During these past few years Catalonia and the rest of Spain have witnessed a huge swell of support for Catalonia to become an independent European state. Support for Catalan independence has previously hovered around the 30-40 per cent level but the recent Eurozone crisis and the intransigence of Madrid towards the Catalan Government has seen this rise above 50 per cent in most polls. When people are asked whether they support the right to a referendum on independence the number in favour often exceeds 75 per cent.
The behaviour and attitudes of the Spanish Government in regards to the recent Catalan referendum has stiffened the resolve of many Catalans who believe there should be a poll and this has pushed many over to the ‘pro-Indy’ parties. Consequentially this has allowed the whole saga to drag on. On the 9th of November of last year the Catalan Government held a non-binding referendum on the political future of Catalonia. This preceded an enormous march on the 11th of September where up to two million people took to the streets of Barcelona to rally for the right to hold a referendum. It has been estimated that this could have been one of the largest political rallies to have ever been held in Europe.
Over 80 per cent of voters voted ‘yes’ to both questions asked on the paper. Due to the referendum not being officially recognised, most ‘no’ voters tended to boycott it. The election was controlled by the help of volunteers rather than the Catalan Government. However the result was clear and it leaves the door open for the struggle to continue. The issue now is what will happen next.
It is hard to predict the next stages in this complex saga but it is clear that more drama lies ahead. In the last couple of months the pro-independence parties (ERC and CIU) have agreed that an election for the Parliament will take place on the 27th of September of this year. It is now becoming clear this will be a surrogate vote for another future referendum. However, any future UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) or referendums on independence will be ignored by the Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, and also by most other international leaders.
There are clear reasons as to why the Spanish Government is opposed to Catalan independence in its entirety. Catalonia is the second most populated region of Spain with nearly a quarter of the population. But most importantly, it is Spain’s wealthiest region. It contributes up to 20 per cent of Spain’s national GDP and most of the tax collected in Catalonia is distributed to poorer parts of Spain. On this basis one can see why many Catalans are fed up with Madrid and why Spain doesn’t want to allow Catalonia the right to hold a binding referendum.
However, this year also happens to be the year that the Spanish General Election will be held. The People’s Party led by Mariano Rajoy (the PM) looks likely to be thrown out of power. The opposing Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) ruled the nation until 2011 and left the country in an economic mess. The nation’s finances have not improved much since and youth unemployment hovers around the 50 per cent mark. The fortunes of the two dominant parties have been compounded by the growth of a new left-wing, anti-austerity party Podemos, which translates as ‘We Can’. The party was founded by former professor Pablo Iglesias and came to prominence in 2014 when they won five seats in the European Parliament election. This was the first time they had stood at a national election.
In opinion polls for the Spanish General Election Podemos are in the lead. If they sustain this lead and form the Spanish Government, then all bets are off for Catalan independence. It is not clear as to what this would mean for Artur Mas and his CIU party. Noises emanating from Podemos suggest they may be happy with letting the people of Catalonia have the right to decide. But on the other hand Podemos could squeeze votes out of the CIU. These are voters who are not happy with the scaling back of social provision and the cuts that the Catalan Government are quietly implementing behind the scenes.
The next twelve months will be vitally important for those who want to retain the Spanish state as it is currently known. The same applies to those who have spent their whole lives dreaming of an Independent Catalonia.
A year ago Podemos were just starting out and nobody could have dreamt of the influence they would have on the state of the nation’s politics. But then again, a few years ago no one envisaged Catalonia travelling so far down the road as it has done. 2015 will be more than likely to be a year of mini-revolutions across Europe and many eyes will be focused on events in the Iberian Peninsula.