For many people, the region of Catalonia is home to some of the best attractions that Spain has to offer. It has the best beaches along the Costa Brava, arguably its best city, Barcelona, and undeniably its best football team, FC Barcelona. Spain could be set to lose these, however, as the Catalan government declares the 9th of November 2014 as the date for the proposed referendum on independence; a vote that Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has declared illegal.
Why do they want independence?
The 7.5 million-strong population of the region is as equally divided on the issue as Spain’s political parties. Economic concerns seem to be the main reason that Catalonia wants independence. Separatist parties argue that, while Catalonia has its own economic crisis to address, it is unfair that the region has to give around 8% of its annual GDP to sustain an inefficient Spanish state. They also claim that smaller countries are often better off economically than bigger ones, using Denmark and the Netherlands as examples.
Although many assert that the recent economic crisis fuelled this surge in Catalan nationalism, the region’s fight for independence is not new, and arguments for a ‘yes’ vote extend beyond economic factors. Many people say that they have lost, or to never have possessed, any sentimental connections to Spain, and express their wish for a national Catalan identity to be recognised in all corners of the world. There are claims that the culture, history, language and existence of a Catalan people have been around for more than 1000 years, and so the region already has the attributes of a nation-state. Another case put forward is that, in a truly democratic country, the Catalan people would have a right to decide for themselves.
Why does Spain object?
As Spain’s most economically productive industrial region, it’s not difficult to see why the Spanish government is putting up a fight to keep Catalonia. The semi-autonomous region accounts for one fifth of Spain’s GDP and one quarter of its taxes, so to lose it could cause the Spanish economy to plunge into an even deeper crisis. Furthermore, if the region were to achieve independence from Spain, the likelihood is that the country’s other autonomous communities such as Galicia and the Basque Country would follow in Catalonia’s footsteps. According to NATO and the EU, the creation of more ‘micro-states’ is undesirable, and if Catalonia succeeds in breaking away from Spain, it risks being excluded from the international community.
Spain’s ruling party, El Partido Popular, has said that such a vote will not take place as it would go against the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Under this Constitution, such referendums can only be called by the national Spanish government in Madrid, and not by any of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. Put simply, for Catalonia to gain independence, all Spaniards, both Catalan and non-Catalan, would have to vote ‘yes’ in a national referendum. For Catalonia to legally become a separate country from Spain, the Spanish government would have to approve a major change in the Constitution before November, which doesn’t look promising given the strong opposition in Madrid. Despite this, the Catalan government intends to go ahead with the vote, and has hinted that with enough support from the Catalan people it may be willing to make a ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ from Spain, if the Spanish government leaves them with no alternative.
In 2012, over 46% Catalan people voted in support of independence. No-one can predict the outcome of this referendum, or indeed whether the referendum will actually take place at all. But, whatever the outcome, November 2014 will be the closest Catalonia has ever come to achieving its long sought-after independence.
By Rachel Trow
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham