INDEPENDENCE FEVER SPREADS TO SPAIN
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 16, 2014
Spain’s central government has already said it will challenge Catalan law in constitutional court.
By Ashifa Kassam
As the campaign for Scottish independence enters its final week,Catalonia is launching the next phase in its attempt to break away fromSpain. On Monday, the regional parliament began laying the groundwork to pass a law allowing a referendum on 9 November.
The Catalan leader Artur Mas told the Catalan parliament that the law would pave the way for the region to call non-binding consultations. “This would mean that Spain would effectively bury the ‘old Spain’ and rediscover that it is a country made up of several nations,” he said.
“In an instant, Spain would emerge as a country with an impressive level of democracy, tolerance and one that is capable of listening and resolving what is, above all, a democratic challenge.”
Albert Royo, of Diplocat, Catalonia’s public diplomacy body, said the regional law was a last-ditch attempt to hold a vote on independence. “The Spanish government keeps saying this is illegal. This is our solution to make it legal,” he said.
Catalan politicians are expected to approve the law on Friday, a day after Scottish referendum. The timing has offered independence-minded Catalans a window in which to compare the differing responses of Madrid and London to the independence efforts.
“Britain has offered a good solution – the ballot box. That’s how political conflicts should be managed in the 21st century,” Royo said.
Spain’s central government has already said it will challenge the Catalan law in the constitutional court. As soon as it does, the 9 November consultation will be automatically suspended, sending Spain careering towards a political crisis, said Royo. “Spain is a young democracy and this will put Spain’s democratic values and prestige at risk.”
Last Thursday hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona to demand a vote on independence. Polls show that a majority of Catalans want the chance to have their say in a referendum, while support for independence hovers around half.
Caught between the majority of his citizens who want a vote and an obstinate Madrid, Mas has said he will sit down with the pro-independence parties to determine a course of action if the consultation is suspended. While Mas is reluctant to hold an illegal referendum, his alliance with the left-leaning, pro-independence party Catalan Republican Left (ERC) was forged with a promise that there would be a vote.
Xavier Arbós Marín, a constitutional law professor at the University of Barcelona, said: “There is pressure on him from the pro-independence parties to take ballot boxes out on to the street regardless of what Madrid says.”
The other option for Mas is to call early elections that could act as a de facto poll on independence. But the move would be risky for Mas, as he would probably be painted as the leader who failed to deliver the promised referendum, said Arbós Marín.
Mas is also struggling to contain the fallout after the founder of his party, Jordi Pujol, who governed Catalonia for 23 years, confessed to stashing an undisclosed amount of money in an offshore account for more than three decades. With Pujol expected to explain his actions in front of the Catalan parliament in early October, the scandal shows no sign of abating. “The next few weeks will be very interesting,” Arbós Marín said.
Regardless of what plays out in the political arena, the final result will be the same, insisted Royo. “One way or another, Catalans will vote,” he said, noting that municipal and general elections were scheduled for 2015. “Either we can have a consultation or elections next year. In the end, we’ll vote.”