Catalan leaders seek independence vote, legal or not

 

Will Catalonia say adios to Spain and become independent? Watch Paul Mason's full Newsnight report

If Catalonia does, one day, get its own air force, it will probably be able to afford something better than Spitfires.

For now the kit-built replica planes zoom acrobatically across the beach in Barcelona, the crowd's "oohs and ahhs" moderated by that essential Catalan characteristic: cool.

They shelter under umbrellas to avoid getting tanned. And they chat. And what they chat about is beginning to cause a quiet terror in Madrid, and in Brussels. Leaving Spain.

Start Quote

It's no longer about what people are feeling in their hearts, it's what they feel in their pockets too. And the feeling is that they would be a lot better off if they were not a part of Spain”

End Quote Eduard Castells Barcelona resident

"My feeling is that the Spanish government has totally rejected what is happening here," says Jorge Fernandez, who has come here to watch the show. "They have spread rejection and hate with comments calling us 'the damn Catalans that don't want to collaborate'."

Another spectator, Eduard Castells, says: "The situation has evidently changed a lot. It's no longer about what people are feeling in their hearts, it's what they feel in their pockets too. And the feeling is that they would be a lot better off if they were not a part of Spain."

Three weeks ago one and a half million Catalans went on the streets, with outright demands for independence much higher in the mix than ever.

When the government in Madrid refused the region's demand for a new fiscal settlement, allowing it to keep more of the tax it raises, its government, led by the Convergence and Union (CiU) parties, called snap elections.

They want a referendum on Catalonia's future: through legal means or otherwise.

Oriol Pujol, the general secretary of Convergence, tells me: "We have an enormous fiscal transfer to Spain - about 8% or 9% of GDP - and never returns, year after year. And we could agree to carry on with that: there's no problem with agreeing to show solidarity with the rest of Spain. But when we have to make double cuts in services, when taxes are double - we have to make a change."

But he is keen to stress this is not just the result of the economic problems that have seen the region demand a 5bn euro bailout from Madrid:

"One cause of it is the crisis, but the crisis just gave the last push. It's the addition of obstacles, one on top of the other by Madrid, over the past two years. Political obstacles - and obstacles to identity, which really says to us there is no option to have Catalonia as we imagine it inside the Spanish state."

'Germany of Spain'

If, as expected the CiU wins the regional election on 25 November, then the clash over a referendum could crucially affect the course of the coming sovereign bailout for Spain.

Start Quote

If we exhaust all legal routes to get a referendum we won't stop”

End Quote Oriol Pujol General secretary of Convergence party

"If we exhaust all legal routes to get a referendum we won't stop," says Mr Pujol.

I ask him, point blank if the region will call a referendum in defiance of the national courts and constitution.

"There will be no way to avoid it. If we don't deliver it someone else will. More radical parties. But in a negotiation," he smiles, "it's not the best thing to reveal what you are going to do next."

Bond markets, which have for 12 months tried to price the risk of a eurozone breakup, now have to calculate the possibility of the breakup of the Spanish state - for secession in Barcelona would surely prompt centrifugal tendencies in the Basque region, and exacerbate the fiscal crisis in the poorest regions.

Mr Pujol says that an independent Catalonia - often called the "Germany of Spain", for its high GDP and industrial base - could play a role in turning around the image north Europe has of southern Europe.

But the rise of Catalan nationalism is provoking tension in Spain itself. When I vox-popped villagers in neighbouring Valencia this week, about the impact of the crisis there, talk turned among the oldsters, who had lived through the Civil War, to "the Catalans" - the word is almost spat.

"It's outrageous!" one elderly lady smacked her fist into her palm. "We'll never let them leave!'

Last week a serving officer in the Spanish army, Colonel Francisco Aleman, upped the stakes, telling a website "Catalan independence? Over my dead body and that of many soldiers". Adding that the crisis was already "like 1936" - the year the Civil War began - "only without the blood".

Mr Pujol smiles painfully when I put this to him. It's not exactly laughable he says; it has to be taken seriously:

"There are no other options than democratic answers - knowing the whole EU and international community are observing what Spain answers. It's not the moment: we passed that some years ago."

"The politics of fear, not only the comment of this person from the army, will appear: we know that. But the process is so driven by enthusiasm that we think such comments show how weak Spain is faced with the process in Catalonia."

National sentiment

If they ever do become a country, they will of course have no trouble fielding a football team. At Barcelona fans' bar, the supporters watching their team trounce Benfica are adamant, the region will leave Spain:

"Two or three years ago people would tell you 'hey, that independence thing will never happen, don't get too excited about it and don't expect too much'. And now, after what has happened in the month and a half it is amazing."

Artus Mas in Catalan parliament The Catalan parliament recently voted for an independence referendum

"I feel Catalan," insists another. "My passport and ID card say I'm Spanish, but I just don't feel Spanish."

And here is the problem. You can dispute the economic costs of Catalan independence, but at least you can measure it with facts and figures. What you cannot measure is feeling: and there's a huge wave of national sentiment in Catalonia, sparked by the austerity, but drawing above all on anger at Madrid's perceived power grab.

"For the past 10 years Spain constructed its relationship with Catalonia on the separation of powers," Raul Ramos, an economics professor at Barcelona University, tells me"; "economic power in Barcelona, political power in Madrid. But now, to impose the bailout conditions, Madrid has to concentrate economic power in the centre. That's what's driven Catalan politicians to act."

Two years ago, when I put footage of a million strong Catalan demonstration into a report about the economic crisis, I had tweets back saying "the two aren't linked".

For years the threat of Catalan recession has been rhetorical; always producing a fiscal compromise with Madrid. But now Madrid has nothing left to offer.

Under Franco people died for the right to speak their own language, sing their own folk songs, dance the Sardana in the shade of the old cathedral. And in the years after, this cultural freedom has been enough to contain demands for independence.

But the crisis changes everything. And we still don't know where the crisis ends.

 
Paul Mason, Economics editor, Newsnight Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • Comment number 88.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 87.

    I do not believe Catalunya should be a member of the EU, what sense would it make claiming independence from Spain and give it back to the Eurocrats in Brussels

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    Lust for power is human, alas. When an exterior threat exists, tribal leaders give up some of their powers to form a larger union for protection. And when the exterior threat ceases, the tribal leaders will try to re-assert power.

    The Swiss have abolished this endless prehistoric cycle by sharing power with the people via referenda. May the Spanish and their Catalans learn from them.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 85.

    We're seeing Catalan nationalist politicians exploiting the current economic situation. Isn't this how taxation operates in a fair society? Redistribution of wealth from the haves to the needies. If we see break-ups of states within Europe are we heading back to medieval frontiers? Maybe Barcelona on economic reasons could say bye to an independent Catalonia. Or London from the rest of the UK

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 84.

    77

    I do reject the EU not because I am opposed to a Europe without borders but because I reject the concept of a super-state.

    In 1944 my late father and his French, Spanish, Polish and Czech comrades ensured the collapse of the Nazi occupation through their simple courage, stens and brens. Sadly, their vision of Europe was betrayed but the dream survives of a popular Europe without privilege.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 83.

    I agree with the people who think they should be independent, if their population want it. I've lived in Valencia and there are two distinct populations, the Valencian and the Castellillians. The Castillians are immigrants, many from La Mancha. The Valencians would happily join their Catalan brothers & sisters and wave goodbye to Madrid. Their language is often referred to as Western Catalan.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 82.

    Thanks Mr Mason for doing what most Spaniards seem uncapable to do: come here, listen to people and try to understand. (hope enjoy air show btw). And making clear our motivation is not just the gloomy economy, but a long history behind.
    I would assume the risk of becoming a poorer country, even out of EU, to give my kids the chance to live in a great country, like say Sweden, Switzerland...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 81.

    But this conquest was a consequence of the Sucession War and not part of an independence war as one might consider the events in 1640. It really surprises the ignorance and manipulation of their own national history by Catalonians. I do really hope the standards improve once they are independent (if this is what they really want).

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 80.

    78

    You say

    `The nationalism is bad with Hitler, Franco or Le Pen but not the Catalan, Scottish or Quebec.'

    Can you tell us what is the difference between these nationalisms? They all depend upon one group believing they are different or even superior from another group.

    My argument is that in general people are all the same. Societies are similar. So why do we have to have difference?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 79.

    '"the Catalans" - the word is almost spat.

    "It's outrageous!" one elderly lady smacked her fist into her palm. "We'll never let them leave!' '

    EUp: German and British supporteds of the "EU" have told me that the UK has no right to leave even if every Brit wants to.

    Austrn Prsidnt Fischer recently said: "The phoilosophy of the EU is to see the integration process as irreversible."

    Stick it!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 78.

    Keyser you say (speaking about the catalans and his rights to be a State):
    Nationalism is an infantile disease.
    And I say:
    The nationalism is bad with Hitler, Franco or Le Pen but not the Catalan, Scottish or Quebec.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 77.

    Those who reject nationalism should reject the "EU". It is about the creation of a new nation which it will refer to as "Europe."

    Like other nation states it wants its own flag, national anthemn, parliament, passports and above all its own armed forces.

    It has gone about it in the wrong way. Lenin(?) "The end justifies the means." He got it wrong. The means determines the end.

    EUSSR !

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 76.

    Just more politicos trying to gain more power. For years they have been introducing the Catalan nation into the education system, even though there has never been one,so that the generations who have passed through school now believe completely. If they convince them enough to gain independance then the politicos gain absolute power and all the money!!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 75.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 74.

    Daniel @ pt 61.

    The full quote from Albert Einstein was

    "I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever.

    Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind."

    Albert Einstein


    I am not sure from where you have made your erroneous conclusions.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 73.

    If Spain will choose to block catalan entry in to EU, what financial solidarity they could expect from rest of EU?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 72.

    One shouldn't be sucked in by the propaganda that the Catalans dish out.
    They winge and have played the victim for many years.
    What makes me laugh, is that they think the money the region generates, is theirs.
    I disagree, they don't deserve independence, but a lesson in civility and fairness.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    Catalonia is this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iSHfrmGdyo

    Human towers are recognized by Catalan people as an integral part of their cultural identity, transmitted from generation from generation and providing community members a sense of continuity, social cohesion and solidarity.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 70.

    68

    Madrid has successfully blocked the accession of Gibraltar to the EU for over thirty years despite Gibraltar being a British sovereign territory within Europe. Do you think Catalonia stands a better chance?

    All the seccesionist movements should take off their rosey-pink sunglasses and start seeing the world as ugly as it is. It is more important for all people to combine against the mafiosi.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 69.

    I've lived in Catalonia for the last 10 years, and it seems to me that Artur Más is intent on having an absolute majority, and he'll say & do whatever to obtain it.
    As for the relationship between Valencians and Catalans, there is no love lost between them. Most Valencians are Spanish nationalists, the ruling government is the Popular Party, so it is pointless to ask their opinion.

 

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