The moment of truth
BarcelonaSpain will never, ever make the smallest move that could possibly question its territorial integrity. Rather, it will defend it with every resource available, be it legitimate or not. Not long ago, the director of a Spanish newspaper --naturally, not a nationalist one-- told a Catalan minister that "the unity of Spain is above the truth". Enough said! Spain's elite panics when faced with the possibility of Catalonia's secession. However, this is not mostly because of the social and economic consequences, but because it would mean the definitive failure of their historic project of national homogenisation --recall the old francoist motto of a "single, great nation"-- and so it would force them to rethink their nation. Obviously, our secession poses greater uncertainties for Spain than it does for Catalonia.
THE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE of this first realisation is that, sooner or later, Catalonia's independence will require a breakaway from Spain's legality. Saying that "it's possible to do it legally, provided Spain wants to" is tantamount to admitting that it will be legally impossible: Spain doesn't want to. The Spanish leaders have always been honest about this. Therefore, we won't achieve our independence or a referendum --the step before-- by means of a "legal agreement". It is comical to assume that there could be a prior agreement whereby the Spanish state would look the other way while we hold a referendum that might lead to independence. Comical or tragic. Let's get real: Spain is neither the UK nor Canada, which is one of the main reasons why we want to leave.
IF THAT IS SO, then the hardest decision we are faced with is to determine when and how we are to break away. There is no room for frivolousness; and thoughtlessly jumping the gun can be as costly as pointless dither. Among other conditions, we must be certain that most Catalans support the decision. It must be done without damaging our reputation abroad. And we need the capacity to manage the decision in a reasonable manner so that the following day our institutions have enough authority to be obeyed without many hiccups.
WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT the referendum of November 9 does not mean breaking up Spain's territorial integrity yet, less so before the ballots are counted. Indeed, the referendum is a challenge to Spain's constitutional order, but from an institutional point of view, the next day nothing will have changed. Nevertheless, should Catalans vote for independence, then our democratic institutions would have a mandate to start a negotiation process towards secession. At any rate, the proclamation of independence would still take between one and two years. Therefore, the breakaway will be a two-step process.
TO OBEY NOW a hypothetical suspension of the referendum by Spain's Constitutional Court would merely delay, as president Mas put it, "the great hour that is upon us". The H-hour might be moved forward to a plebiscitary election, whose outcome would always be more confusing than the referendum's, but the day after we would be back in the same spot as on November 9. With an overtly pro-independence majority in parliament, we would have to challenge Spain's constitutional legality again. What advantage would there be in that? Would there be a greater or a lesser consensus in Catalonia? Would Spain feel more inclined to listen? Would the world understand better?
TO SUM UP, RIGHT NOW the key issue is to know whether time is on our side or not. What's the point of putting off "the great hour" a few more months (for the sake of the everyday running of the country, for the necessary unity of the political parties, for the support of the people, for the sake of international recognition)? Quite frankly: I can't see the point of delaying the challenge.