If you spend any amount of time in Spain, particularly in its proud Catalan region , you will hear about the people’s fight for independence. But where did it start, should Catalan be independent and what does this mean for Spain?
Insider Kristjan is covering this subject in an in-depth series. In his third post, he covers the case against Catalan Independence.
Catalonia’s history is not as different from the rest of Spain as many secessionists would have us believe. For example, all parts of Catalonia were subjected to Muslim rule for as many as 400 years in some areas. The only piece of Iberia never to have fallen under Moorish rule was the principality of Asturias in northwest Spain, the cradle of Hispanic civilization. The religious, cultural, and linguistic links to Europe represented by Roman and Gothic traditions were as strong, or stronger, in Asturias as anywhere else in Iberia.
Secessionists remind us relentlessly of the events of 1714. Rarely if ever mentioned are the events of 1701 and 1705, when Catalonia first welcomed Phillip de Bourbon to Barcelona and crowned him as the King of Aragon. The official State Bulletin, issued by the Kingdom’s official press, and printed in the Catalan language, attested their pledge of loyalty to the new Sovereign. Four years later, Catalan leaders decided to shift their loyalties to the Hapsburg candidate instead. In the ensuing war, King Phillip’s forces eventually prevailed and Catalonia found itself on the losing side.
On 6/Dec/1978, the citizens of Catalonia, and all Spaniards, were called to the polls to decide whether to accept or reject a proposed Constitution. The charter had been approved by both houses of Spain’s Cortes, or parliament, which had been freely elected two years earlier and included representation from all political parties. In the debate leading up to the referendum, the Catalan Leftist Republican Party (ERC) urged Catalan citizens to reject the charter, noting the text did not go far enough toward recognizing Catalonia as a political reality and failed to explicitly recognize their right to self-determination. Despite these admonishments, and after heavy voter turnout, Catalan voters approved the proposed Constitution by a lopsided 90.5%, beating the average for Spain by two full percentage points. The charter thus became the highest law in the land as approved by the Catalan citizens themselves.
Similar to most all constitutions of the world, the 1978 Constitution made no provision for unilateral secession by a particular region. Thus, demands by certain Catalan politicians proclaiming the right to decide their loyalties to the rest of Spain, have no legal constitutional basis.
Article 92 of the Charter also regulates the issuing of referendums, which was one of the most debated measures of the original 1978 draft. Both chambers of the national parliament must approve any such proposal before a referendum can be called legally. Lacking the votes necessary to introduce such a measure for consideration by the Cortes, Catalan secessionists have instead decided to ignore the Constitution and convoke a referendum according to their own ad-hoc rules. Should such an event take place, the vote would lack both judicial and social legitimacy.
Catalan citizens are justly proud of their language and cultural traditions. No one in Spain today denies the free and open use of the Catalan tongue or challenges its status as the co-official language of the territory. Public manifestations of cultural and linguistic pride by Catalan citizens should not be misconstrued as support for secessionist political programs. Open to legitimate debate is the use of Catalan language as the vehicle of classroom instruction at taxpayer expense.
The notion that Spain robs Catalonia of its just share of tax revenues is also debatable. Secessionists put the revenue sharing deficit in double-digit figures. Independent observers put the figure between 1-2%. Being more productive than many other parts of Spain, Catalonia does indeed make a larger relative contribution to public coffers. This is no different than the case of Bavaria in Germany, or London in the U.K. Those who make more money pay more taxes. It may not be completely egalitarian, but it is not unusual and does not constitute justification for unilateral secession.
For all but a few years of its long history, Spain has been a monarchy. During the deliberations of the 1978 Constitution, the question of monarchy versus republic was openly debated in parliament and subsequently approved by voters in a national referendum. Since then, twelve national elections have been held, during which republican sympathizers have been free to present their plans for an alternative form of State. Yet, secessionists would have us believe that the hereditary character of the Head-of-State represents evidence that Spain is undemocratic. By this definition, Sweden, Holland, Great Britain, Denmark, and Belgium, are in the same boat, whereas most observers would classify them as among the world’s most advanced democratic societies. For his part, Spain’s present Sovereign is fluent in the Catalan language and an avid proponent of Catalan industry and social achievement. Felipe VI is also a direct descendant of the Counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon.
Electoral outcomes in Catalonia do not demonstrate broad-based support for independence among Catalan voters. The ‘Consultation’ of 9/Nov/2014, produced less than two million affirmative votes against a registered electorate of over six million persons. The ensuing regional elections of 2015 yielded a somewhat lower number of pro-independence voters. These outcomes suggest that Catalan society is divided roughly into thirds, one part pro-independence, one part against, and one part indifferent. Clearly, Catalan society itself is at odds on the question of secession. Thus, it cannot be said that independence enjoys broad-based grassroots support.
Watch the Spain blog for more from Insiders, including the next post from Kristjan sharing his personal opinion on the matter. For more of his expertise on Spain, read his book “The Reign in Spain – Fall & Rise of the Spanish Monarchy” (https://www.amazon.com/Reign-Spain-Fall-Spanish...).