On 27th September the Spanish region of Catalonia held its parliamentary elections however unlike previous elections, the poll was used effectively as a referendum on independence. Because of the seriousness of the issue, turnout was higher than all other elections in the region’s recent history at 77.4%. The result was enough to convince me that Catalan independence is now inevitable as although the pro-secession parties didn’t win a majority of the popular vote, they won a majority of the parliamentary seats and are not far off attaining that all-important number of 51% support.
The election was markedly different to previous elections as most of the pro-independence parties came together in an electoral pact (Together for Yes) centred on the issue of separation. The significance of the parties working together must be pointed out due to their ideological breadth: the Democrats of Catalonia are a pro-independence centre-right Christian democratic party much like Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU group in the Bundestag; the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia is a centre-right liberal conservative party led by current Catalan President Artur Mas; and the Republican Left of Catalonia are a democratic socialist and republican party supporting the pro-secession coalition. These parties, along with a few much smaller ones, won 39.5% of the vote and 62 out of 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament.
However there are two other things to point out. Firstly is the fact that not all the pro-independence parties were a part of this and that one of the biggest was not. The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) is an anti-capitalist libertarian socialist party that favour Catalan independence and won 10 seats with 8.2% of the vote, thus taking the pro-secession parties’ vote share up to 47.7%.
The second point is the existence of a left-wing coalition containing: a Marxist pro-independence party in the form of the EUiA; an eco-socialist and pro-secession party, the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV); and Spain’s left-wing populist movement Podemos. The reason that this second coalition is important is that this group of parties came together to unite the Catalan Left in demanding Catalan self-determination under the upbeat name Catalonia Yes We Can and took 8.9% of the vote. Therefore, the share of the vote that at least wants a referendum on independence is 56.6%. I believe Independence to be inevitable because the ICV since 1995 have averaged 7.7% of the vote when they have stood on their own; even if half of these voters don’t support independence this diminished figure would still tip the ‘Yes’ vote needed for secession over a majority (51.55%).
The current situation intrigues me because of two subsequent developments since the election. First is that the current centre-right Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, reiterated his refusal to countenance allowing Catalonia to decide on independence, which was unsurprising as Rajoy is the Prime Minister of the whole of Spain and agreeing to a referendum would almost certainly result in Catalan secession.
The second, and more interesting, development was that Catalan President Artur Mas has since said that if the Spanish government doesn’t allow Catalonia to have a referendum the Catalan government will organise one anyway thus breaking Spanish law. The reason that this caught my eye is the the international aspect of it; I personally feel that if Catalonia separated itself from Spain by means of a vote that Spain doesn’t recognise the fallout would be ideologically split- those countries with left-wing governments or governments that support self-determination would recognise an independent Catalonia whereas right-wing governments that have good relations with Spain and venerate the rule of law above all else would not.
Personally I do believe that Catalan independence is inevitable especially as the continued denials from Madrid will only bolster pro-independence sentiment. If Spain doesn’t support a referendum it is likely that they would attempt to block Catalonia’s admission into the EU, the UN and other international organisations which would undermine any bid for an unauthorised plebiscite.
As much as it frustrates me that Catalonia is being denied self-determination, the only way to ensure that Catalonia gains full independence and is integrated into the international community is through a referendum that is approved by the Spanish authorities. We can only hope that pressure from the international community can encourage the Spanish government to enable Catalonia to vote on the issue of separation.