Louis Emmanuel writing in The Independent does a good job outlining the recent developments.
The tide is turning, Catalan filmmaker Josep Citutat tells me. "Something is changing so fast. A lot of people around me, family and friends, who weren't independent – now they are." Record numbers marching on the streets outside his flat in Barcelona confirm his judgment.
Around 1.5 million people were thought to have filled the streets of the Catalan capital last earlier this month. Independentistes poured in from around the region, creating a sea of yellow and red up and down the famous boulevards.
The strength of the protest was no surprise given the dire economic condition in the debt-addled region of a country suffering the worst of the eurozone crisis. As Europe has seen before, economic suffering is feeding nationalist sentiment.
History aside, a portion of this growing antagonism has its origins in the imbalance between what Catalans contribute to central government in Madrid and what they get back in return. The idea that they are supporting the rest of Spain, which is close to collapse, breeds resentment and mirrors similar reactions in northern Europe over the eurozone crisis in general.
[. . .]
Laid bare, Catalonia accounts for approximately 20 per cent of Spain’s economic output, but holds 15 per cent of the population. Economists estimate that Catalonia pays €12bn more in taxes per year to Madrid than it gets back to spend. Many Catalans put this estimation as high as €16bn.
Catalans also pay more than anywhere else in Spain, on average, for property conveyances, health care, vehicle registration, highway tolls and income tax (which rests at 49 per cent in the highest bracket).
Just last month the region asked Madrid for a €5bn bailout, despite cutting faster and deeper than many of the other 17 autonomous regions.
And all this amid Catalonia’s own crisis. Just last month the region asked Madrid for a €5bn bailout, despite cutting faster and deeper than many of the other 17 autonomous regions. The anger caused by the cuts makes Catalans feel they are subsidising Spain more than ever - galvanising the independence movement further.
I'd go so far as to say that Catalonian independence may be more likely than Québec independence for two reasons.
- Catalonia, unlike Québec, is a "have" territory within its country and continent; it's economically more productive than any Spanish region apart from the Basque Country, contributes more to the Spanish federal budget than it receives. Questions of economic viabiility that might be fairly raised for Québec don't obviously appear for Catalonia.
- Catalonia, unlike Québec, is embedded in a regional federation of states of varying sizes and levels of development, none clearly dominant over the others, to which an independent Catalonia could plausibly join. Outside of the Canadian federation, the United States could be potentially overwhelming. Catalonia in the European Union isn't implausible.
Couple this with a semi-plausible argument that Catalonian nationhood, culture, and language is threatened by the territory's continued submergence in an unsympathetic Spanish state, and you could easily get a referendum result in support of independence.
Against this, David Roman writing at the Wall Street Journal argues that Catalonian separatism is fundamentally a bluff since the Spanish government is much more hostile to a separatist bid on the part of Catalonia than (his comparison) the British government is with Scotland's separatism.
The key issue here is that the threat of independence is very much empty. Unlike Scotland’s case, there is no political deal to break in Spain. Catalonia never accepted terms for a union with other parts of Spain, but was one of four regions brought into the Spanish fold through the merger of the crowns of Castille and Aragon, in the 15th century.
The U.K.’s unwritten constitution, for all its merits, is no brake to Scottish independence. The Spanish constitution, verbose as it is, includes specific provisions against the independence of any of the country’s regions. These provisions would also block a vote for such a move—unless it is held in the whole of Spain, as the constitution establishes all Spaniards are holders of indivisible sovereignty.
Beyond legal stuff, then there’s political reality. Catalonia is the largest economy of any Spanish region, and larger than Greece’s, but depends heavily on trade with the rest of Spain.
Javier Díaz-Giménez, a IESE business school professor, says economists have a term for this: “local goods bias.” Catalonia-based businesses know perfectly well that their economic ties with Spain after a potential independence would be very much frayed. That’s why the head of the main Spanish business association, a Catalan, last week openly came out against independence.
Politically, the odds are also against Mr. Mas.
Catalonia, like the rest of Spain, is strongly pro-European Union. But the one immediate, obvious and undeniable effect of Catalan independence would be secession from the EU, a group of countries of which the state of Catalonia is not a member.
I don't think his points hold as arguments relevant to the success or failure of separatism. They don't directly, or at least credibly, address the basic economic, cultural and political concerns which are propelling the movement to its current heights. Rather, I think they relate to the likelihood that a Catalonian consensus on independence from Spain could be badly mishandled. If anything, a hard line by the Spanish state against Catalonia could well make separatism more popular.
(I wonder. What will happen in the Basque Country, especially with that region's long history of separatism and its actual success in avoiding the worst of the Spanish economic bubble?)