Catalonia and the Guns of October

Everybody in Europe is talking about Catalonia, chiefly because everyone is staring into the abyss of what could happen in Europe if things go wrong – copycat secessionism.  It looks as though things may go wrong.  There is a small chance for sanity, and it involves both sides stepping back and pulling away from fire-breathing rhetoric.

Let's examine at the situation.

The secret of the Catalan side is that they may not have had a clear majority vote to secede.  Yes, they claim that 90% voted for secession, but the voter turnout was only 43% of the electorate.  A Spanish court had declared the vote illegal, and those Catalans likely to vote against secession may have stayed home.  Blame part of that low turnout on the Spanish police, but it is still low for a major plebiscite.

On major issues, such as independence, it has been the practice of republics to insist on super-majorities of three fifths, two thirds, or three fourths.  While 90% sounds as though it meets such a criterion, given the low turnout, it amounts to only 39%.  To declare independence based on 39% is to subvert the historical understanding of representation.

To put it bluntly, the October 1 vote does not give Catalan president Carles Puigdemont a true mandate to declare independence.

Yes, we can blame the Spanish government for interfering.  I do not hold Prime Minister Rajoy innocent in this.  The Spanish police acted like thugs, but that does not remove the obvious objection.  Puigdemont has no democratic mandate – not with only a 43% turnout.

In June, just a few months ago, a poll taken by the Catalan government showed that most Catalans did not want independence (see page 11).  The results were 41.1% for independence, 49.4% against.  More interesting is that the percentage of independentistas had shrunk from March.  It seems that the Catalans were getting tired of Puigdemont's grandstanding.

This crisis has been aggravated by Prime Minister Rajoy's right-wing Partido Popular (P.P. – Popular or People's Party) since day one.  Spain and Catalonia had reached a somewhat amicable agreement that gave Catalonia more autonomy and control of taxes in 2006, similar to the autonomy given to the Basque.  The Spanish Parliament agreed to it.

It was Prime Minister Rajoy's P.P. that sued to get the Catalan autonomy overturned in 2006.

The People's Party [PP] filed an appeal against Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy on the 31st of July, 2006, challenging 113 of the 221 articles, including the most important ones. ...

However, the PP got a first member of the Court excluded from the debate and verdict on Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy, shifting the majority towards the conservative sector. ...

28th June, 2010. The Constitutional Court finally issues its verdict on the Statute of Autonomy, with a 4-year delay and manifold political interferences.

The P.P. used tricks to make sure that the court would be packed with hostile conservatives. Had the P.P. not tried to subvert a democratic agreement, arrived at by the Parliament, by means of judicial activism, Catalonia today might be as quiet as the Basque region presently is.

It was on July 10, 2010, after the court intervention, that the Catalans finally had enough.  One point one million Catalans were on Barcelona's streets protesting.  The Catalans had learned their lesson.  The Basque, with their history of armed struggle, had gathered more rights.  Like it or not, though the Basque ETA was despicable, it seems that armed resistance spawned results.  The Catalans were taking it to the next level.

The P.P. is primarily responsible for this crisis.  There is no reason why the Catalans could not have been offered what was tendered to the Basque, especially the financial autonomy.  There was no reason why the P.P. should have sued to get so much of the agreement between the Spanish Parliament and Catalonia overturned.

To get a sense of the absurdity at play in Spain, a Spanish court overturned Catalonia's ban on bullfighting in 2016.

The court voted 8 to 3 against the Catalan ban, finding that lawmakers from the region could not prohibit a practice that the justices said was enshrined in the cultural patrimony of the Spanish state.

We are talking about a court not defending civil rights, but rather upholding a mythical Spanish tradition that many consider animal abuse.  Does it sound as though Catalonia has any real autonomy?!

The Partido Popular has to admit that it is the author of this slide down to a disaster.  It was the P.P., not the Catalans, who subverted the Spanish government's will, approved by the Spanish Parliament in 2006.

However, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and the independentists have played this to the hilt.  They have taken the historic Catalan desire for independence and used political tricks to subvert democracy also.  The coalition in the Catalan parliament who want independence have nothing in common with each other but a desire to leave Spain.  This is not a coalition to build a nation on.  Frankly, the Catalans have not even prepared for such a split.  Do they even have currency printed?  The Catalan government seems to have anticipated E.U. support and was shocked when support did not arrive.

The independentistas had no clear majority in Catalonia this summer – by their own poll numbers – and they manufactured a crisis, counting on the P.P. to overreact, which the P.P. obligingly did, to garner support.  With this questionable support, Mr. Puigdemont may go to the Catalan parliament and ask for independence next week.

Two irresponsible leaders – Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Puigdemont – have created a theater of the absurd.

Mr. Puigdemont, if he has any respect for democratic principle, can halt this irresponsibility and instead offer this choice to his parliament next week.

He can acknowledge the overwhelming vote in favor independence but also acknowledge that it was not enough of a turnout to merit a democratic mandate.  He can put forth this proposal to be voted on in a few months –  enough time so that things may calm down.

IF THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT WILL NOT INTEFERE WITH A SECOND VOTE, THE QUESTION PUT TO CATALANS WILL BE:

1) DO YOU WANT INDEPENDENCE IN THE FORM OF A REPUBLIC?

2) DO YOU PREFER THE REAL AUTOMONY AKIN TO THAT OFFERED BY THE 2006 AGREEMENT BEFORE THE COURT INTERFERED?

3) THE TURNOUT MUST BE AT LEAST 67%, WITH 67% OF VOTERS FOR A SUPER-MAJORITY FOR INDEPENDENCE

This is how a vote for a matter of such gravity should be set up.  The vote in the British colonies of the states' representatives at Independence Hall in July 1776 had to be unanimous to pass.  A simple majority is not sufficient to declare independence.  This is not a tax bill they are considering.

This would be a true choice.  It would place the responsibility with the Spanish government to allow a second vote to occur.  If the Spanish interfere with the vote a second time, it would be Spain shown as the guilty party.  A super-majority would also remove the independence vote from the purview of rabble-rousers.  Catalonia claims that it has the right to independently act, apart from the rest of Spain.  True!  But for matters this grave, it does not have the right to act with less than two-thirds internal Catalan approval.  The vote on October 1 did not provide that – not with a 43% turnout.

It would also allow the Spanish Parliament to make a genuine counter-offer of real autonomy to Catalonia.  They might resurrect the 2006 agreement.  It would be a real defeat for the P.P., and it would show the world who is truly democratic.

It would also force the independentistas to stop their grandstanding.  Nations are born not by temporary swings of popular opinion.  If the Catalans cannot vote by a two-thirds majority for independence, then there is no democratic principle that they should separate.

Both sides have abused democratic principles.  Mr. Puigdemont can rescue them next week by not unilaterally declaring independence and by acting like a statesman.

In August 2014, swaggering loud-mouthed European leaders unsheathed their Guns of August and led Europe to a disaster from which Western civilization may not yet have recovered.  Let's hope that in Spain, cooler heads prevail.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He also just started a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.

Everybody in Europe is talking about Catalonia, chiefly because everyone is staring into the abyss of what could happen in Europe if things go wrong – copycat secessionism.  It looks as though things may go wrong.  There is a small chance for sanity, and it involves both sides stepping back and pulling away from fire-breathing rhetoric.

Let's examine at the situation.

The secret of the Catalan side is that they may not have had a clear majority vote to secede.  Yes, they claim that 90% voted for secession, but the voter turnout was only 43% of the electorate.  A Spanish court had declared the vote illegal, and those Catalans likely to vote against secession may have stayed home.  Blame part of that low turnout on the Spanish police, but it is still low for a major plebiscite.

On major issues, such as independence, it has been the practice of republics to insist on super-majorities of three fifths, two thirds, or three fourths.  While 90% sounds as though it meets such a criterion, given the low turnout, it amounts to only 39%.  To declare independence based on 39% is to subvert the historical understanding of representation.

To put it bluntly, the October 1 vote does not give Catalan president Carles Puigdemont a true mandate to declare independence.

Yes, we can blame the Spanish government for interfering.  I do not hold Prime Minister Rajoy innocent in this.  The Spanish police acted like thugs, but that does not remove the obvious objection.  Puigdemont has no democratic mandate – not with only a 43% turnout.

In June, just a few months ago, a poll taken by the Catalan government showed that most Catalans did not want independence (see page 11).  The results were 41.1% for independence, 49.4% against.  More interesting is that the percentage of independentistas had shrunk from March.  It seems that the Catalans were getting tired of Puigdemont's grandstanding.

This crisis has been aggravated by Prime Minister Rajoy's right-wing Partido Popular (P.P. – Popular or People's Party) since day one.  Spain and Catalonia had reached a somewhat amicable agreement that gave Catalonia more autonomy and control of taxes in 2006, similar to the autonomy given to the Basque.  The Spanish Parliament agreed to it.

It was Prime Minister Rajoy's P.P. that sued to get the Catalan autonomy overturned in 2006.

The People's Party [PP] filed an appeal against Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy on the 31st of July, 2006, challenging 113 of the 221 articles, including the most important ones. ...

However, the PP got a first member of the Court excluded from the debate and verdict on Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy, shifting the majority towards the conservative sector. ...

28th June, 2010. The Constitutional Court finally issues its verdict on the Statute of Autonomy, with a 4-year delay and manifold political interferences.

The P.P. used tricks to make sure that the court would be packed with hostile conservatives. Had the P.P. not tried to subvert a democratic agreement, arrived at by the Parliament, by means of judicial activism, Catalonia today might be as quiet as the Basque region presently is.

It was on July 10, 2010, after the court intervention, that the Catalans finally had enough.  One point one million Catalans were on Barcelona's streets protesting.  The Catalans had learned their lesson.  The Basque, with their history of armed struggle, had gathered more rights.  Like it or not, though the Basque ETA was despicable, it seems that armed resistance spawned results.  The Catalans were taking it to the next level.

The P.P. is primarily responsible for this crisis.  There is no reason why the Catalans could not have been offered what was tendered to the Basque, especially the financial autonomy.  There was no reason why the P.P. should have sued to get so much of the agreement between the Spanish Parliament and Catalonia overturned.

To get a sense of the absurdity at play in Spain, a Spanish court overturned Catalonia's ban on bullfighting in 2016.

The court voted 8 to 3 against the Catalan ban, finding that lawmakers from the region could not prohibit a practice that the justices said was enshrined in the cultural patrimony of the Spanish state.

We are talking about a court not defending civil rights, but rather upholding a mythical Spanish tradition that many consider animal abuse.  Does it sound as though Catalonia has any real autonomy?!

The Partido Popular has to admit that it is the author of this slide down to a disaster.  It was the P.P., not the Catalans, who subverted the Spanish government's will, approved by the Spanish Parliament in 2006.

However, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and the independentists have played this to the hilt.  They have taken the historic Catalan desire for independence and used political tricks to subvert democracy also.  The coalition in the Catalan parliament who want independence have nothing in common with each other but a desire to leave Spain.  This is not a coalition to build a nation on.  Frankly, the Catalans have not even prepared for such a split.  Do they even have currency printed?  The Catalan government seems to have anticipated E.U. support and was shocked when support did not arrive.

The independentistas had no clear majority in Catalonia this summer – by their own poll numbers – and they manufactured a crisis, counting on the P.P. to overreact, which the P.P. obligingly did, to garner support.  With this questionable support, Mr. Puigdemont may go to the Catalan parliament and ask for independence next week.

Two irresponsible leaders – Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Puigdemont – have created a theater of the absurd.

Mr. Puigdemont, if he has any respect for democratic principle, can halt this irresponsibility and instead offer this choice to his parliament next week.

He can acknowledge the overwhelming vote in favor independence but also acknowledge that it was not enough of a turnout to merit a democratic mandate.  He can put forth this proposal to be voted on in a few months –  enough time so that things may calm down.

IF THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT WILL NOT INTEFERE WITH A SECOND VOTE, THE QUESTION PUT TO CATALANS WILL BE:

1) DO YOU WANT INDEPENDENCE IN THE FORM OF A REPUBLIC?

2) DO YOU PREFER THE REAL AUTOMONY AKIN TO THAT OFFERED BY THE 2006 AGREEMENT BEFORE THE COURT INTERFERED?

3) THE TURNOUT MUST BE AT LEAST 67%, WITH 67% OF VOTERS FOR A SUPER-MAJORITY FOR INDEPENDENCE

This is how a vote for a matter of such gravity should be set up.  The vote in the British colonies of the states' representatives at Independence Hall in July 1776 had to be unanimous to pass.  A simple majority is not sufficient to declare independence.  This is not a tax bill they are considering.

This would be a true choice.  It would place the responsibility with the Spanish government to allow a second vote to occur.  If the Spanish interfere with the vote a second time, it would be Spain shown as the guilty party.  A super-majority would also remove the independence vote from the purview of rabble-rousers.  Catalonia claims that it has the right to independently act, apart from the rest of Spain.  True!  But for matters this grave, it does not have the right to act with less than two-thirds internal Catalan approval.  The vote on October 1 did not provide that – not with a 43% turnout.

It would also allow the Spanish Parliament to make a genuine counter-offer of real autonomy to Catalonia.  They might resurrect the 2006 agreement.  It would be a real defeat for the P.P., and it would show the world who is truly democratic.

It would also force the independentistas to stop their grandstanding.  Nations are born not by temporary swings of popular opinion.  If the Catalans cannot vote by a two-thirds majority for independence, then there is no democratic principle that they should separate.

Both sides have abused democratic principles.  Mr. Puigdemont can rescue them next week by not unilaterally declaring independence and by acting like a statesman.

In August 2014, swaggering loud-mouthed European leaders unsheathed their Guns of August and led Europe to a disaster from which Western civilization may not yet have recovered.  Let's hope that in Spain, cooler heads prevail.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He also just started a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.

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