Catalonia is living in a complex political situation that will either encounter a solution, or enter a downward spiral. The Spanish government is throttling the Catalan administration financially, but without choking off its air completely, administering a drop-by-drop transfer of the resources it needs. Under these circumstances, a Catalan council of juridical experts has delivered a 200-page report entitled Referendum on the Political Future of Catalonia.
It details the existing mechanisms for holding a referendum on the region’s right to decide as a separate electoral body-politic, under the present Spanish Constitution; and then details the democratically legitimate paths Catalonia might take, outside Spanish legislation, supposing that the Madrid government blocks all the legal ones.
Of course this means a unilateral declaration of independence. The advisors opt for negotiation, and warn of the risks of tense relations. Spain might suspend the authority of the regional government, and even lay criminal charges against its leaders. Meanwhile they warn of the danger of artificially prolonging the process, and call for a simple clear referendum question that posits a yes-or-no answer.
Since last September, Catalan independence has been an unavoidable political question. Yet the Spanish government in Madrid has yet to make a single concrete political proposal to Catalonia. It has said only that the referendum is impossible; that the law prohibits it; that it is outside the Constitution; and that it is the business of the courts to punish whatever steps are taken in that direction.
To make the judges shoulder problems that are the work of politicians is always a grave error that can only bring negative consequences for democracy and co-existence. If the courts do not resolve it, what will happen then? Tanks? The independence project, with a broad social base in Catalonia, is a political problem, and it is nonsense to treat it otherwise.
A reasonable and negotiated solution is possible only if both sides renounce unilateral solutions. The Spanish government has to stop using the letter of the law as a weapon, and threatening Catalonia with eternal hellfire. And the Catalan government has to back off from any unilateral declaration of independence. Indeed, Artur Mas has said as much: that it is not his intention to go to this extreme. If some agree not to entrench themselves behind the letter of the law, and others not to break it unilaterally, the meeting point can only be to let the citizens express their will. Sooner or later there has to be a referendum, and the negotiation of a deal of some sort or other, according to the result. This is the path of mutual recognition and respect.
Anything else is one of two alternatives. Either the “this turf is ours” culture of those who feel themselves to be owners of all of Spain, with a right to hold it together by force, or the artificial generation of confrontation, which has little appeal in a risk-averse society such as Catalonia.
To talk, to negotiate, to vote: the lesson that Cameron gave to Rajoy. But Rajoy isn’t talking or negotiating, and has no intention of letting anyone vote. Yet the effect of sitting unperturbed, waiting for the sovereignty fire to burn itself out, may be ruinous. We are looking at a problem of recognition. Every day more Catalan citizens feel they are being ignored. Perhaps Madrid trusts in Catalonia’s impotence to force matters, and thinks that any legal blow will be deadly to the sovereignty movement, as happened with Ibarretxe’s plan in the Basque Country. But the strategy of simply not noticing will only produce more resentment. Many Catalans rightly ask: If the Spanish government is incapable of offering us a single positive proposal, why is it so bent on blocking the steps we take for ourselves?
In Catalonia there is a belief that Spain will never accept a consensual, democratic, rational solution. Then only two possible scenarios will remain: frustration, or confrontation. Two failures, which ought to be avoided. To this end, the Spanish government has to provide a political answer to a political problem, and leave the courts alone.