To Catalans seeking independence, Spain is like a parasite that needs to be removed and the newly unified independence movement is determined to make that happen
The clock shows the digits 17.14. The year, when on the 11th of September, Catalonia was defeated and became part of Spain. At the heart of Spain’s most north-east region, football fans of Catalonia’s largest city, become part of a political army; presenting a show of solidarity and unity for a dream many have wished for since their defeat to Spain. Cries of ‘Independence, Independence!’ powerfully spreading around the Nou Camp, are met with ‘esteladas’ (independence flags).
Catalonia’s Parliament is expected to swear in their new separatist leader, supported by the pro-independence movement, after finally coming to a deal in the final hours of Sunday evening. Arthur Mas, the President of the regional assembly since 2010 and acting head, stepped down on the 9th of January, after his alliance ‘Junts pel Si’ (Together for Yes) won 62 seats, 6 seats short of a majority in September’s regional elections. Mas needed the support from a small anti-capitalist and pro-independence party the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), which won 10 seats, enough to reach the majority of 68. After months of the pro-independence parties failing to unite to create a coalition, they agreed that should Mas step down and the supported Carles Puigdemont become leader, then a coalition could be formed.
On Sunday the 10th, the pro-independence coalition was formed, announcing an 18-month roadmap to Catalonia becoming independent from Spain. This resurgence of a unified independence movement now puts pressure on the acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his socialist rivals to bury their differences and unite to form a German-style ‘grand coalition’, with the aim, of thwarting the nationalist Catalan Parties and suppressing their power.
Catalonia has long been immersed in the battle for independence from Spain. With a distinct history, especially during the years of the Franco dictatorship, many Catalans have always thought of themselves as a separate nation. Spain invaded and eventually took control of Catalonia in 1714. In 1975 Franco, a dictator who attempted to suppress the Catalans’ independence movement died, thus sparking a period of transition. Democratic elections took place in 1977 and the Generalitat re-established. The next decades saw a Catalan revival. Extra autonomy was granted to Catalonia before Spain’s constitutional court watered down these powers, stripping the word ‘nation’ from the text and thereby stirring anger among the people of Catalonia. Arthur Mas’ proposed re-negotiations on a new fiscal pact were rejected by Madrid. This resulted in Catalonia asking Madrid for an independence referendum. The request was rejected. In November 2014 the Catalan Government held a non-binding (as Spain’s constitutional court rejected the legality of the vote) consultation vote. Though turnout was low at 42 per cent, a dynamic 81 per cent from that still voted in favour of leaving Spain.
The newly formed Catalan regional government are embarking on their 18-month roadmap to independence by beginning to build necessary institutions such as an army, central bank and judicial system — something that the recently lost Scottish referendum lacked — as concrete evidence that they are capable of being alone. Many Catalans believe that Catalonia contributes more to Spain than what it receives from the union. Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most industrialised regions, with its GDP growing faster than Spain’s and its unemployment rate slightly lower than Spain’s 22.7 per cent. These financial arguments have been bolstered by the financial crisis that has recently created serious economic problems in Spain. The economy is a crucial factor in the debate, and seems to currently support the Independence groups.
Football is such an important game in Spain and has the potential to change votes in a referendum. Barcelona is a club that brings much media attention, sponsorship and thus money to La Liga. Located in Catalonia, along with Espagnol, La Liga have threatened to stop both teams from playing the Spanish League. The thought of seeing their beloved football team never playing rivals Real Madrid in the league and instead playing in a smaller poorer Catalan league is too much for some, leaving particular voters to doubt if independence is the preferred option. Despite La Liga repeatedly stating that it is not considering changing its position, I think that it might. This is predominantly down to the financial benefits Barcelona brings and the players that it produces and inspires, not just in the league, but in Spanish football as a whole.
As the national political situation grows tenser and a new unified Catalan independence movement puts extra pressure on socialist parties to unite to suppress this resurgence, the threat to Spain’s economic security, which is already fragile, is formidable. Over the next months Europe will watch nervously as Catalonia embarks on their 18-month roadmap to independence. Yes, there are questions yet to be answered; however, each day they are being answered by the Independence groups. The only question that remains is this: Will Catalonia be independent from Spain in 18 months?