Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Balearic Independence Myth

The gross domestic product of the Balearic Islands is around 27 billion euros - 27,000 million. This is roughly 12% the size of Catalonia's economy, which creates more than one-fifth of Spain's total GDP. If one wants other comparisons, Balearic GDP is lower than that of Sicily, of Sardinia and of the Canary Islands. By contrast, it is greater (by more than two times) than Malta.

In hypothetical terms, the Balearics could stand alone, but then one can say this for many regions in Europe. GDP reveals only so much. The nature of the economy is as important. The Balearics, and we are being constantly reminded of this, has an economic monoculture - tourism. Catalonia most definitely does not. Nor does Malta, what with, for example, its financial services; tourism's direct contribution to the Maltese economy is roughly a third of what it is in the Balearics.

Apart from a shared language, Catalonia and the Balearics form a fraternity based on perceived fiscal and financial injustice. Catalonia had wanted a different arrangement. It had wanted to be like the Basque Country (and Navarre). It had sought a system whereby it would keep all tax revenues - income tax and VAT - and then pay an agreed percentage to the state. Instead, it had to maintain the arrangement that exists for all Spain's regions, with the exception of the Basque Country and Navarre. Tax revenue is remitted to Madrid and is then paid back under the regional distribution system. The Balearics and Catalonia (and the Madrid region) lose out under this - they put more in than they receive. In other words, they help to subsidise the rest of Spain.

Setting aside all other considerations, Catalonia, in economic terms, is a viable state: very much a viable state. The same cannot be said for the Balearics. The numbers might look reasonable by comparison to, say, Malta, but they fail to hide the underlying weakness of the economy - it's that monoculture.

We have at present a collision of forces in the Balearics. One of these is the demand for diversification, a demand so old that it reinforces the questionability of how there can ever be meaningful diversification. The agitators provide absolutely no prescription. They argue in favour of a mostly blank sheet of paper. They offer no model to replace the apparently discredited model which obtains at present, save for vague allusions to new and information technologies.

The second force is sovereignty, or at least a force emanating from certain quarters - Més most obviously. David Abril, the chief promoter of a referendum of independence by 2030, says that 2030 is not far away. He's right, it isn't far away. He might hope that over this comparatively short timeframe the monoculture can be meaningfully diversified. Because if it isn't, any referendum would be predicated on dangerous economic grounds.

The third force is what has been happening in Catalonia, which has helped to motivate Més into issuing its clarion call for independence. Here is further fraternity, that of sovereignty of the components of the Catalan Lands, even if this fraternity is more mythical than real.

The last time that the Gadeso research foundation conducted a survey into identity was in September 2015. It discovered that 38% of respondents were in favour of the current system of autonomous government in the Balearics. This was the highest percentage of six options. Only four per cent were in favour of being given the chance to opt for independence. When asked whether they felt more Spanish or more Balearic, 51% rated this equally. Only Més and El Pi voters said they felt more Balearic than Spanish or just Balearic: El Pi is a sort of centre-right version of Més in terms of nationalist leanings. Neither party can point to high levels of popular support: Més 13.8% of the vote for the regional government in 2015; El Pi 7.96%.

The next question was island-specific. Do you identify most with the Balearics, your own island or with the Catalan Lands? Overwhelmingly, and in each case, it was with the individual island. Identity with the Catalan Lands was no more than two per cent.

These findings invalidate the Més proposition. Independence is not wished for. Being somehow beholden to Catalonia is most certainly rejected. The concept of the Balearics as a social entity is also highly questionable. The individual islands have long had their own identity. Even the granting of autonomy in 1983 didn't produce wild scenes of joy on the streets. Regional government is an administrative function as much if not more than any expression of identity.

A colossal change in attitude would be needed in the space of seventeen years if Més were to achieve its ambition. Just as significantly, there would need to be a major restructuring of the economic base by 2030 in order to make an independent Balearics even vaguely sensible as a separate economic entity. It's not going to happen.

No comments: