THE BLOG
09/11/2017 11:52 GMT | Updated 09/11/2017 11:52 GMT

How To Solve A Problem Like Catalonia

What is clear however is that Spain is disunited and what its constitution has to say on the Catalonia issue is not fit for purpose. It is time both Rajoy, or better yet a new Prime Minister who won't assault his own people, and Puigdemont come around the table and resolve their differences in a genuinely democratic and diplomatic way - for the sake of Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

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Catalonia's independent republic was short-lived. It was born and then died within three days - but the argument over its sovereign future will endure for much longer.

Mariano Rajoy, Spain's conservative Prime Minister may have de jure control of Catalonia for now, but, his power grab is feeble at best - even with Catalonia's leader Carles Puigdemont thoroughly thwarted.

Spain isn't exactly the kind of nation that exemplifies a happy marriage of semi-autonomous states, in fact, various secessionist factions are a plague which swarm the Iberian Peninsula and cause grief the nation over.

Whether it's in the Canary Islands, the Basque Country or Catalonia, there is a nationalist settlement in virtually all of Spain's autonomous communities, except in Madrid, the seat of Spain's centralised power, but none of them is as impassioned or as divisive as Catalonia's.

By following the Spanish rule of law, the recent independence referendum was categorically illegal. As a liberal, I find democratic referenda being illegal a difficult idea to coalesce but that doesn't change the situation.

As Spain's constitution legally disallows such a vote, there is no doubt that Catalonia's insistence to hold the independence poll in the first place was antagonistic - and at worst, cynical.

Of course, there have been wrongs committed on both sides of this constitutional crisis, though the fault is not shared equally. Whilst Catalan nationalists were flagrantly anarchic in their behaviour, the use of police viciousness to quell what was ultimately a planned expression of public will is repugnant.

Mariano Rajoy's handling of Catalonia has not only been one of violent tyranny but of colossal stupidity too. Does he really believe that a culture like Catalonia will be beaten in to submission, thus abandoning dreams of full independence? What is his end game - that Catalonia will be overcome by an all-consuming dose of Stockholm Syndrome?

All the Spanish government have done is ensure further disunity, further resentment towards the capital and ensure that Catalan's drive for independence will grow stronger and stronger.

The Spanish polices acts of brutalism were so overpowering they could and should be punishable by sanction by the European Union.

Of course, in turn that doesn't make the result of Catalonia's recent vote legitimate. While police were violently seizing ballots from peaceful voters, Spanish unionists were staying at home en masse, bastardising any result in its entirety.

Though social media, in its never ending quest to virtue signal at any given opportunity, is awash with Catalan flags, there isn't any hard evidence that a majority of Catalonians want independence anyway.

In fact, in all of the ruckus caused by the Spanish government and Catalan nationalists, everyone seems to be forgetting the rest of Spain and the some 300,000 unionist protestors who marched through Barcelona last weekend.

Whilst, I accept, support and champion that the very essence of liberalism and one of its central tenets is self-determination, Catalan independence has a very specific problem that wasn't true of say Scotland's referendum, in that it is Spain's most dynamic economy.

Much like it wouldn't have been fair in the wake of the Brexit vote if the short-lived 'Londependence' tantrum had taken off, it would also be a slap in the face to the rest of Spain if Catalonia upped sticks and left them out to dry.

Of course, Catalonia can boast over being the biggest contributor to both Spain's GDP and exports, but it's economy which is heavily reliant on infrastructure could never have thrived if it wasn't for the investment funded, at least in part, by Spanish citizens outside of Catalonia.

In the wake of any constitutional crisis, the obvious course of action should be a constitutional re-draft. Whilst, Spain's autonomous communities already have a wide array of powers, Catalonia does not have full control over its own markets, energy or healthcare - so revisiting the devolved powers of all regions seems a good start.

A second point of order for Spain is to transition the country officially in to a federation so citizens of richer autonomous communities like Catalonia don't feel short-changed when their taxable wealth and income is used to subsidise other areas.

Finally, Spain must revisit its rigid constitution which, by law, disallows any attempt at separatism through any means possible. As secessionist movements can be a fickle beast with little scope for sober second thought, as we've seen in the UK, Spain could offset these issues by introducing a supermajority clause.

Say, if two-thirds of Catalonia's parliament voted to hold a binding vote on independence and two-thirds of Catalonia's electorate voted to leave Spain, then Madrid should respect that as the clear - and importantly stable - will of the people.

What is clear however is that Spain is disunited and what its constitution has to say on the Catalonia issue is not fit for purpose. It is time both Rajoy, or better yet a new Prime Minister who won't assault his own people, and Puigdemont come around the table and resolve their differences in a genuinely democratic and diplomatic way - for the sake of Catalonia and the rest of Spain.