Skidmore College

Four reasons why Catalonia is not going to become independent any time soon by Yanebi Blanco @Skidmore College

Half a year after the problematic referendum for independence in the Spanish region of Catalonia, it is fair to call into question what is going to happen next. As a Spaniard studying abroad this year, I was able to follow the events from outside which provided me certain distant perspective. Still, at the same time, I also get information from inside the country, through national polls, national newspapers, and the testimonies of friends and family. After careful analysis of this complex situation, it is my estimation that Catalonia is not likely to become an independent state anytime soon. Here are the four main reasons why: 

1. Independentists inside Catalonia are less than 50% of the population.

In spite that pro-independence parties won the majority of the seats in the last regional elections, 52.1% of the voters supported non-independentist parties. This circumstance was possible as a result of the Spanish electoral system, similarly to the US electoral college system, it underrepresents the most populated urban areas, where the highest percentage of non-independentist votes are located. The elections, held last December, 21, represent another proof that the percentage of pro-independence people inside Catalonia has never surpassed the 50% barrier. As consistently shown in all the statistics and polls, through this process, the number of Catalans that in favor of Catalonia becoming an independent state always stayed below 50%, the highest being 48% in October 2017, just before the referendum. Furthermore, the last survey published, this February, shows a historic drop in support for independence to 40.8%, the lowest point in the last four years. While the anti-independence sentiment reached its highest (53.9%).

2. The rest of Spanish people are not even that concerned about it.

Among Spain in general, according to the last official statistics, the option to continue with the current territorial organization is what more people prefer (38%), in a growing trend over the previous months. Around 20% would prefer an even more centralized state, and around 10% would argue for less autonomy to the current regions. Only around 10% of the Spanish people are in favor of a state that recognizes the possibility for regions to become independent. Hence, the support for Catalonia’s independence is definitely really reduced among the general Spanish population. Yet, last October, coinciding with the Catalan referendum, the concern about the possible independence of Catalonia was regarded as the second main concern for Spaniards (29%), only behind their concern for unemployment (66%). Nevertheless, as shown in the graph below, that concern has drastically plunged over 20 points in five months, to the current 8.6%. 

3. It would not be economically smart. 

Although behind the pro-independence movement lay economic causes, in the present situation, and especially without the option to be part of the European Union, independence would bring an economic disaster for Catalonia. As the richest Spanish region, together with Madrid, it is often thought by pro-independentists, that other Spanish regions benefit economically from Catalonia’s revenues, making the possibility of economy sovereignty one of the main factors driving the movement. However, ever since this political upheaval started, more than 3,000 companies have relocated their corporate bases outside of Catalonia, in fear of a possible unilateral independence declaration. Some of them are among the biggest Spanish firms, such as Caixabank, Gas Natural or Banco Sabadell. Moreover, other economic indicators have also been affected, for example, consumption, tourism, and productive investment.

4. Pro-independentists have not been able to rally international support.

The Spanish government violent attempt to stop the referendum by force made the front pages of all the main international newspapers, as well as the principal information for the news agencies. Similarly, international media also paid attention to the repression against peaceful demonstrators and the judicial prosecution to the entirety of the elected Catalan government at the time of the referendum. These questionable measures have led to a sharp decline in the Spanish democratic credentials, for example, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democratic Index in 2017, situated Spain at the boundary of becoming a “flawed democracy”. However, after all, Spain is still considered as a full liberal democracy, over older and more stable democracies, for example, the US democracy, labeled as “flawed democracy” by the same index since 2016. It could be fair to question the objectivity of these kinds of indexes, nonetheless, it is clear that, except some isolated cases (Scotland, Venezuela…), the international community sides with the Spanish government in its anti-independence endeavors. Especially the European Union member states, the majority of which, also face regional pro-independence movement in their own regions.

All in all, after taking into account all the factors, it is highly unlikely that the region of Catalonia will become an independent state. At least in the near future. The support for independence seems to have reached its peak, and it is unlikely to mobilize more supporters. Moreover, the recent release on bail of former Catalonia’s leader, Carles Puigdemont by a German court, can hopefully force the Spanish judiciary to reconsider the excessive rebellion charges against the rest of the members of the Catalonian government at the time, now detained in the Spanish prisons without bail. This decision could finally create a path towards a possible a rapprochement, decreasing the high social polarization between pro and anti-independence people inside and outside of Catalonia. Yet, as the year 2016 demonstrated, in current politics, nothing is set in stone. There is still vast uncertainty on how the judicial processes will evolve, and the popular response to Puigdemont’s return. The political fragmentation of the last elected regional parliament will more likely lead to new elections in the upcoming months, which will be decisive to predict what is going to happen in the close future.

 

*Photo: Màrius Montón. Barcelona September 11, 2017. Wikipedia Commons. Creative Commons License I <https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DiadadelSi_15.jpg>

3 Comments

  1. Dominique Kren

    April 24, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    I find this to be a very interesting breakdown of a very complex issue. One of my first thoughts however, with no insinuation intended, is about how you mentioned you were yourself a Spaniard, I am wondering where from Spain you are from. With an issue of such national sensitivity, invested interests play a large role.
    Beyond this question however, I would like to comment about the issue as a whole. While I find your argument intriguing, perhaps the crux of this issue is not whether or not Catalonia will gain their independence, but how this issue came to be in the first place. Regardless of what the outcome eventually is, the fact that Catalonia declared their independence, initiated the legal process to remove themselves from Spain and then was met with violent resistance from the Spanish government, speaks to the democratic nature of that country. This is not the first time that Spain was faced with a secessionist movement. As the country is comprised of distinct regions sewn together into a national, but not a cultural, unified identity, regions have constantly felt separate from the identity they are tied to. My question is not who will win in this issue, but rather, who is right? While there are definite reasons as to why Catalonia cannot separate from Spain, the fact that Spain sent in police forces to shut down rallies and voting centers does not bode well for the democratic nature of the country. Perhaps this issue could have been resolved without resorting to a secessionist movement, but by actively suppressing the people of Catalonia and putting them in a police state, Spain is indicating not only to their people, but also to the rest of the world that their unified democracy will be maintained at all costs. Over this semester, we’ve read about the suppression of masses and how the silencing of people leads to the erosion of democracy. I wonder if this suppression of the Catalonian independence movement, regardless of the decline in interest of the people, is indicative of a decline in democracy in Spain as well.

  2. Wyeth Taylor

    April 29, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    I agree with almost everything you stated in this blog post, and found it to be very well-written, and a clear explanation of a complex issue. I found your analysis to be particularly interesting because I studied abroad in Ireland this past fall, and had the opportunity to not only take several classes on the history of the conflict between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland but to visit Belfast as well. You did a great job of overviewing the basis of the conflict, and unfortunately I agree with may of your predictions about the trajectory of Northern Ireland’s future as well. The Brexit decision will undoubtedly have many implications for Northern Ireland, one of the most notable being the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and there is really no simple solution to that problem. When I traveled to Northern Ireland we were able to drive right over the border without being stopped or showing passports, and it hardly felt as though we were crossing over into an entirely different country. Although tensions in Northern Ireland are nowhere near where they used to be, the “peace walls” and murals are a lasting testament to the conflict the Brexit complications will likely reignite to some degree. As you mention in your post, the changing demographics in Northern Ireland may impact the decision somewhat, but is unlikely to have much of an impact on future peace. However, along with creating further friction Brexit could also give Northern Ireland an opportunity or reason for either independence or to reunite with the Republic of Ireland rather to remain in its current state of limbo.

  3. Hannah Bodegon

    May 21, 2018 at 11:32 am

    This is an interesting article as secessionism is also an issue in the Philippines. I would like to comment particularly on the pro-independent movement’s inability to rally international support. According to Chenoweth and Stephan, a non-violent movement, particularly when the movement represents a minority increases their chances of gaining international sympathy and support particularly if the non-violence is met with violence from the government. But this is not the case in Catalonia. In my opinion, the inability of the pro-independence movement from gaining support is a by-product of the reverberation of a possible independent Catalonia would produce over countries where there are separatist nationalist movement. Supporting this creates an anathema for countries like the UK, with Ireland and Scotland champing at the bit for their own independence hence, explaining the lack of support. In countries where secessionism is absent, but polarization is intensifying such as the US, supporting such cause would also be against their interests. Hence, it is not the strategy per se that explains the lack of support on the part of the movement, but more so the high cost that the powerful countries will incur if they do support the movement.

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