An Independent Catalonia is a Pipe Dream | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

An Independent Catalonia is a Pipe Dream

Comment Writer Harpreet Pannu explores the over reaction from Catalonians' in their quest for independence

Is it over?

I could be wrong, but it’s increasingly looking like it. A couple of weeks ago, the Catalans were rising up in revolution. We were on the verge of a new independent country being born in Western Europe for the first time since WWII.

Yet today, the separatist government has been sacked, its leaders either arrested or fleeing into exile and the Spanish government has removed Catalan autonomy and instituted direct rule with barely a murmur from most of the population. What happened?

We were on the verge of a new independent country being born in Western Europe for the first time since WWII

The answer is simple: only a vocal minority wanted independence from Spain in the first place.

For the record, I’m no reactionary; I usually love jumping on the revolutionary gravy train whenever something happens in the world that challenges the status quo. However, the concept of supposedly long-suffering liberal Catalans breaking free of Spanish fascism is something even I struggle to take seriously.

Catalonia is not East Timor, Palestine or Kosovo. People are not being murdered, mass poverty is not an issue and the population enjoy a free democracy and general society more liberal than even ours, as anyone with an interest in Spanish film and TV can testify.

In fact, Catalonia is one of the richest areas of Spain. Whilst it was hit hard by the global recession of 2008, its unemployment rate was still slightly lower than the Spanish average, as was income inequality. In other words, post-1975 Catalans do not suffer from anything that the rest of Spain has not suffered considerably worse. It is little wonder that there is not much sympathy for separatist Catalans in Spain.

People are not being murdered, mass poverty is not an issue and the population enjoy a free democracy and general society more liberal than even ours, as anyone with an interest in Spanish film and TV can testify

The pro-independence movement is led mostly by young people in their twenties and thirties, making the constant comparisons between the government of Madrid and Franco’s fascist regime all the more ludicrous as they weren’t even born then. There is also the clear contradiction between the leftist, social justice-oriented rhetoric of the separatists and their complaints about having to pay in more to the rest of Spain than they got back. It never occurred to them that – ironically, seeing as the government in Madrid is run by the conservative Popular Party – such redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer is the very definition of socialism. Indeed, if Catalonia had become independent, the knock-on effect on Spain’s poorer regions would have been devastating.

The death knell sounded when even the separatist leaders themselves failed to make any active attempts at civil resistance when Spain imposed direct rule. In fact, aside from one lone relatively junior minister who attempted to defy Madrid by coming into work as usual, virtually the whole Catalan administration seems to have accepted their removal from power.

Despite calling on Catalans to defy Madrid, the sacked president Carles Puidgemont himself has fled to Belgium with at least five of his former ministers in a surprising act that is difficult not to view as somewhat cowardly. Compared with the resolve of opposition leaders in countries like Iraq (under Saddam), Syria or Bahrain for example, who have refused to abandon their people despite potentially facing torture or even execution at the hands of the authorities, Puidgemont’s departure from liberal Spain the second an arrest warrant was issued undeniably damages his credibility.

If Catalonia had become independent, the knock-on effect on Spain’s poorer regions would have been devastating

I should note that this article is not an attempt to act as cheerleader for the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy, especially after the appalling brutality used against voters by the Spanish police. However, Catalan anger at Madrid policy shouldn’t make them cut off their nose to spite their face.

Of all the Spanish parties, only the fringe-left party Podemos was sensible enough to back the idea of a legal referendum on Catalan independence; despite polls showing this could be won by Madrid with a comfortable margin, the establishment stupidly rejected this approach.

Nonetheless, the attempt by Puidgemont to claim that the result of an unfair vote in which would-be voters faced violence from Spanish police could be justification to declare independence was nothing less than an affront to democracy.

It suffices to say that if the Basque group ETA couldn’t win independence despite a decades-long terrorist campaign, Catalonia (which is far more economically valuable to Spain) was never going to win it through one illegal referendum.



Published

13th November 2017 at 10:05 am



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