Cataluña says Sí in unofficial poll: Madrid should learn from Scotland

 

There can be little doubt that the contemptuous attitude taken by Madrid’s political class both to Catalan aspirations for independence – and the unofficial, non-binding weekend referendum on the issue – has fuelled, and will continue to fuel, secessionist fires. Madrid would do well to learn from London’s desperate rearguard action in Scotland, where only radical last-minute concessions on home rule saved the day for unionism.

Yet, even yesterday, after 2.2 million turned out to vote, Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala was at it again, arrogantly describing the poll as “an act of pure political propaganda with no democratic validity. A sterile and useless event.” It’s a perspective that suggests in Mr Catala an understanding of politics not unlike that of the late, unlamented Erich Honecker weeks before the Berlin Wall fell. How any politician can dismiss as having no “democratic validity”the participation of over 40 per cent of the electorate in a vote, 81 per cent backing independence, is bewildering.

The head of Catalonia’s regional government, Artur Mas, accepts that, as significant as the 80 per cent independence vote is the respectable 40 per cent turnout. Despite a heavy boycott by supporters of the union he insists with much justice: “We have earned the right to a referendum.”

Polls show that four out of five Catalans endorse the right at least to vote on independence, while one in two would actually vote for it. And in 2012, in the last regional elections, secessionist parties got about 1.8 million votes of 3.7 million cast. Not a majority, but closer to one than the SNP ever achieved in Scotland.

Madrid must respond with generosity and understanding to the vote, acknowledging it represents a huge level of alienation. It must be prepared to explore new federal alternatives to the current state whose authority and legitimacy has been badly dented. If it does not, Catalonia and other provinces will not be long denied their independence.