The Pain in Spain: 2
Yesterday I gave all the reasons for which I think the campaign for separation of Catalonia from Spain has been dishonest, making impossible promises and ignoring the great differences in agenda of the very diverse groups involved in the campaign. BUT we also have to recognize that the campaign, and the emotion it has stirred, has been greatly aided and amplified by the stupid and stubborn mishandling by the Spanish central government, making it appear that the only way to reform Catalan institutions would be to break free.
The demand for separation is very strong in Catalonia, even though (by polls — we don’t know how they would vote in an honest referendum) not a majority, and I believe that the economic and social costs (as I argued in my previous post) would be greater than the benefits.
But the Spanish central government response has been stupid stonewalling, driving Catalonian nationalists nuts. It’s too late now, but not more than a year ago it would still have been possible to offer a legal, authorized referendum with an agreed-upon phrasing of the question. A majority vote for independence (which I think unlikely, but not impossible) would not have automatically granted separation, which would still have to be negotiated. In general, the cosmopolitan populations of the bigger cities (Barcelona especially) would (I believe, by poll data) be majority opposed to separation.
I think the most sensible course would be major reforms securing this “autonomous region” (Catalonia) greater autonomy in the most sensitive areas, especially education and language policy, without the added costs of setting up a new republic. Little would change in Catalans daily lives, most would continue to be bilingual in castellano and catalá, there would be no question of remaining in the European Union and its common market.
Unfortunately, the inflamed and exaggerated rhetoric of the independentistas on one side, and the immoveability of the central government on the other, is just fueling the demand for independence, even from people who would have preferred staying in Spain but with reforms. I’ve been very distressed by the bludgeoning efforts to seize independence propaganda and prevent voting. I think if there had been a legal vote, with proper guarantees (of who was eligible to vote and how) and a fairly worded question, the pro-independence vote would have been less than 50%, and the pro-independence people would have no cause for rage. But we’ll never know, and now, with two opposing legalities and two opposing governments, the Govern of Catalonia and the Gobierno of Spain, issuing contrary orders to police, we’re in for violent clashes with very little cause.