September 18, 2014
|FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags at Camp Nou|
The world is watching Scotland today, and the Catalans will watch closer than most.
Spanish news sites are featuring pictures of FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags during their team’s Champions League game yesterday, and it is widely reported that delegations from the Catalan (and Basque) nationalist parties have travelled to Scotland to follow the latest developments on the ground.
This is because the debate around Catalonia’s independence referendum is approaching its own moment of truth:
- Catalonia’s ruling parties agreed long ago that the independence referendum (carefully described as la consulta, the consultation) would take place on 9 November. However, the Catalan government has yet to officially call such a referendum.
- The Spanish government maintains the referendum is unconstitutional (and as we explained here, the Spanish Constitution is actually on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s side).
- The Catalan government will tomorrow try to get around the legal obstacles by asking the Catalan parliament to adopt a new law on ‘non-referendum consultations’ (consultas no referendarias). Catalan President Artur Mas is then expected to convene one of these consultations for 9 November. However, the legal status of the result of such a consultation is unclear at the moment.
- Reports in the Spanish press suggest the Spanish government has everything ready to launch a legal challenge against la consulta at the Spanish Constitutional Court, as soon as it is officially announced.
- If the Spanish Constitutional Court were to strike down the referendum (which is what Rajoy expects), the ‘Plan B’ of Artur Mas would be to resign and call early regional elections – and then present the election results as a referendum on Catalonia’s future. Recent polls suggest the strongly pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC) would come out as the largest party, albeit short of an absolute majority. For Rajoy, having to deal with ERC instead of Mas would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Are the Scottish and the Catalan cases similar?
There are similarities between Catalonia and Scotland. Both are proud regions with long histories of independence movements, and both have also been embedded in decentralised systems. Also with respect to the consequences of leaving there are similarities, not least the prospect of joining the EU and the difficulties that could potentially arise.
However, there are at least two fundamental differences:
- The Spanish government has never considered accepting the outcome of an independence referendum in Catalonia. On the contrary, it is determined to use all the legal instruments at its disposal to stop the referendum taking place. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has not even ruled out making use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution – which gives the central government the power to “adopt the necessary measures” to force a regional government to comply with its constitutional obligations. In practice, despite the planned date for the referendum being less than two months away, the Catalans still don’t know whether – and in what form – it will actually happen.
- Constitutional reform and greater devolution of powers to Spanish regions as an alternative to independence has so far not been discussed properly, mainly because the Spanish and Catalan governments have never really engaged in negotiations.
Will there be a ‘contagion effect’?
Pro-independence Catalans would no doubt get a boost in case of a ‘Yes’ victory in the Scottish referendum, whilst, naturally, Madrid would love to see the ‘No’ camp win. Irrespective of the outcome in Scotland, the status quo doesn’t seem to be an option anymore for Catalonia. Just think of the 500,000 to 1.8 million people, depending on the estimates, who took to the streets last week to celebrate La Diada, Catalonia’s National Day.
Sooner rather than later, the Spanish and Catalan governments will need to give up posturing and start talking to each other. At that point, reforming the Spanish Constitution to give regions greater power to set and collect taxes may well appear as a valid alternative. The Scottish episode, whichever way the referendum goes, may ultimately serve to accelerate further devolution in Spain.Open Europe blog team