The Spanish constitution makes life hard for separatist movements in the countryby Jay Elwes / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Two men walked down the High Street in Edinburgh today and each of them had the Catalonian flag draped across his shoulders. Catalonia, in the north east of Spain, is already a semi-autonomous region. But now it wants full independence from Madrid.
For this reason, the Scottish referendum taking place today is of the utmost significance to Spain and Catalonia. Only this week, the president of Spain Mariano Rajoy described the Scottish vote as “a torpedo below the waterline for European integration.” He well understands the pressure that could build behind the Catalonian cause at the spectacle of the Scottish vote.
John Ardila, Professor of Modern Spanish and Comparative Literature at Edinburgh University, has followed both the Scottish and Catalonian independence debates.
“If for some reason Catalonia becomes independent,” says Ardila, commenting on the thinking behind Rajoy’s remarks, “if Rajoy does that with Scotland, then hopefully England will do it with Catalonia.”
Although Catalonian separatists are excited by the Scottish referendum, there is a substantial problem in that, according to Ardila, “legally, a referendum in Catalonia is unlawful under the Constitution.”
This has not stopped Catalonia’s regional government from setting a date for a referendum, to be held on November 9th this year, even though its result will not be legally binding. Ardila terms it a “simulacrum” of a referendum.
The constitutional block on a legally binding referendum on Catalonian independence is itself the product of a previous referendum. This was held in Spain in 1978 after the death of the dictator General Franco in 1975. The constitution which was brought into being by this referendum was an attempt to reconcile the Spanish the left and right.
The constitution also made clear that, as Adila puts it: “the only nation in Spain is Spain and the sovereignty of Spain belongs to the Spanish people. Therefore the Catalonian parliament, no matter what it votes, cannot decide on something that decides to the rest of Spain.”
So if the Spanish constitution is so iron-clad, why is Rajoy even talking about Scotland? What’s all the fuss about?
“Catalonia has a lot of problems, not least with corruption. The economy is a disaster, and if you are a Catalonian politician talking about independence, talking about a referendum, then you are not going to be talking about other things.”
“The Catalan President Artur Mas is saying that he has to have the referendum at any cost,” says Adila. “If they win it they think they will have the moral authority to say ‘if we have [a legally binding referendum] this will be the result.”
“Scotland is important because Scotland gives moral spirit to people in Catalonia. People there are saying “we are the same as Scotland.”
And will a No vote in Scotland today dampen Catalonia’s desire for independence?
“No. The Scottish case they are using it to say, ‘if [Scotland] can do it, we should have the right to do it as well. I don’t think they mind if Scotland does not become independent because what they want is a referendum,” says Ardila. “And they know they will probably win it.”