Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Catalonia: One big mess

As an example of an exercise in mass opinion polling, the Catalonia not-the-referendum has signalled huge support for the "sí" camp. Yes, we want independence. Now, Sr. Rajoy, let us have it. Or at least let us have a real referendum and not a pretend one.

Rajoy isn't about to agree to this, though were he to and to therefore have gained sufficient support to have changed the Constitution, the result might well be quite different. The 80% in favour of independence were culled from 2.2 million voters, approximately therefore one third of all those who were eligible. In terms of participation the not-the-referendum can only be described as a form of opinion poll and one, moreover, that had an in-built bias thanks to the almost total absence of a "no" campaign and to a Catalan media which, for the most part, came down firmly on the side of Artur Mas and his referendum co-conspirator, Oriol Junqueras.

The result proves nothing other than that 80% of 2.2 million people said yes. It is a percentage greatly in excess of that which regular opinion polls indicate to be the actual level of support for independence. In a real referendum the dynamic would be different and the turnout would also be different. Mas would be quite wrong to believe that independence is genuinely what the majority of Catalonians want.

So, why did he go ahead with the not-the-referendum? He had to in order to save face, having conceded that a genuine referendum was not legal (something which he knew all along). But he also had to as a way of highlighting the sheer lack of any movement in attitude on behalf of the Rajoy government. Its response to the very act of the poll on Sunday was to invoke the courts and to have the police look into who had authorised the use of schools etc. to be polling stations.

Mas argues that he has Catalonian law on his side and this allowed for the not-the-referendum to take place, but regardless of the law, be it that of Catalonia or that of the Constitution, why would the Rajoy government now seek to have the courts decide whether an illegal act has taken place which could lead to prosecution of Mas and others? It is petty, because the poll is not legally binding, cannot be legally binding and only serves as an expression of sentiment of a minority of Catalonians.

What really agitates Rajoy is that the 80% vote boxes him into a corner. To even now negotiate with Mas would appear to be a climbdown and a loss of his face. To agree to a referendum would mean a complete loss of any credibility he retains, while to arrive at agreement would require support at the Cortes for constitutional change that would be almost unimaginable. He would know that a legitimate referendum might well turn out differently, but he can't put that to the test. He has nowhere to go except to the courts. And what good will that do him? It will only reinforce sentiment against him.

Though Rajoy now finds himself in a corner, it was Mas who got there first. It was his foolhardiness in calling an election that he didn't need to which got him to where he now is. That election cost his CiU party seats at the expense of Junqueras's radical independentist ERC who were thus brought into an uneasy coalition in which Mas had little option but to adopt a more aggressive attitude towards independence than he might otherwise have done. It can't be stressed too often that what Mas had really sought was a re-negotiation of Catalonia's finances with the state, and it was a refusal by Rajoy which triggered off the process which resulted in Sunday's not-the-referendum.

Where, therefore, might this now lead, other than to the courts? The leader of PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, might hold the key. His party has been as against independence as the Partido Popular. A solution, perhaps the only solution, is a reform of the whole relationship between the state, Catalonia and the other regions, i.e. a fully federal Spain. It is one that PSOE has recently come to accept, but neither Rajoy nor Mas, for different reasons, has.

Federalism might, for the more radically independentist-minded, now seem like a fudge, but a way has to be sought to combat what is clearly a deeply divided Catalonian society and the ambitions of any other region to seek independence (in truth only maybe the Basques). Both Rajoy and Mas have to share the blame for what has come to pass but both could find a way out of the mess, and a reform on federalist lines with thus greater self-governing powers might well be the only way out.

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