Legitimacy of the Catalan Referendum

On October 1st, 2017 millions of optimistic individuals descended upon voting booths across the region of northeastern Spain, known as Catalonia, to cast their vote for the decision to either continue remaining as a part of Spain or breaking off and declaring independence. The issue of their autonomy and call for independence is a difficult one to comprehend, so first some facts and historical context. Starting all the way back before the formation of Spain itself in 1469, Catalonia was a part of the Kingdom of Aragon. After a unification by royal marriage with their neighbor of Castile and Leon, Aragon alongside her neighbors formed the Kingdom of Spain. For the next few hundred years history would see the rise and fall of this nation across almost all continents until the death of the dictator Franco in the 1970’s, and the subsequent decline in Spanish centralized government so to say, which saw Catalonia once again become a heavily autonomous region of Spain alongside many other regions. Then again in 2006 Catalonia became even more autonomous when the Spanish Government at the time granted them further autonomous powers, basically granting them “nation” status. Such historical circumstances might make it seem Catalonia has “won the right to vote”, but that is not the case due to the current laws of Spain and the current turbulent political environment in the Catalonia region which is why the Catalan referendum was illegitimate.

Written by Michelle Przemyk, Nick Bedson, and Rodrigo and published by The Guardian, this article titled Would Catalonia Be Better As An Independent Nation? argues that the Catalonian referendum is legitimate and that secession from Spain is in fact in the best difference of the people of Catalonia. The format of the article is written into three parts and each part is written by one of the authors. The first section written by Michelle Przemyk and talks about how Catalonia has been dragged down by the Spanish centralized for centuries. Their language has been banned and their very culture has been under attack from years of dictatorship. After so many rough years you’d think that Spain would treat Catalonia better, but that is not the case. As stated in the article, the judicial system and tax system does not in any way benefit Catalonia because of the fact that only a fraction of what they pay in taxes ever return to them and the judicial system is horribly unreliable. The second part of the article goes on to re-state that Catalonia, being a major financial support area for the rest of Spain and all, would be better off as an independent nation because more of that money would be rebounded to actual Catalonians. Finally, the third author goes on to write similarly that the historic wounds dealt on Catalonia by the hands of the Spaniards can only be healed by a full independence due in a part to the treatment of the Catalonians by the Spanish government. In summary, the Catalan referendum is legitimate in the sense that the political, social, and economic stability of Catalonia show us that the vote is meaningful and well backed with a strong chance of creating a powerful nation.

The second article, written and published by Gulf News, talks in opposition to the referendum and writes that “there is no option under the Spanish constitution for any of the 17 regions that make up Spain to declare independence”, meaning the whole legality of the situation is tilted towards the illegal side of things. The author goes on to write that the prime minister of Spain has “seized 10 million ballot papers” in further effort to combat this immature charade to secede from the sovereign country of Spain. The article goes on to justify the actions of the Spanish government in Madrid under the leadership of prime minister by explaining how such an act as secession must be met by an unrelenting opposing force if the mother nation truly wants to remain whole. As a country your sovereignty is of upmost importance. The writer finishes by reaffirming the already existing choice of dialogue between the government in Catalonia and the government in Madrid. It does not matter whether this dialogue is mediated by the E.U. or not, what matters is that it happens and that it is genuine.

One of the easy-to-spot comparisons between the two articles is that fact that both agree that genuine diplomatic dialogue is a great path to take when attempting to solve this issue. It is a powerful point of agreement that I strongly believe will be a solution that will end up being the compromise for everyone, so to say. Another partial comparison between the two is how they talk about the economic and political power of the region. One strong contrast between the two articles is that the Guardian article discuss’ more on the theoretical nation of Catalonia and avoids the legality of the situation and whether such a secession is actually legally possible. The Gulf News article takes the opposite road and writes about the legality of the situation and how such an act of secession and/or referendum is illegal. The article that I agree with the most is the Gulf News article which I believe touches on more important details of the situation. None of what the Guardian article says matters unless a lawful action can be made. Listing a bunch of positives about an independent Catalonia, such as independence is the only way forward if we are to heal old wounds doesn’t help us get there. It creates a brighter objective, however all they are doing is giving those who prefer unity to look at those benefits and want to keep those, which doesn’t help the case the Guardian is pushing, which is a case for independence.

The question of whether Catalonia would make a good nation is already answered. However, the question of the legitimacy of their vote for secession has also been answered which tells us that the lawfulness and popularity of the possibility of secession is still one that needs to grow into a stronger force that is tangible enough to hold a much more mature vote. Their economy is strong. Their will is strong. But unless an authentic election incorporating all capable voters is instituted, any referendum will be illegitimate. Catalonia has millions of people who want to secede from Spain, but the reality of the situation is that they cannot lawfully secede. Their dream of a republic would be born out of an illegal and completely unlawful situation. Until a legal path is set out, whether it be from talks with the government in Madrid or mediation by the E.U., the vote for secession will continue to be illegitimate. In short, dialogue is a necessary path to take because no referendum practiced in Catalonia is going to end on a note that is not drenched in violence and turmoil.