The Catalan Coup
The Declaration of Catalan Sovereignty, January 23rd 2013
Anyone relying on the anglo-media may be surprised to learn that the devolved Catalan Parliament thumbed its nose at the Spanish constitution last month (on January 23rd) by passing a resolution declaring that the people of Catalonia are sovereign:
"The people of Catalonia have, by reason of democratic legitimacy, the character of a sovereign political and legal entity."
The Declaration of Sovereignty of the Catalan People (85 votes in favour, 41 against and 2 abstentions), is the first stage in the Catalan Government's National Transition plan, which is claimed to be the logical next step for the Generalitat in the process of Democratic Transition which created the existing system of asymmetric devolution in the Spanish state.
This evolution of devolution is to lead to a referendum on the constitutional future of Catalonia in 2014 (the year of the proposed Scottish independence referendum), although the Spanish government maintains that the basic law of the Spanish constitution, which it has no discernible intention of amending, precludes all possibility of either secession or referendums deemed to be secessionist.
The declaration of sovereignty was jointly proposed and endorsed by the centre-right pro-independence Catalan governing party, Convergence and Union (CiU), and the main opposition party, the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), plus the federalist Catalan Greens (ICV) and an element of the quaintly disunited anti-capitalist Popular Unity Party (CUP).
Although the Spanish government contemptuously dismissed the declaration as a juridically inconsequential exercise in political rhetoric, it is worth noting that the Barcelona Advocates Association has expressed the view that it is on the contrary highly significant and that what it means is that, if the Spanish state prevents the Catalan Government from holding an agreed binding referendum on Catalan independence and also obstructs the non-binding purely consultative consulta which the Generalitat would then endeavour to organize on the sole authority of the Catalan Parliament, that legislature would be justified in proceeding to pass a resolution which would constitute a UDI (unilateral declaration of independence), which would be represented as legitimate on the basis of the said declaration of Catalan sovereignty and the principle of the inalienable right of national self-determination on which it is said to be based. Catalan nationalists presume to consider that the will of the people, and specifically the will of their people, is a higher authority than the statutory authority of the Spanish state:
"If the Spanish government prevented a self-determination vote or did not recognize its result, the Advocates Association would recommend a unilateral declaration of independence proclaimed by the Catalan Parliament. If that were to happen, they say 'a declaration of independence would make Catalonia a new state with immediate effect', because Catalonia 'has the minimum characteristics of a state, which are a permanent population, a well-defined territory and sovereignty'." (Catalan News Agency, January 23rd 2013)
This month an organization to be called the Catalan Council for National Transition will be launched by the Generalitat. Its function will be to take all necessary steps in preparation for an independence referendum, which is to take place at about the same time as the Scottish one. The work of this body is to culminate in the creation of a Catalan tax agency so that a swift transition to totally autonomous tax collection can be effected if a UDI is judged to be required.
While we await a seemingly inevitable clash between Madrid and Barcelona, the Catalan Government is getting ready to launch a charm offensive in Europe. First Minister Artur Mas (President of the Generalitat) is to visit Berlin (which the Spanish prime minister has just been visiting) and also Brussels in order to prepare the ground for what is coming. On the Castilian side various strategies are under consideration, including (i) blocking specific initiatives of the Generalitat by referring them to the Spanish Constitutional Court, (ii) suspending Catalan devolution and even (iii) sending in the armed forces.
What might be the implications of this sinister Iberian scenario for Scotland, where, in stark contrast, a majority pro-independence administration has reached agreement with the UK state on an independence referendum, the result of which is to be binding and followed by a negotiated settlement if independence is approved by a majority of votes?
"There is no doubt that events in Scotland are influencing those in Catalonia. If both referendums are to be held in 2014, the question then becomes whether events in Catalonia might influence those in Scotland. One way in which Catalonia could influence Scotland would be by increasing the level of confrontation between the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns, although this seems unlikely. A second possibility would be by bringing the possible third option/second question back into the debate, although the current process seems a bit too far ahead for that. Where the influence of developments in Catalonia might be felt more in Scotland is in attempts to negotiate with the European institutions, as both Catalan and Spanish governments are putting them under a lot of pressure. A possible breakaway-independent Catalonia is much more problematic for the EU than a possible negotiated-independent Scotland, but in order to avoid having to face the former they might make the procedures for accession of newly-independent regions very complicated for all possible candidates." (Elisenda Casanas-Adam, Another Independence Referendum in 2014? January 31st 2013)
A Catalan coup d'état (golpe de Estado), as the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García Margallo, has defined the National Transition of Catalonia, may evidently impinge upon Scotland's constitutional transition in ways which are only just beginning to become apparent. Both transitions will ultimately be judged by historians to have interacted dynamically in a multiplicity of ways, whether we are currently able to identify them correctly or not, I venture to suggest. A prominent symbol of this process is already in our midst, of course: the distinctive Catalan design of the Scottish Parliament complex, for which we are indebted to the distinguished Catalan architect Enric Miralles. There it sits gleaming in the sunlight, like a shining promise of a better future and a better country.
The Catalan Coup