Friday, 7 March 2014

Home rule for Catalonia?

Homage to Independence?

First impressions of Catalonia provide scenes of fervent patriotism, from the numerous proud and colourful Catalan flags hanging from balconies to discussions about Catalonia's political situation in restaurants and bars. Catalonia's capital, 'the jewel in the crown' is undoubtedly the cosmopolitan hub of Barcelona. Here the intensity of support for an independent Catalonia is self-evident as well as a mixture of negativity and outrage at any assumption that Catalonia is or ever has been part of Spain.

The recent history of Catalan oppression in the 20th century not forgetting earlier invasions by the Spanish has created a sense of identity and nationalism that other nations such as England lack. They are fiercely proud of their once forbidden language banned most recently during the Franco years as well as their cuisine and customs that are passionately highlighted to differentiate between Spanish and Catalan culture. However, current feelings in Catalonia supporting an independent state focus primarily not on cultural repression but a perception of economic encroachment from the Spanish government in the form of taxation. As a result of being the most prosperous region in Spain Catalans pay a fiscal debt of approximately 10% to Madrid that provides the revenue for poorer areas of the country. This statistic combined with the current climate of financial uncertainty within the European Union has strengthened calls for independence more than at any other time in recent history. A poll conducted just over a decade ago in 2001 by the Governmental Sociology Studies Centre declared that only 33.9% of Catalans supported independence, this contrasts with a recent poll in 2012 by Centre d'Estudis d'opinio that suggested 51% would be in favour of independence and would vote in a referendum with approximately 21% undecided and 21% against.

Despite growing support for secession from Spain, Catalan independence is very unlikely and proponents of the movement still have many questions to answer. What currency would an independent Catalonia use? Would they be able to join the EU immediately? What consequences would independence have regarding trade between Catalonia and other States? It was once said that it takes a country twenty years to recover from a revolution, how long would it take Catalonia to adjust to their new found statehood? Even if these questions were answered adequately at the present time there is no legal framework within the Spanish constitution whereupon a referendum on independence could be enforced. This leaves the future of Catalonia precarious and in the worst scenario dangerous. The prospect of any amendments to the constitution are highly improbable due to Spain's reliance on unity and the revenue that Catalonia provides. There are numerous historical examples where Spain has rigidly centralised power in the country when separatism has reared it's head, the most recent example being during the civil war and during the Franco dictatorship where regional areas such as Catalonia and the Basque Country were prohibited from speaking their own languages and lacked the autonomous freedoms that they enjoy today.

There is still a strong Spanish desire that Spain should not be broken up under any circumstances, the opinion of the Spanish government is that firstly Spain cannot afford to lose it's most valuable and prosperous region, especially in the current economic climate, the second being that Catalan independence however unlikely could create a domino effect with other regions of Spain. Indeed the Spanish aren't alone in having this nightmare, other European countries that face similar secessionist movements would politically support the Spanish government in maintaining an indivisible Spanish state.

It's inevitable then for the foreseeable future that Catalonia will be without the sovereignty that it so strongly advocates, the worrying aspect is that with no peaceful way of solving the issue it's possible and perhaps increasingly likely that Catalans will eventually turn to more direct and forceful methods to gain their freedom. As President Kennedy stated over fifty years ago "those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable". At this moment in time any violent protest seems very unlikely but the future is uncertain. Currently there's no room for negotiation on either side of this bitter debate and so for the supporters of Catalan independence, the support increases but the frustration continues.

Iain Hoare