Opinion: Let’s not forget about pro-Spain Catalans

Catalonia declared independance from Spain in an event that had been coming for several weeks now. Tensions had been high between separatists in the region, and the central government in Madrid, since the 1st October referendum saw almost 90% of votes cast in favour of an independent Catalonia.

No independence debate is without its moments of tension. On a smaller scale we saw the passion such issues can elicit with the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. Although many have drawn parallels between the two nationalist pushes in Scotland and Catalonia respectively, the difference are clear to see and striking themselves. Although the debate was at times unpleasant, neither side questioned the legality of the British 2014 vote and the outcome was respected by unionists and nationalists on both sides of the border. The situation in Catalonia is different. The situation in Catalonia is far more complex, and potentially, far more damaging. With the Spanish government swift to declare the 1st October vote illegal, and having received widespread criticism for the actions of the police seen across the region on polling day, tensions have continued to escalate.

It is very easy for the media, and the Spanish and Catalan governments, to portray this as a two-sided debate. Catalan officials paint a picture of a region democratically choosing secession from Spain, yet pressured by an illegal and oppressive central government to return devolved powers and forfeit the will of the people. Conversely, Spanish officials claim the vote was illegally held, and question the official figures published by the Catalan government: thus refuting any action Catalan PM Charles Puigdemont may take off the back of the vote, especially this declaration of independence.

And what exactly were those results? On a polling day marred by protests and police beatings, 2.26 million votes were counted, accounting for roughly 43% of the voting population. Catalan officials claim over 770 000 votes were lost or discounted because of the actions of the police. Almost 90% of those 2.26 million voters backed independence.

Although the numbers are overwhelmingly in favour of independence, there is clearly an opposition to independence in Catalonia. And it is this minority that faces an impossible situation. If Catalonia goes ahead with its threats to leave Spain, some 10% of voters (over 225 000 people) and an unknown number of those who were unable to vote or who did not exercise their right to do so, will be stuck in the middle of a very awkward situation.

Further opposition to an independence bid has been seen in the Catalan Parliament’s Opposition boycotting today’s vote for independence.

This is not a two party problem. Among the jubilation of the separatists in Barcelona, and the stresses of the central government in Madrid, a third party is being starkly underrepresented in this drama.

Pro-Spanish union protesters on the streets of Barcelona, 9 October 2017. 

Central Spanish government continues to let down loyal Spanish citizens who did not vote for independence by their hesitant and slow approach to events, and the elected Catalan representatives who themselves oppose the moves of Puigdemont’s government are failing their voters by their desire to boycott proceedings, rather than at least attempting to influence them positively.

Constitutionally, these ‘remainers’ are Spanish citizens, who have a right to protection from their own government. Equally, they have a right to representation by the very officials they elected, at both local and national level. The crisis unfolds around them as a debate between separatists and Spain and this third party is caught in between. The voiceless minority are being failed by their central government, and, by their inactivity – by their regional representatives as well. This is a huge constitutional crisis, and one not easily resolved, but whatever the result, if things continue on their current trajectory, this silent minority will continue to be unrepresented in proceedings, and failed one way or another by the state, whichever state that ends up being.

In what is a volatile and incredibly difficult situation, the Spanish and Catalan governments must prioritise a peaceful and fair resolution, and one that looks to the interests of all sides involved. This unionist minority cannot continue to be ignored, underrepresented, and oppressed. Catalonia, independent or not, must act democratically for the needs of all its citizens, regardless of the box the voters ticked on October 1st.

The crisis continues.


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