An Independence Attempt

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

Why Catalonia will likely remain in Spain

The doomed-to-fail Catalan Independence Movement may just protect Spanish culture. On the last Sunday of September, Catalonia held a referendum to secede from Spain. This marked the second vote for independence launched by the region since 2014. This vote held the possibility of legal binding, so the national government retaliated. The police force of Catalan and 4,000 outside officers impeded the vote by closing polling stations and stealing ballots, injuring hundreds. Despite the harsh reaction of national Spain, an unimpeded independence referendum may not be legitimate. Such dramatic action comes from a painful situation.

The pain points experienced by Catalan are twofold: money and identity. The 2008 economic crisis devastated Spain, including Catalan. The aftermath led to a hurting Catalan, a region with more wealth than most other regions of Spain, to lose money in the support of the rest of the nation. The disparity between taxation and national benefits motivated the split more than anything else. This mention of Spain as regions comes from a still not totally united national identity. Spain came together under the dictator General Francisco Franco, only becoming democratic in 1978. To this day, many in Spain equate nationalism with fascism, so regional identities tend to hold superiority to national. The question remains: Is independence better?

Financially, many businesses would leave Catalonia to remain in Spain. Government costs would rise sharply to handle the new load of being a national representation. The region would survive the financial downturn, owing in large part to the large influx of cash through Barcelona. The national identity would struggle with those who wanted to remain in Spain, who boycotted the referendum instead of voting against, and those in support of the split. Relocation and the eventual financial upturn would give Catalonia a stronger national identity over the next couple of years if it managed to stay democratic. There seems no downside to Catalonia for splitting; however, that is not the case.

With the UK-EU still being worked out, members of the EU have no desire to allow another major power shift. Spain, in an attempt to remain united, would create a trade ultimatum: them or us. With Catalonia’s weakened financial standing after splitting, they would be in no position to renegotiate anywhere near the trade relations of the whole of Spain. Regardless of whether Spain went through with the ultimatum, Catalonia would become a trade risk. Compound this risk with a new country status, and it would appear an independent Catalonia may struggle financially for longer than originally thought.

Slippery slope may be a fallacy, but to lose a part of your country marks one as weak and weakening.

The way the president of the region, Carles Puigdemont, stalled the actions of the referendum to talk with Spain demonstrates that he is aware of these difficulties. He needs Spain on his side to make the transition successful, but he won’t get it. Slippery slope may be a fallacy, but to lose a part of your country marks one as weak and weakening. Much of political clout comes from perception, so to allow the loss of a region, especially such a financial and cultural powerhouse, would reduce Spain’s ability to support its interests internationally. Interestingly, nationalism rose throughout the rest of Spain during these events, so other regions following suit would be unlikely.

Our global world makes splits like this more difficult than they should be following the ideals of social contract theory, where it is imagined citizens have an implicit contract with their government and should overthrow it if that contract is not upheld. Despite the hardships, Catalonia could achieve the independence, but I don’t believe it is willing to suffer the hardships that go along with transition. So, if Spain can turn around from its rash reaction to the vote and offer a semblance of an olive branch, then the independence of Catalonia will fall flat.