Monday, 3 August 2015

Catalonia is not Scotland

This has been a hot summer here in Catalonia but the autumn looks hotter. There is a major demonstration planned by the pro-independence movement on 11th September, elections to the Generalitat on 27th September, and then Spanish national elections at an as-yet undecided date before the end of the year. "Junts pel Si", the grouping of political parties in favour of independence, is on a roll and has built lists headed by celebrities (Lluís Llach, the Catalan protest musician - like an older Billy Bragg - will head the Girona "Junts pel Si" list) for the 27th September election. 

Catalonia is not Scotland. Both countries contain millions of people who want their nation independent, but that desire is driven by different issues.

In Catalonia the emerging issue is governance. Not "how should we be governed" because that is relatively clear: just as in Scotland, Catalonia has its own Parliament. But rather "why are we being so badly governed by Madrid?"

The conservative Partido Popular led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy appears to take every opportunity to pick a fight with the Catalans. He has of course said that he will never let Catalonia go. But he and his Government have also used the Constitutional Court (the ultimate court for questions relating to governing the country) to bash Catalonia. The 12 judges to the Court are selected for nine year terms by the Congress of the Deputies (the house of parliament, who select four judges), by the Senate (the upper house who select four more) with the remaining four selected by the executive branch of the Government and by the Judiciary. The court is politically conservative and the cycle of past Governments and Senates and their selection of judges means that it is especially conservative at present.

On Friday, the Constitutional Court delivered yet another anti-Catalonia judgement, deciding that Catalonia should not receive €700m that the Catalans say they were promised in 2010 by the previous (Socialist Party) Government. This follows judgements against last year's attempted referendum and against two recent attempts by Catalonia to revise its relationship with Spain, both of them supported by a majority of voters in Catalonia.

And now the governing Partido Popular has made one more, nastier threat. The Justice Minister - whose surname, in a cruel twist of irony, is "Catalá" - has threatened to use Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution - a threat repeated on Friday by Mariano Rajoy at his end of term press conference -  to close down Catalonia as an "autonomous region." In bashing the Catalans with this especially heavy stick he can be certain that the Constitutional Court will support him.

This serial beating by Madrid of Catalonia has had one result: more and more Catalans want independence. Friends who would have accepted a negotiation and revision of the power share between Madrid and Barcelona told me at the weekend that they are now decided on independence.

This is about governance. How should a metropolitan centre govern its outlying nations? Is this a colonial relationship - like the relationship that Westminster has with Scotland - or is this total control? Madrid wants total control and will allow no negotiation on the issue. As a strategy for governance it could prove fatal.

Catalonia is not Scotland. But then again, perhaps it almost is.

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