I have never supported Catalan independence. Here’s why

, by Sergio Marín

I have never supported Catalan independence. Here's why
Flags flying at Plaça d’Espanya in Barcelona. CC Rodrigo Accurcio // Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As a Catalan, I do not remember having ever favoured Catalan independence. I developed strong views during my teens and recent developments have confirmed what I have always thought. In no way do I claim to hold absolute truth. In this article I will try to debunk the secessionist movement’s three main claims to justify Catalan statehood, all claims having been backed up with evidence before.

Round 1: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

It is no secret that support for independence grew during the financial and economic crisis, as many Catalans felt that much of their tax money was leaving for Madrid and never coming back, that investment was scarce and infrastructures were not being adequately updated. The Catalan government asked for fiscal independence and, upon the central government’s refusal to grant it, word quickly spread round that an independent Catalonia would be richer, more productive and would not be dragged down by a less dynamic Spanish economy.

I have always acknowledged that Catalonia pays more than it gets back. I also believe in the principle of fiscal solidarity and, when looking at data, we can see how Catalan GDP almost doubles that of the poorest autonomous communities in per capita terms. The system might have to be reformed, assurances may have to be made on public investment in Catalonia (which is by no means non-existent), but I do not see how the wealthier should have a problem in paying more in taxes than the rest. Furthermore, autonomous communities like Valencia and Madrid get a worse fiscal deal than Catalonia does (data here).

In any case, independence would surely make us poorer, at least in the short and medium run. Secession, even if legal and negotiated, implies leaving the European Union and the euro. The Montenegro or Andorra currency models are unlikely to be favoured by the ECB for an economy the size of Portugal. Leaving the euro would lead to capital flight, currency devaluation and a hike in borrowing costs. Leaving the EU would leave us with no trade deals with the rest of Spain, the single market or third countries.

Even if UN, WTO [1] and EFTA [2] accessions could be achieved shortly after independence, any of these deals would leave us worse off as the UK’s case is showing us and, in all fairness, trade with our main partner (the rest of Spain) would fall because of emotional reasons even if there were zero barriers to trade. Indeed, capital flight, falls in trade and tourist arrivals are already happening and Catalonia has not even left yet (non-exhaustive list available on the El País website).

Round 2: “The Spanish political framework has expired”

Almost all secessionists will tell you that Spain’s main right-wing party, the Popular Party, which welcomed many regime figures after our transition to democracy, has dominated government and public institutions since 2011. Indeed, it is their consistent refusal to reform the Constitution and allow a legal referendum in Catalonia that has led pro-independence leaders to go ahead and declare they do not feel bound by Spanish law and call for an illegal referendum. Moreover, the monarchy and the top-down quasi-federal model are totally outdated and unsuitable for the 21st century.

Having always been opposed to independence, I actually agree with most of the above. Out of democratic principle, I would support the creation of a Spanish Republic, and out of Catalanness, I have always looked at the Popular Party with contempt. Nevertheless, I understand that reforming the Constitution is a long and complex process (with a referendum on approval being necessary at the end), and that such a process must be inclusive of all the citizenry, not just Catalans. Even if the Popular Party had accepted reforming the Constitution, that reform would have taken a period of time that most secessionist leaders would have found unacceptable.

As much as I try to, I cannot see how an independent Catalan Republic would improve the model. Partly, this is because there has barely been any debate on the future model. The current wafer-thin pro-independence majority government in the Catalan Parliament is made up of anticapitalist Eurosceptics, republican Socialists, neo-liberal democrats and some key civil society figures. While they have pushed together for a referendum, I believe they would turn on each other the moment independence happened to try and impose their state model on the newly born polity. Indeed, the radical left and some of the republicans are already attacking the neo-liberal president for having suspended independence.

Finally, the Catalan secessionist movement has placed great emphasis on collective rights and freedoms, among which ‘the right to decide’, ‘the voice of a people’ and ‘the will of Catalans’. I tend to distrust these movements as they can quickly evolve to illiberal democracy in which individual rights and freedoms lose importance. Numerous examples show this may already be true to certain extent: from the President of the Catalan Parliament stating that Catalan voters of pro-Union right-wing parties are not really Catalan, to several claims of indoctrination in Catalan primary schools, the uncompromised sympathy of Catalan public media to the secession cause and even the public discourse among many independence supporters who liken everyone against independence to hardcore Spanish fascists.

Round 3: “Catalan society and culture are oppressed by the Spanish state”

According to many pro-independence supporters, Catalan language and traditions are endangered by the Spanish State’s wishes to centralise education and cultural policy, and only independence can safeguard and protect them. This may come as a surprise to political scientists, who may know that Spain is actually among Europe’s most decentralised states and is probably the most protective of minority languages. And they would be right.

Anyone who has ever been to Barcelona will have realised that most public and private signs and announcements are just in Catalan, even if Spanish is widely heard on the streets. This is entrenched in Catalan law, as is entrenched the fact that compulsory education must be taught in Catalan. If someone knows of another territory in the world that allows education in the state’s official language to be de facto outlawed, please share it with me as I have been looking for another example for years now.

Indeed, many pro-Union Catalans feel increasingly ignored by the Catalan government, which consistently denies or belittles their existence in public media and which has unusually close relations with civil society organisations like the ANC and Omnium, whose aims include ‘the creation of public opinion that favours Catalan independence’. Spanish-speakers of all ideologies feel that Spanish is somewhat losing its ground in Catalan society and, even though most people are obviously fluent in it and Catalan society is nominally bilingual, we can safely argue that for a sizeable chunk of Catalan society, it has stopped being a language they commonly use (full data on language use here).

Full independence would surely solidify this process. Given that Catalans are roughly split in two halves as regards their stance on independence, and in roughly two other halves as regards their linguistic preferences (and these do not correlate), an independent Catalonia trying to nurture Catalan to the detriment of Spanish (which would nevertheless remain an official language) would disenfranchise many, many Catalans who still feel Spanish and/or who still use Spanish more than they use Catalan. In all likelihood, a non-marginal number of unionists would eventually move out of Catalonia if it became independent. The social unrest being lived in Catalonia these days is the best and saddest proof of this.

Conclusion: “Why on Earth would I want independence?”

I have never felt particularly Spanish, and have always understood my Spanishness as a natural and immediate consequence of being a Catalan. As a European federalist who has lived in four member states, I identify as a European first. Nevertheless, and out of love for Catalonia, I have never supported Catalan independence: who would want to live in an impoverished, smaller country, outside of the European Union, with a divided government that ignores and violates the rule of law and even its own illegal laws and a quasi-sectarian society with a tendency to collective uniformity to go with it?

My previous analysis ignores whether Catalans have a right to self-determination or not, since a case could be made for both arguments and I am no expert on the matter, and it certainly assumes that independence would happen at the end of a legal referendum. The problem is that this is not what we have right now: we have a government that barely managed to scratch an absolute majority of seats without a majority of votes that pushed for an illegal referendum with no guarantees and no turnout thresholds, and has been isolated by the whole international community. A pro-independence MP and party leader said on Tuesday that they were “secessionists without borders”. I don’t buy the fallacy and, as a European federalist, I’d very much rather keep the no borders bit, thank you very much.

I kept it brief and concise, and did not add all of the sources to keep the text readable, but do e-mail (mailto: sergio.marin at coleurope.eu) or tweet me (@sergio_mz) if you want to discuss anything further.


[1Our goods (and not our services, capitals, etc.) would receive most-favoured nation treatment.

[2Our goods (and not our services, capitals, etc.) would circulate freely in the EU, not in third countries with which the EU has signed agreements.

Your comments

  • On 18 August 2020 at 11:24, by Chris Amies Replying to: I have never supported Catalan independence. Here’s why

    Thank you, I’ve long said I was opposed to Catalan independence despite being a Catalanophile, opposed to Brexit and sympathetic to Scottish independence. This piece made a lot of matters clearer.

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