Viewpoints: Independence for Catalonia


The Spanish region of Catalonia holds elections this weekend that could set the stage for a referendum on independence. Prominent figures in the region give us their opinions on the choice which may soon face their fellow Catalans.

Alfred Bosch, MP, Republican Left of Catalonia

In the last few years the drive for independence has gained momentum due to three main factors. First are the grassroots movements for self-determination, with popular referenda which started in 2009, and culminated in Barcelona (where I was the spokesperson). This involved over 50,000 volunteers and one million voters, and set the stage for the giant demonstration on 11 September 11 this year - organised by people who had set up the referenda. This movement is non-ethnic, and based mainly on democratic principles and collective rights.

Secondly, the Spanish government has played a major role in blocking Catalan demands - like during the process which led to the dilution of the Home Rule Charter (Estatu) of 2006, turned down by the Spanish Supreme Court after it had been voted for by the people.

The third factor is economic. Catalans pay Spanish bills in abusive proportions. About half of Catalan tax money never returns as investments or services, and Catalan taxpayers have contributed to Spanish expenses more than twice the amount supplied by the EU in the last 35 years.

Overall, most Catalans are confident that we would fare better in an independent republic than within the kingdom of Spain. The problem is that, unlike the United Kingdom, Spain does not allow a referendum on the matter.

Alfred Bosch can be followed on Twitter@AlfredBosch

Rosa Cullell, columnist and business executive

With unemployment at 22.5% and GDP falling by 1.4%, the Catalan government, not having much to offer, had decided to propose a dream: Independence.

The Catalan government's dream is not an innocent one, even if it so for many ordinary Catalans. Due to the boycotts promoted by the Spanish right, and the refusal by successive Spanish governments to discuss a change in the funding structure for autonomous Catalonia, there has been a boost in pro-independence sentiment.

Because of Catalonia's chronic fiscal deficit, the dream is now held up as a practical solution for the economic malaise. Estimated at 8% of Catalan GDP (16bn euros; £13bn), this deficit is the main argument behind the call to "blame it all on Madrid" or, more recently, on Europe. The Catalan administration is never held responsible.

It is now that bridges of understanding are being broken, that we often forget the many centuries of mutual dependence we have gone through. Any Spain without Catalonia - or any Catalonia without Spain - would be a worse, poorer and less entrepreneurial country. Around 50% of the sales of Catalan firms are made within the Iberian Peninsula and our biggest bank, La Caixa, is Spain's third financial entity.

A common language and culture, as well as the shared democratic effort during the transitional period following Franco's death, are also forgotten. If Catalan independence went ahead outside Europe, on the fringe of legality and without consensus with Spain, it would not be a dream, but a long nightmare. For everybody.

Rosa Cullell can be followed on Twitter@roscullell

Muriel Casals, president of Omnium Cultural organisation

Catalonia is a country with its own language and has its origins, like other European nations, in the post-Roman period. The Crown of Aragon (of which Catalonia was a major part) played an important role in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages.

In the 15th Century, the crowns of Aragon and Castile were united; however, Catalonia kept its own legal system and language.

The military defeat of the Habsburg-Catalan side during the war of succession in 1714, initiated the building of a centralised state where cultural diversity was repressed. Nevertheless, Catalans attempted to maintain their identity. Franco's dictatorship prompted, in 1939, another long period of repression.

The return of democracy in 1975, which included a devolved Catalan government, brought hope for Catalonia's expression of its personality.

In 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court invalidated significant parts of the Statute of Autonomy, which had been approved by the Catalan parliament and by a referendum. This was a watershed for many Catalans, since we saw the Spanish government opting to overrule democratic decisions taken by Catalan institutions.

The clash between the Spanish legal system and our legitimate aspirations, alongside the fact that Catalonia is a major economic contributor, has led many Catalans to believe that to maintain our cultural identity, the only option is a democratic and peaceful transition to independence.

Muriel Casals is on Twitter@murielcasals

Jordi Gracia Garcia, professor of Spanish literature

Making Spain a federal nation would be a more feasible solution than independence for Catalonia. It would not be a magic bullet, but an emergency solution, and the least worst of all the possible options.

Most fair-minded economists recognise, as has the Catalan regional leader Artur Mas himself, that independence for Catalonia would mean making sacrifices. It would incur an immediate economic and financial cost. This would make Spain's current social crisis worse. But it would also have another effect, one less apparent. It would create a new tension within Catalan society - where relations have been reasonably warm since the advent of democracy.

It is true that today the federal solution sounds forced and artificial. However, a new constitutional arrangement could be the best thing to rebalance the relationship between Catalonia and Spain. Thirty-five years after the talks which led to the current constitution, it is worth considering a reform that suits a 21st-Century society that no longer lives in the shadow of General Franco, as it did in 1978.

The federal option would be perhaps the least traumatic way to wind up the never-ending story of rivalry between Catalonia and the central government. It would mean becoming a stronger and healthier democracy, but still keeping the clear advantages of maintaining the same Spanish state.

Francesc de Carreras, professor of constitutional law

I fear that independence would only be in the interests of the political, economic, bureaucratic and even intellectual elite. In other words, there are certain elements that are looking out for their own interests rather than those of Catalonia.

There is also convincing political propaganda in favour of independence. And it is infectious. If more and more of your friends or family are supporting independence, then you sign up for it too.

Independence would only make sense if the Catalan culture was not being allowed to flourish. But that is not the case. Nobody can say that in Catalonia, there is not complete freedom to use the Catalan language.

There should be a discussion on the right to hold a referendum on independence in the first place. That is part of the democratic process and freedom of speech. It is a bit like with Scotland or Canada. Holding a referendum on independence would also apply to Spain. Not automatically, but it could happen.

It is key to know what Catalans really think about independence.

In any case, it would take at least 10 to 15 years for any hypothetical independent Catalonia state to consolidate itself. And, during that time, there would be a lot to lose in economic terms. Also, it would create a state of unease within the Catalan people - and both these factors would create social instability.

Salvador Cardus, professor of sociology

I think Catalonian independence is not only feasible, it is also very likely. And sooner than we may think.

The first option is to pull out all the stops the law will allow. It is true that if you look at the small print of the current Spanish constitution, it is actually going to be very difficult. But that does not mean it is impossible.

In the end the decisions are fundamentally political, and not strictly legal.

Now, if there is no political will [to allow independence], then there would have to be some sort of break with the current laws. Or perhaps the support of international institutions would have to be sought; or, we could force a change and deal with the technicalities later.

After all, in the 20th Century, the majority of countries seeking independence achieved it not through legal means but through the will of the people.

Salvador Cardus is on Twitter@salvadorcardus