Throughout the entirety of the Catalan independence push of the last few months, the Spanish state has said that all its actions against Carles Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders has been justified because they are enforcing the constitution. Whilst this is a true statement, it has become apparent that many people in Catalonia are opposed to some aspects of this constitution, especially in cases where its rigid enforcement can cause such bloodshed. The Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has signaled that this impasse may be resolved by allowing greater direct democracy in the country.
In an interview with the BBC, Dastis said “we have created a committee in parliament to explore the possibility of amending the constitution”. The statement was in response to the interviewer probing Dastis about future referendums around constitutional reform. Although this is not the categorical statement that many people were hoping for, it would be an important step forward as it would allow for regions to ask their citizens about acquiring greater autonomy.
It is important to stress that there would be no change to the constitution regarding the ‘indivisible’ nature of Spain. As such it would not allow for pro-secession parts of the country to begin holding independence votes but it would cede some of the political ground. If the Spanish constitution is reformed to argue that it is the constitutional right of all Spaniards to hold these kinds of votes, it would be more politically difficult for the central government in Madrid to outright prohibit future consultations.
The Spanish government have played this whole situation incredibly badly. Whereas many people on the Left were conflicted between a right-wing government in Madrid and a pro-capitalist nationalist movement in Catalonia, there is a growing consensus that the Spanish government was disproportionate and being denied a right to vote is unacceptable. Even though many leftists still disagree as to what the right answer for Catalonia should be from an ideological standpoint, the Left is now largely supportive of the idea of having a referendum. A peaceful exercise in democracy should not be stopped because those in power fear the result, and unionists and secessionists on the Left are now coming together on that understanding.
If nothing else comes out of the Spanish constitutional crisis than this vital reform then I believe that the struggle of people in Catalonia would have been worth it. Referendums are the expression of the people’s will and the fact that the constitution of a nation-state should prohibit this important democratic mechanism is unacceptable.The bloodshed that we have seen in recent weeks has been done so in order to achieve an independent Catalan state and although it has yet to be achieved and recognised by the international community, it is fair to say that Spain will not be the same country that it was before the referendum.
The Catalan people that voted for independence did so to have a government that was more representative of their interests and that was more responsive to their concerns. This government, at least for the foreseeable future, will remain in Madrid but the ripple effect from the activism may well transform Spain for years to come. This can surely be a good thing.