Going Global: Viva la Catalonia Libra
Columns / October 20, 2015
Viva la Catalonia Libra
Late last month, two pro-separation parties in Catalonia’s regional legislature won a majority of seats, 72 out of 135, but not an outright majority of the popular vote, which was around 48 per cent of the Catalan population. Catalonia, like the rest of Spain, votes with a representative system, meaning popular vote and seat count match up quite well. Separation parties won over 50 per cent of the popular vote in Lleida and in Girona, and around 48 per cent in both Barcelona and Tarragona.
The “Junts pel Si” — otherwise known as “Together for Yes,” — won 62 seats, and Popular Unity Candidacy, a left-wing pro-independence party won 10 seats. This brings the unity of Spain into question. The leader of the region, Artur Mas, had already held a symbolic referendum last year, asking voters if Catalonia “should become an independent country.” The result was 80 per cent in favour of “yes,” but less than half of eligible voters participated. Mas had been ordered to court on Oct. 15 for questioning about the referendum, and he walked to court with 5,000 pro-independence marchers behind him.
Canadians and Brits might be familiar with this sort of situation. Just like Quebec for us, and Scotland for the British just last year, the Catalonia situation in Spain has been a long time in the making.
While the story of Catalan independence is long, let’s start in the 1930’s. Spain broke out into a civil war, and Catalonia chose to join the losing side. When Hitler-friendly Francisco Franco won, he made sure to crush any Catalan who’d dream of separation.
After Franco died in 1975, Spain was democratic once again, and Catalonia was granted some degree of autonomy, along with several other regions.
Catalonia is not like the rest of Spain. Just as Quebec Separatists were able to claim in their movement, Catalonia has a very different culture, as well as a different language: Catalan, which when heard, sounds a little bit like a combination of French and Castilian Spanish. The region is the wealthiest one in Spain, and holds Barcelona, one of the busiest tourist spots in Europe.
There are plenty of reasons why separation has been brewing again in Spain. The 2008 financial crisis had its effects felt in Europe, and if Greece suffered the deepest wound, Spain was the second worst hit. Catalonia generates 20 per cent of Spanish GDP with 16 per cent of total population, and many separatists feel that they put more into Spain than they get out. Catalonia generates as much GDP being a region of Spain as Portugal generates being a whole country. However, Standard and Poor’s lowered the credit rating of Catalonia on Oct. 10, dropping them by one grade to BB-. S&P believes that they would need Spain to assist the region in addressing their regional debt load.
It should be clear at this point why Spain wants to keep Catalonia—they make a lot of money. Just like Quebec and especially Scotland, Spain has given various warnings to Catalonia, such as the possibility of being dropped from the Eurozone, forcing them to adopt a new currency. Football fans might be aware that FC Barcelona could be dropped from the Liga. The European Union has also issued warnings, letting separatists know that they’d have to reapply for admission.
The European Union in general doesn’t want to see a successful separation movement take place. The E.U. is surely worried that if one succeeds, there will be a stronger push in other countries, and such moves could make Europe much riskier economically for investors.
As for now, some are questioning the idea that 48 per cent of a popular vote is enough for separation. I would have to agree, but I’m not Spanish or Catalan. I wasn’t old enough at the time, but Quebec’s 1995 referendum had a voter turnout of around 93 per cent, and 49.42 per cent voted for a separate Quebec. I think that if you’re going to change the cultural identity of an entire population, you need an overwhelming majority, not a sliver. If a referendum in Catalonia takes place, let it at least be decisive.