Tag Archives: Catalan independence

Is Denmark a small ethno state?

This is my first post on this blog for a very long time. I have finally felt impelled to write something after watching a live transmission of Carles Puigdemont’s appearance in Copenhagen university. It was an interesting event, all conducted in English. Sr Puigdemont was very impressive, especially in answering questions.  What most got me raging was the contribution of Marlene Wind, professor in European politics and law at the university. (thanks Marlene) Her presentation was one of the most ill-informed, ignorant and condescending speeches I have had the misfortune to hear. Even Donald Trump might have been a bit ashamed at her ignorance.

I will not bother to refute most of her distortions, Sr Puigdemont did a pretty good job of that. However I was particularly struck by Marlene Wind’s accusation that independence for Catalunya would be very bad as it would be a small state defined by ethnicity. This, according to Marlene Wind would be dangerous. I am not particularly in favour of states that are defined by ethnicity. Not quite sure why she singled out small states. Surely large states defined by ethnicity would be even worse? However even if we stick to small states, it would seem that Marlene is as ignorant of Danish society as she obviously is of Spain and Catalunya.

A brief comparison between Denmark and Catalunya would indicate that of the two countries, Denmark is incomparably a state defined by ethnicity, while Catalunya is clearly not.

Let us start with size, since this seems to be of some importance to Marlene Wind. Denmark is slightly larger in area – approximately 50,000 square km to 32,000 square km for Catalunya. On the other hand Catalunya is significantly more populous, with some 7,500,000 people, compared to 5,750,000 living in Denmark. Let us call it a draw and accept that both Denmark and Catalunya are relatively small countries.

With smallness not really a relevant factor, let us look for evidence or indications of ethnicity as the defining factor. Though Denmark is changing, it is still overwhelmingly a homogeneous country, with around 88% of the population of Danish origin. This is clearly not the case in Catalunya.  I do not have up to date figures, but people of Catalan origin are likely to make up no more than half the population, if that. Most of the rest come from other parts of Spain, while around 15% of the population is non Spanish. One thing seems to be very clear and that is that Catalunya is not in any sense a country defined by ethnicity. On the other hand it would seem that Denmark does fit that bill quite nicely.

If we turn to language, a similar picture emerges. While most Danish people will speak at least one other language, probably English, this is not the official position. The language of Denmark is Danish and I think that only Danish is used in Parliament. Public schools teach through the medium of Danish, even if they do teach other languages. Contrast this with Catalunya, where both Catalan and Castillian are official languages. MPs can speak in either language in Parliament.  Public schools in Catalunya are all bi-lingual. Though perhaps not quite as proficient as Danes, most Catalans will also speak a third and sometimes a fourth language. As is the case with Carles Puigdemont. On the language issue, if either country is to be accused of ethnic nationalism it would not be Catalunya.

When it comes to politics there is also a very clear divide between the two countries. While Denmark is rightly regarded as a progressive and welcoming country, it is also home to the far right Danish People’s Party. This is a party that is anti immigration, anti muslim and anti multi-culturalism. This far right party is not some minor aberration, but has 37 MPs in Parliament. Moreover the current centre-right government depends on these 37 MPs for its majority in Parliament. At the very least we have a bit of narrow, nasty ethnicity on the fringes of the government in Denmark.

In Catalunya by contrast none of the various parties that support independence fall into this far right, anti immigration, anti muslim, anti multi-culturalism so beloved of the Danish People’s Party. The exact opposite is the case. All the pro independence parties in Catalunya are actively in favour of an open, plural, pro-immigration society. It is not possible taint the pro independence parties with any kind of ethnic nationalism.

On the other hand some Spanish parties are more like the Danish People’s Party. Both the Partido Popular of Mariano Rajoy and Ciutadans are openly nationalist and anti immigration. It is just that they support Spanish nationalism and Spanish ethnicity.  They also seem to have the full support of Marlene Wind. Which somewhat tarnishes her apparently passionate opposition to ethnically defined states.

In her intervention Marlene clearly implied that small countries which were defined by ethnicity should not be independent. It is just as well that this injunction is not to be applied retrospectively. For then Denmark, as a country that is more clearly defined by ethnicity than Catalunya, would not deserve to continue as an independent country. It could apply to become part of the Federal Republic of Germany. And as Denmark would remain one of the richest parts of this expanded republic, with the highest possible degree of decentralisation, it would not regret having to give up its independence.

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Finally – a new Catalan government

Just over three months after the elections Catalunya has a new government and a new President. The long running saga of farce and high drama finally came to an unexpected end last Saturday. The two pro-independence groups in the Parliament reached an agreement at the 11th hour. The new President is Carles Puigdemont from Convergència Democràtica, the Catalan Liberal party, and he was voted in as President on Sunday. Why did it take so long to reach this outcome? This post gives an overview of the recent comings and goings in Catalunya.

The arithmetic

At the elections way back in September of last year the two pro-independence coalitions won an overall majority of the seats in the Parliament – 72 seats out of 135. However the larger of the two coalitions – Together for Yes, JxSí, won 62 seats, six short of an overall majority on its own. JxSí was thus dependent on the other pro-independence coalition – the Radical Left Popular Unity party, CUP, for the necessary votes to get its candidate, Artur Mas, elected as President.

CUP play hardball

Alas for JxSí, the CUP had campaigned resolutely against Artur Mas during the election campaign, claiming he was too right wing and tainted with corruption. After the elections, the CUP stuck rigidly to their guns. Two extraordinary assemblies of the their membership were held. The first resulted in a tie between those who supported voting for Mas and those against. The second eventually decided to maintain CUP’s opposition to voting for Mas. Everything pointed to a dissolution of the Parliament and fresh elections in March. Then, out of the blue, at the last moment a compromise was reached. Arthur Mas would stand aside and a close associate of his, Carles Puigdemont, would become the JxSí candidate for President.

pyrrhic victory for CUP?

Though the CUP has doggedly stuck to its guns over not voting for Mas and has achieved its wish, the cost to the party may turn out to be more damaging than accepting Mas. The first point is that both groups had already, as early as November, agreed on the road map to independence. So all that the CUP was arguing about was who should lead this transition to independence. Secondly, the price that the CUP will now have to pay for getting Artur Mas to stand aside seems to be very high.  The CUP has now given written assurances that two of its MPs will join with the JxSí parliamentary group and vote with them at all times. This assures that the new government will have a majority even if the other 8 CUP MPs vote against the government. In addition the CUP has publicly agreed that in no circumstances will its MPs vote against the government in a motion of confidence. Effectively this means that the CUP is pretty much hamstrung for the rest of the parliamentary term. All this just to get someone else as President. Seems a very high price for purity!

Who is Carles Puigdemont?

The new Catalan President is 53 years old and from the province of Girona. He is a journalist by profession and founded the English language journal Catalonia Today. He was until yesterday the Mayor of Girona city council. A member of Convergència Democràtica, he was elected to the parliament in September as part of the JxSí coalition. He is also a very close ally of Artur Mas. Judging by his performance in the parliament during his investiture, he seems to be a very confident, sympathetic and articulate politician.

What next?

Now that the Presidency has been sorted out, the new government can begin to implement the nine points in the Road Map to Independence that the parliament approved way back in November. This will involve the creation of all the institutions that go to make up a new republic – treasury for example. Inevitably this will lead to a rupture with the current Spanish state. Already the Spanish constitutional court has ruled the Road Map as unconstitutional. The new Catalan government will just ignore these rulings from Madrid and persevere with the creation of a new republican state.  This process will also involve negotiations with other countries, especially the EU. The intention is that this new Catalan republic will be declared within 18 months.

The Spanish and EU response?

This is where things get really interesting and potentially violent. All the main Spanish parties, with the exception of Podemos, are rigidly opposed not only to Catalan independence, but to the right of Catalans to determine their own future – the right to self-determination. No referendum will be allowed, ever. This has been the mantra up to now. Will it change? Faced with the insistence of the new Catalan government to move ahead with creating a new state and ignoring the decisions of the Madrid government, what will the Spanish government do? Arrest the members of the Catalan government? Send in the troops? Dissolve the Catalan parliament and impose direct rule from Madrid?

Just as uncertain is how the EU will react to all this. Not just at the formal, collective level, but how will the individual member states react? Hard to see them all, or indeed any of them, just ignoring the clear democratic wishes of Catalans as expressed in last September’s election. Will they try to persuade the Spanish government to agree to a referendum? Interesting times lie ahead.




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Spain and the UK – Between the Sword and Wall?

catalonia-200x200The title of this post comes from a timely new paper on the likelihood of Catalan independence. Published by the University of Sydney as an Economics Working Paper, which you can access here. The full title is Between the Sword and the Wall: Spain’s Limited Options for Catalan Secessionism. The authors do not argue for independence or secession, but use a game theory approach to suggest that independence for Catalunya is not just possible, but an optimum outcome for Spain, Catalunya and the EU.

This conclusion is based on three assumptions. One, that there is a credible demand for independence, ie polls indicate that the pro-independence campaign has a good chance of winning the referendum. Two, the demand for independence is primarily or at least to a very large extent economically driven. Simply put, the proponents of independence believe independence would make the new country better off. Thirdly, there is no threat of violence to stop independence. While the first two assumptions are very much in line with the situation in Catalunya, the third assumption may strike many as an assumption too far. However the authors present a convincing case for this, by arguing that the use of violence to suppress a peaceful democratic vote would be so damaging and disruptive for not just the Spanish economy, but for the eurozone as a whole that it can effectively be ruled out.

Since the demand for independence is primarily driven by demands for greater economic powers the first option for the Spanish government would be to try and “buy-out” a proportion of the electorate by offering a better funding model favourable to Catalunya. This is unlikely to happen. Neither of the two main Spanish parties, the Conservatives and the Socialists, have shown any serious interest in this option. Furthermore as the authors point out, the cost of “buying-out” Catalunya may be too high a cost for Spain in its current economic situation. The Spanish government is probably too dependent on the tax revenues coming from Catalunya to be able to afford to forego this in order to keep Catalunya in Spain. It is worth noting that it was the failure of a previous attempt to agree a new funding package that led to the current wave of pro-independence support.

If Spain cannot or will not offer Catalunya a new deal, then the referendum goes ahead. In this scenario there is likely to be a greater chance of a Yes vote for independence. In which case, according to the authors, the Spanish government would be forced to negotiate independence. At the moment the main deterrent used by the Spanish government is the claim that an independent Catalunya would not be internationally recognized and therefore excluded from the EU. However as the authors demonstrate this is a non-credible threat. The key point is that a newly independent Catalunya would have some powerful weapons at its disposal. The rest of the EU needs Catalunya as a transit space for much of its trade with Spain and North Africa. More importantly the threat of exclusion from the EU would be met by the threat of not accepting a share of Spain’s debt. This, plus the loss of Catalan tax revenues would put Spain in the perilous position of becoming bankrupt, seriously endangering the euro and the EU. Thus there would be enormous pressure from within Spain and from the rest of the EU for Spain and Catalunya to reach a swift agreement. An agreement based on full membership of the EU for Catalunya in return for the Catalans accepting a proportional share of Spain’s national debt.

Could something similar happen in Scotland? As the UK is not in the eurozone, Scottish independence poses no threat to the euro. However the importance of the national debt is something that would be relevant in negotiations over Scottish independence. A recent paper on Scottish Independence and the UK’s Debt Burden from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research demonstrates that “in all cases, the UK’s debt to GDP ratio will rise, with possible consequences for its credit rating. At the same time, Scotland’s debt burden will be lower than the UK’s in all cases.” This is the scenario if Scotland becomes independent and agrees to take on a proportional share of the UK’s debt. Just imagine how bad it would be for the rUK if Scotland didn’t agree to this. Once again we have evidence that Scotland has some important cards to play in the event of negotiations.

In general terms while the UK may not be in quite as parlous a state as Spain, the future economic prospects for the UK are far from rosy. In fact one can argue that the UK needs Scotland more than Scotland needs the UK. The loss of tax revenues from Scotland, including from the North Sea, would in all likelihood seriously worsen the rUK’s debt and current account. This probably explains why none of the main UK parties have ever considered granting full fiscal powers to Scotland. Despite all the bluff and bluster coming out of Westminster, the rUK cannot afford the option of Devo-max. As in Spain the only choice is between the status-quo and independence. For more and more people the status-quo is becoming a very unattractive option. From now on the ball is firmly in the courts of London and Madrid. We await with interest to see if they come up with anything positive.

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Will Catalunya force the EU to come clean?

131212-catalonia-vote-hmed-620p.photoblog600Last week’s agreement in the Catalan parliament to hold a referendum on independence may prove to be a bit of a game changer. While there is still a long way to go before a referendum can be held in Catalunya, the fact that a clear majority of MPs in the parliament, coming from five different parties -Liberals, Christian Democrats, Greens, Left Republicans and Popular Unity – is a fact that cannot be dismissed out of hand. The Madrid government and its socialist allies will huff and puff and do everything they can to stop the referendum, but the main interest from a Scottish perspective is how will the EU respond?

The first signs are not promising. Mr Van Rompuy, President of the European Council has already spoken out against Catalan independence, with the usual scaremongering about being thrown out of the EU. However others in the vast edifice that is the EU may find it harder to stick to this line. As long as it was just Scotland, the implications of independence from within the EU could be just about ignored or kicked down the road with vague threats in the form of vague generalities. However now there is the realistic prospect of two new independent states emerging democratically from within the EU. Not so easy to dismiss out of hand. Particularly when Catalunya is such a significant part of the EU. Sharing a border with both France and Spain and the main transit route between these two countries, the prospect of a Catalunya outwith the EU must send shivers down the spine of the political and business world in not just France but Italy and Germany. Catalunya is just too rich and too important to be conveniently ignored.

Or bullied, which is what the Spanish government would like to do and what the Van Rompuys of the EU would no doubt like to do as well. But I very much doubt if this tactic will go down well in the rest of the EU. To simply deny the Catalans the right to self-determination would in all likelihood bring down the whole EU project. The EU cannot preach the virtues and values of democracy to Ukrainians and Russians and then deny it to their own citizens. The EU has enough credibility problems as it is, without adding to them by taking a stance against democracy in Catalunya.

The import of all this is that we may soon see the first signs of a break in the EU’s position of “no comment”, but nudge nudge, wink wink, we don’t want independence from within. The demand for clarity from not just Scotland, but from Catalunya will only grow stronger and stronger. Already some Commissioners have spoken out of turn and been forced to recant. But more and more are likely to break ranks. Sooner or later the EU will have to face up to this prospect of new states emerging from within. There are two other groups within the EU which might prove willing to open up this issue to genuine discussion. The first is the EU parliament, which could pressure the Commission into preparing a full legal position. The other is the Liberal group in the EU, or to give them their Sunday name, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe(ALDE). They are the third largest political group in the EU parliament and still carry some weight. Members of this group are also to be found in the Commission and in the governments of member states. The UK LibDems and the Catalan Liberals are both member parties in this Alliance. As one is against Scottish independence, while the other is leading the campaign for Catalan independence, it may be difficult for ALDE to remain silent for much longer.

Nothing is likely to happen soon, the EU does not do soon very well. But pressure on the EU institutions will only grow and grow as a result of the Catalan decision to hold a referendum in the same year as Scotland. For a Catalan view on this the Catalan magazine Ara has published a supplement on the issues surrounding their referendum – The Moment of Truth. It is mainly in catalan, but has the key points translated into Spanish and English. You can read it here. For a good summary of how it will not just be Scotland or Catalunya that will be affected by a Yes vote, Brandon Malone, a member of the Law Society of Scotland’s Constitutional Law Sub-committee, expresses his personal view here.

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Scottish LibDems and Europe

alde_logo_carouselThe Scottish LibDems like to proclaim their pro European credentials at just about every opportunity. They are widely regarded as the most pro EU party not just in Scotland but the whole of the UK. Now this is a position which I personally share. I too take a positive view of the EU, so this post is not a criticism of the LibDems’ pro EU position. Rather I want to express my surprise at how little contact the Scottish LibDems seem to have with their fellow Liberals in the EU.

I was prompted to write this after reading in the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia a short report on a visit by Sir Graham Watson, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – ALDE. The report is headlined, European Liberals do not see any problem with an independent Catalunya in the EU. The report then quotes Graham Watson as saying that the EU must be sufficiently strong and flexible to allow the creation of new states within its frontiers. The report in full can be found here.

Now such views are completely at odds with what the LibDems are saying in Scotland, where we are threatened with possible expulsion from the EU, or at best, years of uncertain negotiation. Certainly nothing that would suggest a positive welcome from the EU. Yet here we have the President of the Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament offering a warm welcome to Catalunya. Something seems to be amiss here.

In large part this may be due to the fact that the Scottish LibDems do not seem to be a member of the ALDE. I checked their website, where they include a list of all the member parties across Europe, both in the EU and outwith the EU. The Scottish LibDems do not appear in this list of members. The UK LibDems however is a member party. I found this rather surprising as many countries have two or more parties with membership of the ALDE. Of most relevance for the Scottish LibDems, there are two Spanish parties in the ALDE. Convergència Demmocràtica de Catalunya – CDC – is the Catalan Liberal party, while the Centro Democrático Liberal – CDL – campaigns in the rest of Spain. Both are members of ALDE. So there would appear to be no reason why the Scottish LibDems could not also become members of the ALDE.

Of course one reason for their absence from ALDE may be that the Scottish LibDems are not in fact an independent party in their own right. Perhaps they are just the Scottish wing of the UK party. Though they have their own leader in Scotland, Willie Rennie, they do not seem to have their own direct links with fellow Liberals in the rest of Europe. Perhaps if they did, they might be a bit more nuanced in their outbursts on Scottish independence. Clearly not all their fellow Liberals are opposed to this development.

In fact at least one fellow Liberal party is very much in favour of independence – for Catalunya. There it is a bit of a surprise to discover that the leadership for both a referendum and for a yes vote for independence comes from the Catalan Liberals – Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya – CDC. There are clearly different views on independence within the family of Liberal parties. With this in mind it would be interesting to know if anyone from the Scottish LibDems has met with CDC to discuss their different views on independence?

It is very odd that such a pro Europe party like the Scottish LibDems does not seem to have any direct links with other Liberal parties in Europe. I have written to Willie Rennie to ask him what is the Scottish LibDem position in relation to the ALDE. I have also written to ALDE to ask if that Alliance has at any time discussed the possibility of independence for Catalunya and for Scotland? It is clearly an issue of great importance and I would imagine that it will be discussed at various levels in Europe. It is just a pity that our LibDems in Scotland should be so out of step with the President of their party in Europe.

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Catalunya – the Battle for a Referendum

This is a brief introduction to the political situation in Catalunya, in particular with respect to the campaign for independence. It is a slightly longer version of an article that I wrote for Radical Independence Dundee. Catalunya is in some ways a bit behind Scotland in that there is as yet no agreement with Madrid on the holding of a referendum and thus no question. However polls consistently show a large majority in favour of holding a referendum.
For Independence
Surprisingly there has historically only been one party that has campaigned openly for independence. This is the Left Republicans – ERC – one of the historic parties in Catalunya. After a brief flirt with the right in the early post Franco era, ERC has rediscovered its leftist and republican roots. It has also for many years led the call for independence in the Catalan parliament. Its electoral support fluctuates between 8 – 14% of the vote. Recently they have been joined in parliament by another pro-independence party. The Popular Unity Candidacy – CUP – is made up of autonomous local groups based in municipalities. This new community based party comes from the radical alternative left and won 3% of the votes at the last election.

Maybees Aye and Maybees No
This is pretty much the position of two other left wing parties which campaign together at elections. ICV-EUiA represent two different political traditions, marxist and green. Initiative for Catalunya Greens – ICV is a merger between what remained of the once powerful Catalan Communist party and the Greens. Some of its members split to form their own little party, one that was formally linked to the Spanish wide United Left party – IU. In Catalunya they are known as the United and Alternative Left – EUiA. Despite the schism they work with ICV as a combined list for elections and win between 7-10% of the vote. They are very strongly in favour of a referendum and the right of self-determination. They are though split around how to vote. Some favour independence, while others want a New Federalism for the whole of Spain. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much of an appetite for any kind of federalism in the rest of Spain.

The Nationalists
In Catalunya as in the rest of Spain, Nationalists have not been historically in favour of independence. They don’t really want federalism either, they want a special status for the country within Spain. In Catalunya there are two Nationalist parties, a small Christian Democrat party – UDC, and a larger Liberal party – CDC, which work as one at elections as Convergència i Uniò – CiU. They have been the dominant force in electoral terms post Franco, winning between 31-47% of the votes. They represent the catalan speaking middle classes and have close links with the business sector. Initially their main aim was to protect and promote the catalan language, but now they want greater fiscal powers. CiU have recently moved even further to the right and are following with gusto the dominant neo-liberal austerity agenda. But then so is just about every other party, including some so-called left parties.

No, No and No
As in Scotland there are three parties campaigning against independence. The main one is the Spanish conservative party, the grandly named Popular Party – PP. Even more right wing than CiU, they are totally against not just independence, but against just about everything to do with Catalunya. No referendum, no new powers. Though popular in most of Spain the PP have never achieved much electoral success in Catalunya, and win between 10-13% of the votes. They are however ably supported by a relatively new formation, Citizens – Party of the Citizenry – C’s. Just about their sole purpose is to oppose independence and the promotion of the catalan language. They have jumped from 3% to winning 8% of the votes at the last election. The third party in the No camp is the party of the Catalan socialists – PSC. They are also part of the Spanish wide party – PSOE. PSC are in a difficult place just now. They are in favour of more powers for Catalunya, but when last in office, a few years ago, they failed to achieve much in this respect. Despite the fact that there was a socialist government in Madrid at the time. They support the referendum and talk vaguely about federalism, but offer nothing specific. Their big problem is that some of their members and more of their voters are in favour of independence. Their fellow socialists in the rest of Spain are as hostile to the referendum and to Catalan independence as the right wing PP. They even use the same pejorative and negative language.

Recent Developments
The above is a rough outline of the political parties represented in parliament. However most of the progress towards the holding of a referendum and towards independence has come from grass roots, community based groups up and down Catalunya. Only the CUP has actively participated in these movements. It was these groups which from 2006 onwards organised a series of mass participation campaigns which has propelled independence into the forefront of the political debate. These included unofficial municipal referendums, mass rallies and this year’s Catalan Way. The most spectacular of these campaigns was the one in September 2012 which brought out more than a million people under the slogan – Catalunya, new state in Europe. This was a game changing event. The ruling CiU coalition decided, after the event, to support their demand for a referendum. The Liberal part of the coalition has now come out in support of independence. The first time a Nationalist party in Spain has declared for independence. Their junior party, the Christian Democrats have so far remained behind, and now talk vaguely about some kind of third way. As mentioned above this massive grass roots campaign is causing grave problems for the Catalan socialists.

The main struggle at the moment is to secure a legal basis for holding the referendum. The Madrid government is adamant that such a referendum is unconstitutional and will do everything in their power to prevent it happening. The Catalan government of CiU with the support of ERC are threatening to hold a referendum anyway. They claim they have the right to self-determination. Underpinning all this is the grave economic and financial crisis which is causing enormous suffering to millions not just in Catalunya, but in the whole of Spain. Both the conservatives and the socialists share the blame for this appalling state of affairs. For many on the left in Catalunya the economic mismanagement and the negativity on constitutional change of both Spanish parties raises some real challenges. In essence, can any Spanish government be trusted to bring about real progressive social and economic change? No one knows how this will develop in Catalunya, but the two largest political groups could be on the verge of a massive split into pro and anti-independence sections.

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