Oh Look, Another Hot Catalan Take

Do you know exactly what the internet needs right now? More hot takes from Scottish people about Catalonia! So here’s mine. Short form; This whole thing is a tremendous clusterfuck and has clearly ceased to be a simply internal crisis. The eventual end of the crisis will have significant implications for the future of Europe as a whole. I don’t think they’ll be good.

At the outset, I have to admit to being within a minority amongst keen followers of Scottish Politics who support Scottish independence. I’m largely neutral on whether Catalonia should be independent. I don’t believe that as a Scottish person I have any right to tell Catalans how they should be governed. It’s a view also largely in line with the position of the Catalan Greens (ICV) and their allies in Catalunya en ComĂș. But regardless of position on status, it’s very clear that the Catalan people should have the right to choose for themselves.

In that regard it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that the blame for the present situation lies almost entirely with the Spanish Government. Appeals to constitutional provisions that ban secession may well be technically and legally correct, but you cannot legislate for feeling and opinion. You can’t wish away a desire for constitutional change by appealing to the inviolability of a constitution. A refusal to treat a constitution as a living document that can change to accommodate minorities almost guarantees this kind of crisis.

It’s not like anyone can claim ignorance of the need to settle the issue. There was a clear rising tide in pro-independence sentiment starting from the financial crisis. In 2015, a snap election was held that was a referendum in all but name. Pro-independence parties won a majority of seats. That anyone in Madrid could look at that and think “Ah, but if we just insist on rigid constitutionalism, we’ll be fine” is mind boggling. Even allowing for the total political paralysis in Madrid after two inconclusive elections, a sensible response would have been to begin moves to amend the constitution, or at least to tolerate a purely advisory referendum that – with full participation from all voters – could have actually laid the matter to rest in Spain’s favour. Albeit, if at all like Scotland, a potentially temporary rest…

Instead of accommodation, there were threats. Instead of tolerating a vote, it was shut down. And when it went ahead anyway, there was violent repression. You may very well wish the Catalan authorities had just put their hands up and went “fine, we give up” but caught between an electoral mandate and an unbending constitution, it’s hard to see what other route there was. It reflects even worse on Madrid that the example of the Edinburgh Agreement that enabled Scotland’s referendum wasn’t followed. It’d have needed a different approach to account for the need for constitutional reform, but the principle of an agreed, peaceable referendum was surely an ideal to aspire to. The only way back from the brink is now in Madrid’s hands – and frankly, they look set to push.

This is all grimly fascinating to me because I reckon it has a direct bearing on how the world as a whole is likely to change in the coming years. When people feel increasingly distant from their governments, globalisation continues apace and international crises require concerted action, something has to give. I reckon that has to be the present system of nation states. I don’t necessarily expect an imminent demise of nation states in the next couple of decades.

However in the long term a draw down of state power to more local/regional levels to re-connect it with the people seems sensible. Meanwhile if responsibility for climate, environment, trade and security filters upwards to supranational bodies it could render nations superfluous as a layer of government whilst still remaining valid as forms of cultural expression. Instead of rigid national borders, there’d be varying degrees of free association between these smaller units that may differ from one policy area to another.

Scotland and Catalonia are two competing visions for how we may begin to transition to that point. “Begin” being the operative term as, of course, both would obviously be nation states. But in unpicking centuries old unions that have survived two world wars, fascism (in Spain at least) the end of empire and severe economic crisis, there’s a first step and the makings of a precedent. A grudging acceptance of the end of an era is infinitely preferable to stubbornness and acrimony.

Unfortunately, especially given international law tends to view existing borders as sacrosanct, I have a feeling bitter upheaval in the Spanish style may be the norm. In this, we have a little reminder the nationalism of existing states is no better than that of secessionist regions – and that it can be even messier.

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