The majority win of the pro-independence parties in Catalonia’s regional elections, while seemingly representative of a breakaway from Spain, should be considered as little more than a political hiccough. Although Junts pel Sí, a collaboration of the two main separatist parties, gained an overall majority of 72 seats, it only received 48% of votes. Supporters of independence fail to realise the idiocy of hailing the election as a ‘de facto’ referendum, as its fate would mirror that of Scotland in 2014.
It is difficult to determine the level of local support for independence. Although separatist parties have reigned in the region since 2012, the second most popular party in last Sunday’s election was the anti-independence party Ciudadanos, which secured 17.9% of the vote.
After Sunday’s result, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that he would allow the advent of dialogue between the government and the region, but nothing pertaining to “the unity of Spain”, and he has repeated that any move towards Catalonian independence would contravene the country’s constitution. Rajoy need not be worried by the overblown declaration of Artur Mas, President of Catalonia, that within 18 months unilateral independence will be virtually established, given the entirely illegitimate nature of such action and the disunity that will inevitably come to the fore as Junts pel Sí relies on the backing of radical left party CUP. The only commonality between the parties is their desire for independence; beyond that, they will undoubtedly falter. Even at this early stage, the CUP’s declaration that they would not condone Artur Mas as their leader exemplifies the future difficulties in their coordination of policy.
Madrid’s economic motivation for maintaining Catalonia within the country will thwart attempts at secession. The region’s contribution of one fifth of the country’s GDP simultaneously constitutes a key motivating factor for both independence and anti-independence camps. The former believe that the region does not receive as much as it gives, and through devolution it seeks to gain control of the spending of revenue. Madrid will not and should not relinquish control of such an economic powerhouse, particularly in its present period of intense austerity following the economic depression. The country must tackle its national debt, which currently stands at 99.5% of GDP, with access to Catalonian resources.
It remains evident that a break from Spain would give rise to myriad problems for Catalonia, most significantly its membership to the EU.
It is easy to simplify the question of Catalonian independence into a Manichean opposition of a centre-right government pitted against a historically subjugated region. However, at this moment in time, Catalonia is only a small step closer to independence, and this is for the best. With internal disunity and external hostility, Catalonia needs to provide a much more united and coherent movement to be considered remotely seriously in its gargantuan ambition of independence. Certainly the country’s general election in December will provide a platform to educate us of the recalibration of Spanish politics, and perhaps even convince us.