Catalonia: Independence from Spain to Do What?

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Pro-independence rally on Via Laietana on September 11, 2012. Photo: Lohen11/Wikimedia Commons

On November 25th Catalonians headed to the polls for a snap regional election. The polls were staged just two months after a massive pro-independence rally took place in Barcelona. Voter turnout peaked at almost 70%, the highest in 30 years, and the four political parties committed to holding a referendum on self-determination (CiU-ERC-ICV-CUP) got more than twice as many seats as those defending the status quo (PSC-PP-C). Crucially, both of Catalonia’s major parties – the governing center-right CiU and socialist PSC – suffered severe setbacks.

Accordingly, it appears that Catalonia is now set to hold a referendum on its ties to the rest of Spain, and that it does not trust its major political parties to steer the process.

For many Catalonians, independence is expected to provide opportunities to build a new state that is more efficient, democratic, transparent, and innovative. An independent Catalonia, in their eyes, would be very different from today’s Spain where economic crisis, opacity and patronage politics are commonplace.

But could an independent Catalonia lead to the break-up of the establishment dynamics that have dominated Spain since the late-1970s? The optimists believe so. For instance, the economic viability of an independent Catalonia has been widely discussed, and is considered possible so long as there are few trade barriers. But viability is not only about having enough resources. Economist Jordi Galí writes in a Catalan newspaper op-ed translated by the Wilson Initiative:

This report ["World Bank's Doing Business"] and other similar ones, such as the World Competitiveness Report, only confirm what is evident for any business manager: the Spanish institutional framework is far from being ideal for the generation of wealth based on productivity. The building of a new State offers, therefore, a unique opportunity to start, from scratch, an ambitious and engaging process that looks to the future without being weighted down by the past.

Spain, meanwhile, does not support a referendum, and the Spanish constitution says that Spain is indivisible. When it was written in 1978, after the fall of Franco’s dictatorship, Catalonia agreed in favor of democracy. While many Catalans now feel it is time for a rewrite, it is worth asking how productive a society like Catalonia’s that is based on patronage politics can be.

Taking inspiration from the book Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson, Adrià Alsina writes on e-notícies [ca] on the need to change Catalonia’s power structures:

The extractive elites control public power and the big service companies, and form a caste that takes up the country’s wealth just as parasites do with hosts. They disguise it as national interest, public service or local industry protection, but it is always the same protection of the privileges of a minority over the interest of the majority.

In a follow-up article [ca], he adds:

…it is this structure that we have the opportunity to change in the next years: the terrible collusion between economic and political elites that lead us to disaster. To the real estate bubble financed by para-public banks at the service of politicians and construction businessmen, to the fact that most Catalan companies still date back to Franco’s times.

The referendum itself could be something to shake the political and economic order of the region, but some doubt change is possible with the major center-right wing party CiU leading the process.

For example, the blog and Twitter account @CiUensRoba (‘CiU is Robbing Us’), with 6,810 followers, says on its Twitter profile description:

Catalonia deserves an independence without thieves. CiU has stolen our freedoms, sovereignty, identity, welfare… and will keep doing it!

Others point out that ending corruption generally is far more urgent than independence from Spain.

@Moragasanti: At the Catalan oasis there aren’t dates (for the people, of course). We want independence, but with that sack of political corruption on our back?

@afarrasc: The magistrates have waited until #25N+2 to charge PSC leaders with alleged corruption. Judicial independence is more urgent than Catalonia’s


For further information on the topic, please view the following publications from our partners:

Separatism and Secessionism in Today’s World

Independentismo e integración europea (I)

Expect the Unexpected: Ten Situations to Keep an Eye on


For more information on issues and events that shape our world please visit the ISN’s Security Watch and Editorial Plan.

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