Posted on October 2, 2017

The Independence Vote in Catalonia

Michael Walker, American Renaissance, October 2, 2017

Despite violent central government intervention to stop the balloting, 90 percent of the votes in yesterday’s Catalonian referendum were for independence from Spain. This result, in what the Madrid government calls an illegal and unconstitutional vote, has plunged Spain into crisis.

What does this mean for Europe? And for other secessionist movements?

When I visited Catalonia in 1979, I was disappointed that I did not understand what people were saying. Evidently my Spanish was even worse than I thought! It took a day for me to realise that people were speaking Catalan, a language I had never heard of.

However, since my visit I learned that Catalonia is one of those regions or small nations of Europe that have been striving for independence for many years — like the Basque nation, Scotland, and others. European nation-states that may seem closely knit to an outsider (foreigners tend to call the United Kingdom simply “England,” for example) are often ancient principalities welded together in the course of history and thereafter maintained through a shared imperial destiny — which may evaporate. The Easter uprising of 1916 in Ireland and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that sparked the First World War signaled the return of small-state nationalism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was another and greater wave of regional “returns to the roots.”

The demands for regional autonomy in Europe create a dilemma for the European Union. On the one hand, they undermine the authority and sovereignty of the EU member states and make it easier to create a centralized Europe. On the other hand, the very notion of self-determination, nationhood, regional or even ethnic identity, runs counter to the homogenizing intentions of the European Union.

The unexpected success of the Brexit referendum of 2016 has given increased impetus to groups to demand their own referenda. But decision by referendum is not compatible with the decision-making process of the EU, which is based on the authority of heads of government sitting on the European Commission and Council.

Events in Catalonia are of deeper significance than a dispute between Catalonia and Madrid. First: What constitutes a nation in the EU, given that ultimate powers of decision now lie with the European Court and the European Commission? Second, who or what is to be the decision maker of last resort on questions of sovereignty? Finally, does an autonomous association of people in Europe have the right to determine who their master should be?

The last point is crucial. In 2010, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that Catalonia’s autonomy as established by statute in 2006 was unconstitutional. This ruling led to the decision by Catalonia’s regional authorities to hold this “illegal” referendum. “What we have seen in Catalonia is an attempt to liquidize national sovereignty,” said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Madrid denies the right of a province not only to secede from Spain, but even to ask its people if they would like to secede. In the coming years, as the EU continues to centralize and strip former nation states of sovereignty, the question arises: In what way, if not by referendum, will a people be able to express views independently of the supranational power of the EU?

In the face of what will no doubt be continuing mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East, who decides what will be done about it, on the basis of what legitimacy, and within what borders? The Catalonians lean towards an “open door” immigration policy, but the right to decide on independence implies the right to decide on other vital matters, and it must make agitators for open borders queasy.

The Madrid government’s violent attempt to suppress the vote has probably pushed many undecided or even pro-Spanish Catalans to opt for independence. The EU does not like either hamfistedness or populism. This probably explains why leading European politicians have confined themselves to condemning Madrid’s methods, and have hesitated to take a position on whether secession would be legal.

Police clash with people outside a polling center. Spanish National Police officers and Civil guards were deployed to prevent people from entering the polling centers to vote in the Catalan independence referendum. (Credit Image: © Jaume Sellart/EFE via ZUMA Press)

The danger, of course, is that if liberal-left Catalonia is allowed to hold a referendum today, less liberal groups could demand referenda tomorrow. Surely, the greatest fear in Brussels is that localities might vote against “the great replacement” of Europeans by foreigners. Likewise, in the United States, it is not impossible to imagine states or other localities voting to separate for “hateful” reasons.

The Brexit vote and the Trump election have shown that the people are capable of flouting the wishes of their rulers. We should encourage every opportunity for the people to do so.