenue in the form of central government expenditure should not mean poorer parts of Sdpain actually overtaking Catalaonia in terms of per cepita GDP.
  3. Three, that the cost of living is considerably higher in Catalonia than in most of Spain, which means that there is a still greater shortfall in terms of the impact of public spending there.
  4. Four. Catalonia's index of poverty (% of inhabitants below the poverty line on a number of variables) is second only to the Canary Islands.
The resilience the Basque country and Navarre have shown in the face of the economic crisis is due to their control on taxation, and the fact that it is they that fund central government and not the other way round.

c. The will to stop being a punchbag, a scapegoat used for political and media (public opinion) ends by Spain's powerful, conservative institutions to further their own interests. Day after day Catalans are called Nazis (literally), or are accused of having an exclusionary discourse. The former has recently been shot down in flames by 65 Catalan NGOs who have asked the public prosecutor to take legal action against people fostering a hate discourse against Catalans.  This is extremely serious: it fires intolerance, incomprehension, a lack of dialogue, prejudice and an aggressive atittude of righteous indignation. The latter (the claim that Catalan media are exclusionary, while Spanish media are not) has also been shot down in flames by field research analysing opinions about the November 9 vote on 70 chat shows with commentators, in 14 programes, some on Spain-wide radios or televsion channels, some on Catalan media.
Many, many Catalans (even those with relatives in the rest of Spain) are shocked by this, are shocked by what they hear when they visit their families, and would much rather belong to a new State, instead of having a State against them. I for one have written several times that we aim and hope to be Spain's best neighbours!

So, summing up, I hope to have been able to explain why many Catalans hold that
  1. The Catalan people have a right to their national emancipation, to independence.
  2. The Catalan people want independence.
  3. The Catalan people deserve independence.
  4. The Catalan people need independence.
Thank you.

Cardiff University
November 19 2014

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