What’s Next For Catalonia and Independence?

Earlier this month, Catalans went to vote in what the media called ‘1-O’ (for 1st October, the date of the vote), a referendum about the independence of their region from Spain. The ‘Yes’ vote won out, with official figures from the Catalan government declaring that ‘Yes’ received just over 90% of votes, however the result has since been undermined by the fact that Loyalist parties, including the governing Popular Party, the opposition Socialist Party and the centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens) party encouraged their supporters (who would logically vote for ‘No’) to boycott the referendum, as the central government in Madrid and the Spanish constitutional courts deemed the vote illegal. As you may have heard, the day of the vote was also marred by reports (and footage) of riot police raiding polling stations. The Spanish Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, has since dismissed some of these reports as (wait for it) ‘alternative facts and fake news’, claiming that any use of force was ‘provoked’.

After the vote, the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont failed to make a clear call for independence, suspending the declaration generated by his referendum and calling instead for dialogue with Madrid. Eventually the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy announced he would invoke article 155 of the Spanish constitution, planning to impose direct rule on Catalonia from Madrid. This article has never been used before, and Puigdemont has refused to accept Rajoy’s plan, deeming it ‘the worst attack on Catalonia’s institutions since the dictatorship of Franco’.

If you’re getting serious Scotland/Ireland vibes from this situation, you’re on the right track. The events in Catalonia are another manifestation of the increasing nationalist sentiments in kingdoms around the globe – Catalonia, Ireland, the Iraqi Kurdish region. So, out of this storm of legal action and violence, what’s going to happen to Catalonia?

Disappointingly, it’s not possible to know for sure. If Rajoy goes through with his plan to invoke article 155, he’ll take actions to effectively clear out the current Catalan parliament and hold new regional elections within six months. During that period of six months, all Catalan government responsibilities would be handled by ministries from the central Madrid government. Of course, whilst this would be an unprecedented step in Spain’s democratic history, it is important to note that it is not a full deployment of article 155 – Rajoy does not intend to fully do away with Catalonia’s home rule, he instead wishes to ‘wipe the slate’ of the current government and bring in all new ministers – it is fair to assume that he wishes to gain a significant Loyalist majority to put an end to the matter of independence.

At the moment, it’s looking like Rajoy will go ahead with implementing direct rule in Catalonia. Short of Puigdemont diving out of this game of chicken with Madrid and going back on his pledges of independence, there is no reason for Rajoy not to do so. After all, Rajoy has already been through multiple rings of fire domestically and amongst other European Union leaders (such as Angela Merkel) over the controversies surrounding both the reports of police brutality during the vote and the announcement of article 155’s invocation, and honestly he’s come out of it really rather well – the EU has even pledged its support to his government. Additionally, given that the Catalan parliament has officially declared independence, it would be sensible to say there’s no going back for them now, however shaky the declaration might seem due to the extraordinarily long time it took for Puigdemont to make good on his promise.

Barring any further significant changes to this situation (which could happen, who knows these days), it seems like Catalonia will lose its regional autonomy for a while. Despite the promise of reinstating it in six months, this situation really does make you wonder – what is the value of unity? What, by extension, is the value of independence? Ultimately, if you know for certain unity is better than independence, yet the party in question still wants to leave the union anyway, should you stop them for their own good or let them learn the hard way?

Oh, it all sounds very familiar now.