The independence of Catalonia and the future of Spain- reading the small print

The fear of an accident which is beginning to dominate Spanish societyDemonstration in favor of the independence of Catalonia

Catalonian nationalists argue that preventing the consultation-referendum calls into question the quality of democracy in Spain; meanwhile, the disaffection between Spaniards and Catalonians grows day by day. Even though Catalonian nationalists hold that there is no social rupture in their community, the reality on the ground keeps shattering this illusion: there is both rupture and despair.

Opinion polls show that independence does not feature prominently as a concern for the majority of Spaniards outside Catalonia. However, Catalonian nationalists say that independence will be the solution to the recession, unemployment, and social cutbacks.

The independence speech is rhetorical: Catalonian president Artur Mas has barely concealed the real objective in his interventions by saying that he only wants to consult- in order to find out what the citizens think.

“This doesn’t mean severing with Spain,” Mas says. But is it not the intended result? Severing 20% of the country with several centuries of history breaks could fracture the society and spark an uncertain adventure that could well become destructive.

The Catalonian issue, which is not new, is picking up a somehow demonic pace; a confrontation that seemingly grows by the day. It is even more pressing than the Scottish issue, which -to the immense credit of the British system- neither closed the door to a “third way” nor to a potential withdrawal.

Many disappointed and opportunistic people, as well as others with different goals (sometimes even contradictory) have joined the classic independence movement in Catalonia. This may lead to new rifts down the line as events unfold. (surveys of the past two decades have seen support for secession rise by around 20%)

The Spanish Government’s response remains true to the law. For their part, Socialists (who have decreasing voting expectations) propose a constitutional reform to guarantee the unity of Spain within a more federal model. Such a model should acknowledge that Spain is a plural nation, where there are citizens with different national sentiments that are supported by a history and a willingness to embrace their own language and institutions.

Throughout the 20th century, Spain has been able to manage the Catalonian issue and to fit it into the common institutions–sometimes with confrontation looming, sometimes with sufficient agreement to move forward. Spain will have to solve the Catalonian issue in order to face the future. That future will not be the same unless there is an agreement as opposed to confrontation winning the day.

About the Author

Fernando Gonzalez Urbaneja
Over 30 years working in economic journalism. Fernando was founder and chief-editor at El País, general editor at the business daily Cinco Días, and now teaches at Universidad Carlos III. He's been president of the Madrid Press Association and the Spanish Federation of Press Associations. He's also member of the Spanish press complaints commission.

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