Since the first major demonstration of July 2010 (to protest against the Constitutional Court ruling that mutilated the organic law (approved by the Spanish Congress and Senate and endorsed by the people of Catalonia in 2006) until today, we have seen a line-up of characters of virtually all political backgrounds arguing against the independence of Catalonia. Unlike the case facing us at the N-9 campaign in 2014, for example, we have now accumulated an impressive store of experience that allows us to identify each argument, and discuss it calmly, dispassionately, giving reasons and explanations.
Before entering into these arguments in more detail, let me say two things. First, it is perfectly legitimate to be against the idea that Catalonia should be a free country; I fully respect the feelings and opinions of our opponents. And second, the leading spokespeople on the other side have never put the question: why should a high proportion of the population of part of a modern western European state, want to separate from it? Among Spanish intellectuals, only Suso de Toro, Ramon Cotarelo or Iñaki Gabilondo (any others, folks?) seem to have wanted to understand and consider the question with sympathy. Without implying that, perhaps, they might have preferred Catalans to have stayed on in Spain.
The foreseeable arguments to vote ‘No’ in the referendum on self-determination that the Government or Parliament will call in September, have to do with issues of economic viability, pensions, social cohesion and identity.
Regarding the former, the issue is more than dealt with (even ex-Socialist Minister recognizes it) and is to be found in international projects such as “When Small is Beautiful” by Jen Rae and Stian Westlake, which indicates that small countries (they include the Basque Country as it has its own tax system) tend to be more innovative. Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore, in “The Size of Nations”, say “Dictators tend to suppress dissent, regional or ethnic. They see the benefits of size (and make them their own); Democracies are more aware of their costs”. They hypothesize that economic interaction and political disintegration go hand in hand. And Adam Price and Ben Levinger’s book “The flotilla effect: Small economies through the eye of the storm” quote Paul-Henri Spaak: “Today, Europe is only made up of small countries. The only distinction that remains is that some countries understand this, while others still refuse to recognize it”. They emphasize that the flexibility of the smaller economies gives them great advantages, especially in times of crisis. The issue of economic viability is a very weak reason to vote ‘No’, although there are still voices that loudly pretend that Catalonia can be “expelled” from the European Union!
The second issue is that of the pensions and has also been settled on both sides. First, Rajoy had to admit an obvious fact that many hitherto denied: that Spain is obliged to continue paying the pensions of every retired worker (of whatever nationality, and wherever he/she might live). At least until he deigns to come to an agreement with independent Catalonia (which will, of course, have ceased to pass in the contributions of workers to the Spanish pension system). Secondly, everyone is aware that the reserve fund of the Spanish pension system is quickly becoming exhausted; and we know that in Catalonia there is a higher proportion of contributors in relation to pensioners, a factor that will allow for a more generous and secure pension system.
Regarding social cohesion, everyone remembers those bloody-minded and shameful remarks made by Aznar when he dared to predict that “the unity of Catalonia will break before that of Spain does”. Undoubtedly there has been a constant campaign to try to provoke violent reactions among the Catalans, or misrepresent the facts. It was this that motivated them to try to interpret an anonymous attack on Pere Navarro (PSC) in Terrassa as an attack by independentists (CNM note: when it finally turned out to be a PP voter and ex-candidate); and a recent fight between homeless drunks, one of whom was killed with a knife, was also falsely attributed to a squabble over independence. But except for odd vandalism suffered at some party headquarters, the serenity and maturity of Catalan society are exemplary and have been on show in all major demonstrations in favor of independence.
As for questions of nationality and identity, everyone remembers the pathetic answer given by Rajoy at an interview on Onda Cero, where he showed himself to be totally ignorant of the constitutional reality affecting identity rights. The independence of Catalonia will not automatically entail the loss of Spanish citizenship to anyone, nor the loss of EU citizenship.
In short, all possible objective reasons to vote “No” have been discarded. There only remains the sentimental reason, one which for many is fully legitimate, but also false. No Catalan wants to “Break up Spain”, only change its geographical shape. As Portugal did before. And… no love lost.
Miquel Strubell is a founder member of the Catalan National Assembly.