Spain needs to start talking about its national identity—and, yes, allowing more citizens to have their say in a referendumby Liam Aldous / October 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Spain is being recklessly marched into another crisis, yet the forthcoming calamity is no arbitrary episode of history. The world is witnessing a sad truth that most Spaniards have known for some time: their leaders aren’t up to the job. Surpassing even their own conventional standards of incompetence, two agitating agendas—orchestrated in Barcelona and Madrid—seem intent on barking their self-serving rhetoric into the wind. Those stuck in the middle are being forced to contemplate two supposedly imminent realities—one promises to usher in a new Mediterranean Arcadia called the Catalan Republic, the other presumes state intervention will magically diffuse the tension on the street. Neither is probable, both seem impossible.
On 1st October, as the world glimpsed a long-festering dispute cross a violent rubicon, Catalonia’s quest for independence from Spain suddenly seemed coloured with persuasive clarity. Heavy-handed police clashed with peaceful voters at polling stations, impassioned pleas for freedom were scrawled across placards, and regional premier Carles Puigdemont decried an authoritarian state attempting to silence democracy. Yet this was not, in truth, a struggle to let people vote. It was a battle to legitimise a flailing rebellion.
The latest referendum is the third time in four years this question has been put to a vote. Each time, once non-voters are included, the proportion of all Catalans backing independence has remained the same—less than half. First came the consulta; an informal—and similarly illegal—independence referendum in 2014. Snap regional elections were then called in 2015; framed as a quasi-referendum on whether to secede from Spain, voters were promised an 18-month roadmap to statehood. This was followed by the new referendum, which took place just one month after the legislation paving the way for it was rushed through the regional parliament. Incompatible with Spain’s constitution, it was ruled illegal by the country’s highest court, panned by the national government and dismantled by thousands of police that were shipped in on a specially consigned cruise-liner.