Aashna Sheth

The past few months have seen an upsurge in vociferous debates surrounding the creation of independent states. The question of Scottish independence took the media by storm as policy makers, legislators and the common man eagerly analysed, pre-empted and waited patiently for a historical decision to be made. This phenomenon fuelled the dormant Catalan movement for independence; the creation of an independent Catalan nation away from the ties of the Madrid based Spanish Government. Despite the lack of adequate focus on this region by the media, the question of Catalan independence has been a pressing, crucial and engaging one.

catalonia-spain-franceWhat we first need to focus on is why the Catalan region seeks to break away from Spain and establish an independent state. Just like all other political conflicts, this too is rooted in a tumultuous history. Following a calamitous civil war, Franciso Franco’s dictatorship was established in Spain. His hard-lined political attitude and view of Spain as one nation with one culture and one language went against the beliefs, ideologies and culture of the Catalans who believed that they possessed a unique individuality, culture and language. Thus, they historically supposed that they did not in effect belong to Spain. Yet, the past few decades have seen this region in the northeast of Spain grow into one of the richest and most developed regions of the country. The growth of tourism and international trade has led to it contributing immensely to Spain as a whole. Thus the reason for independence is not solely political, historical or cultural – it can be attributed to a financial one as well.

Next, we must analyse this Independence movement and its development over the past few years. The Constitution of Spain comprises the ‘Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia’ within which it prescribes certain rights and regulations. Domains such as health, commerce and local government remain within the control of the Catalan government; however, foreign policy, immigration, the budget and taxes are under the control of Madrid. The Catalans therefore want complete independence in all political, financial and social realms. As a result, the Catalan regional leader Artur Mas entered into talks with the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for the development of a referendum (eventually scheduled to be held on November 9th, 2014), one that would allow the Catalans to decide whether or not they wanted to be an independent nation.

This ‘November 9 Referendum’ however, was temporarily frozen by a Constitutional Court as it violates the principles of the Spanish Constitution. Enraged at what many nationalists believed was a ‘political move’, they were infused with a new fervour, one in which they would do what they could in their power to ensure Catalan independence. The question we need to ask however is an imperative albeit confounding one. Why does the creation of a referendum go against the constitution of the country? The Spanish Constitution, in Section 2 of the Preliminary Title endorses the principle of the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation. ’ Thus, the referendum proposed by the Catalan Government, which aims to create a separate entity, a separate nation goes against this principle of indissoluble unity. The Ranjoy government believes that it holds age-old ties with the Catalan Region; ties which cannot be broken. They publicly stated that ‘There’s no Spain without Catalonia and there’s no Catalonia without Spain’.

people-take-streets-banner-reading-independence-during-protest-greater-autonomy-cataloniaAs a result, it is all the more necessary to understand and interpret the Spanish perspective on this issue. Catalonia is one of the richest and most prosperous regions of the country and it accounts for 1/5th of Spain’s economy. Lawmakers argue that Catalan independence has manifold implications, not only in the Catalan state, but on the rest of Spain as well. It can invariably be argued that independence will further strengthen Catalonia on the financial and industrial fronts – however this would not benefit the rest of Spain in the same manner. Spain as a nation has been suffering from an economic crisis. Thus, what Spain needs is a united front, politically and economically to tackle its political and economic turmoil. Without the support of the Catalan region, it is highly unlikely that it’ll ever be able to recover from its economic problems.

Yet, the undying spirit of the Catalan nationalists cannot be subdued. The number of demonstrations and the augmentation in the number of participants clearly indicates that the temporary legal freeze hasn’t hindered their drive to create a separate state. Furthermore, the question of Scottish independence provided a greater momentum to their movement. Unaffected by the outcome of the Scottish referendum, Artur Mas looked at the situation as a glass half full – the Scots were given a chance to decide their fate and he believed the Catalans should be provided with the same opportunity.

The issue, just like all other policy questions presents itself as a double-edged sword with no distinct solution. Lawmakers have argued that this question concerns not only the Catalans but all the people of Spain; the best way to move forward would therefore be the introduction of a referendum by the Central Government, one in which the fate of the Catalans would be in the hands in all of the Spanish people. Yet, without significant progress and the mélange of the legal and political aspects of the issue, all we can do now is watch, observe, argue and deliberate as we witness contemporary history being reworked.

Posted by The Indian Economist