Spain: A Pyrrhic Victory

Sept 19, 2017 - by André Lecours, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa

The Catalan government has planned a referendum on independence for October 1. The Spanish government considers such referendum illegal, and Spanish courts have invalidated the Catalan legislation enabling the referendum. The choice of the Spanish government not to allow Catalans to vote on their political future effectively prevents any possibility of secession in the short term, but at what cost?

The refusal by the Spanish government to discuss self-determination issues with Catalonia has already led to Catalan nationalism making a turn from autonomism to secessionism between 2010 and 2012. The position that Spain is indivisible and that no popular consultation on self-determination is constitutional has alienated many Catalans who historically felt as much Spanish as Catalan.

There are two possible scenarios for October 1. If the Spanish government is really heavy-handed (seizing voting booths, indicting mayors for allowing their city buildings to be used as voting stations, etc…), there is a possibility that no vote is held or that no result is known. The second scenario is a replay of the 2014 consultation: a vote is held but most Catalans opposing independence boycott the referendum, leading to a result showing massive support for the independence option but with a very low voter turnout.  Whichever scenario plays out, Catalonia is likely to be left in limbo and Spain no further ahead.