Misc 16/05/2014

Reply to myself (three years later)

Toni Comín
3 min

Just three years ago, in these same pages, David Elvira and I co-wrote an article titled "Independence and federalism: difficult paths", in which we wrote, among other things, that: "The independence of Catalonia is not impossible. But the independence of Catalonia, understood as a unilateral act, is a fiction. [...] If it comes one day, it will certainly be as an agreed upon independence, negotiated with the rest of Spain, albeit reluctantly. To avoid misunderstandings: a negotiated independence does not signify, by a long shot, an independence desired [...] by the mother state. It would just mean that a combination of forces, circumstances or some other factors had brought Spain to accept what today seems completely unacceptable to them. In the case of Catalonia, there is no question that a negotiated independence would be, in whatever case, the fruit of the pressure of a majority of the Catalan society".

And we ended this way: "A pressure that, to achieve its objective, would no doubt have to be growing, steadfast, and with a broadening social base... Perhaps like that which would be necessary to move the whole of Spain towards a federal system? What requires more social support, greater persistence, more collective effort, changing the Spanish Constitution, or forcing Spain to make concessions when faced with a hypothetical independence process? [...] Whoever opts for independence should not justify their option with the argument that the federalist route is impossible, because that is not a consistent argument. [...] The choice between the federalist and pro-independence options is not about confronting degrees of viability. It's about debating which of the two paths is better for the country, for today's Catalonia, as both seem difficult enough and both demand an enormous effort".

The thesis of the article, as you can see, was simple. It argued that the dilemma between a federation (with Spain) and independence is like a championship played over two games: that of their viability and that of their relative virtue. If in the first game -that of viability- both sides played to a draw, as it appeared to be the case at the time, then and only then could the tie be broken in the second game- that is, comparing the virtues of one proposal vs. the other. The federalism to which we referred comes from what we called a "free federation", one that includes the unequivocal commitment to the right of self-determination of Catalans- as we explained in another complementary article a few weeks later.

Would I subscribe today to my own thesis from three years ago? Certainly not. Not because it was wrong in itself, but rather, if you look at it properly, because its validity depended on the circumstances present at the time it was penned. If the circumstances change, could that thesis lose its validity? Of course it could.

There have been far too many relevant events over the past three years not to admit that the circumstances have changed radically. For this reason I believe that today we can't say that the federalist path and the road to an independent state have the same degree of difficulty. In the last three years, the viability of a federalism based on the right to self-determination has decreased dramatically, while independence appears today to be a clearly more feasible hypothesis than it was back then.

If, as we said in 2011, independence can only be achieved as the consequence of a "growing, steadfast pressure, with a broadening social base"... what conclusions would we have to draw from the Diada of 2012(1), the Via Catalana of 2013 or the most reliable opinion polls? It seems indisputable that these have increased the viability of independence in the eyes of Catalonia, Spain and the entire world.

If in order to advance the federalist option of a free federation one would need comparable "social support, persistence and a collective effort", it does not appear that there is a big enough contingent of Catalans dedicated today to this other cause. This is largely because the political force that should have had to lead the Catalan defense of this type of federalism has abandoned it in favor of another form of federalism -Granada's (2)- which has made the rejection of self-determination a non-negotiable precondition. Granada has turned the federalist path into something almost impossible, in contrast to what we wrote back then. Three years ago I felt that supporting independence just because federalism was very difficult was an "inconsistent argument". I no longer feel that way.

In this context, if the championship can be won in the first game, what point would there be in worrying about the score of a return match that will never be played?


(1) The author refers to the massive pro-independence demonstration of September 11, 2012

(2) Spain’s PSOE (main centre-left Socialist Party) held a Conference in Granada in 2013 where it was agreed that significant changes to the way Spain is organised were out of the question.