Friday, December 13, 2013

Why has Catalonia chosen a double question for its referendum?

Yesterday, the five major parties in favor of Catalonia's right to decide announced that they had come to a consensus on the question and date of the celebration of a referendum for Catalonia's political future. The question will have two parts. First, "Do you want Catalonia to be a State?" and if the answer is yes, then "Do you want this State to be Independent?" The date set for the referendum is November 9th, 2014.

Catalan Parties come to agreement on Referendum question

Why a double question? They are trying to please everyone. Spain has refused all overtures of holding a legal referendum, but there are still six principal parties in the Catalan Parliament who have expressed support for Catalonia's right to self-determination: CDC and UDC, which form the CiU (ruling) coalition (50 seats), ERC (21 seats), PSC (20 seats), ICV (13 seats), and the CUP (3 seats). Two parties are steadfastly against: PP (19 seats), and C's (9 seats).

But keeping the pro-self-determination parties together has been an exercise in herding cats. CDC, whose leader Artur Mas, is Catalonia's president, has supported a referendum since Spain's PM Rajoy closed the door on a better fiscal relationship with Catalonia in the fall of 2012. Many CDC leaders have been forthright about being in favor of independence. But their partners, UDC (Christian Democrat, business friendly), say they are confederalists and defend creating a state, without defining what sort of state that would be. The question is often posed: a state like Massachusetts, Bavaria, or Denmark? The answer is not clear.

ICV (eco-socialists, former communists) says they are federalists and want to offer a choice to constituents to remain within Spain, as a partnership of equals, and were even able to get their associated Spanish party, IU, to declare its support in favor of Catalan self-determination. However, both ICV and IU are minority parties in their respective parliaments with little power over creating the federalism they support.

The PSC (Catalan Socialist Party) is a special problem. Federated with the Spanish Socialists who have repeatedly rejected any right to self-determination for Catalonia, the PSC has insisted that such a right does exist, as long as it is first negotiated with the Spanish State (which adamantly opposes it). The PSC espouses federalism and promise reform to the Constitution, despite the fact that support for such reform is nonexistent both in the ruling PP party and in their own federation.

Nevertheless, the PSC, while currently on a downward spiral (the latest government poll indicates that only 5.6% would vote for that party in Parliamentary elections) are a historic Catalan party which even managed to grab the highest percentage of votes in the 2003 elections. Nobody wanted to leave them out, even after they declared they no longer supported the process a few weeks ago.

And there is lots of bad blood and long history between all the parties, and big doses of mistrust from the people. CiU, who led the Catalan Parliament for 23 years with a strategy of accommodation sometimes called "fish in the cave"—imagine waiting in the shadows and darting out to pick up crumbs—but which now leads the process, has not been able to completely shake off doubts about its sincerity, especially since it has insisted on sticking to vague terminology like the "right to decide" (decide what?) and "own state" (whose state, what kind of state?).

The parties defending federalism never quite explain how they will federate with a State that has steadfastly refused to talk to them. ICV is sometimes rabidly anti-CiU, claiming that its pro-independence stance is merely a smokescreen with which to hide budget cuts, austerity economics, and privatization that favors business interests. CiU counters that Spain's fiscal disloyalty demands such policies and that ICV complains from the comfort of the non-governing opposition.

And the surging ERC (Republican Left) and the CUP (Radical Left)—both of whom support independence in so many words—are accused of pie-in-the-sky dreaming without the hands-on experience that actual governing requires. It all goes round and round.

And it's not all up to the politicians. The civic movements that have brought independence to the fore are led by grassroots organizations like Ómnium Cultural, the Catalan National Assembly, and the newer Súmate. These groups—who managed to get 1.5 million people to demonstrate on Sept 11, 2013 and another 1.6 million to hold hands from one end of Catalonia to the other end 400km away—have insisted that the question be clear and unequivocal—and about independence.

In the end, the spectre of disunion brought them together. The common perception is that Catalans are incapable of consensus, that if there are three Catalans, there will be four opinions. But to not have reached an agreement on the question and date by the Dec 31 deadline would have been political suicide. A double question allows both federalists and confederalists to feel like they can participate while giving the pro-independence movement their very first chance to vote on the creation of a new Catalan state. Education will be a key factor in the campaign.

I think it's the best they could do.

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