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  September 27, 2017

Spanish Government Cracks Down on Catalan Independence Vote

The government of Mariano Rajoy is cracking down on efforts to conduct an independence vote on October 1, but this just increases Catalan opposition to Spain's central government, explains Carlos Delclos
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SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Pro-independence Catalans in Spain have been gathering in tens of thousands over the last few weeks in rallies across various cities and towns. They're flyering, campaigning for what they consider the right to rule themselves. They're voting on their wishes in an October 1st referendum that the Spanish government in Madrid deems illegal. Madrid is trying various tactics to block and persuade Catalans to not proceed down this road of referendum. The Spanish police have arrested Catalan officials who were involved in organizing the October 1st vote, and they have also seized electoral materials, including ballot papers and ballot boxes. This led to several days of protest in Barcelona. Now joining us to discuss these developments is Carlos Delclos. He joins us from Barcelona, and he's a sociologist and a member of ROAR magazine, actually, ROAR magazine's editorial collective. Carlos, I thank you so much for joining us today.

CARLOS DELCLOS: Thanks for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: Carlos, we have seen a lot of posturing on the part of Madrid in terms of putting pressure on Catalans to not go down this route of independence and the referendum on October 1st. Give us a sense and an update of what's going on.

CARLOS DELCLOS: Over the last two weeks, Mariano Rajoy's central government has intervened public institutions through the Treasury, basically. They've kind of taken over financial control of the Catalan government, and in recent days they've intervened the Catalan police, the Mossos d'Esquadra, and put them under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior of Spain. Previously the Catalan police have enjoyed a certain degree of regional autonomy from that. However, the Catalan regional, the head of the Mossos has challenged this incursion and they're talking very much openly about taking orders from the Catalan government rather than the Spanish police, and this is particularly important given that if the Catalan police are under Spanish control, then they will be using Catalan police to repress any efforts to cast ballots on Sunday, October 1st.

Then another move that Mariano Rajoy's government has made has been to mobilize 6000 military police onto a cruise ship just outside the port of Barcelona, and it's actually kind of created a bit of a stir because rather image-conscious Rajoy has tried to avoid kind of aestheticizing this too much as a military intervention, so he put these military police on a cruise ship with Looney Tunes characters painted on them, which has been the subject of a lot of fun memes and certain criticism of the absurdity of it all on social media and in Catalan society. The dock workers here also have mobilized to deny that cruise ship the ability to dock in the port of Barcelona too, so we have something of a standoff right now going into Sunday.

SHARMINI PERIES: At this point, Carlos, what are the polls saying about what the results of the referendum might be?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, the results of the referendum, I mean, there's a lot of different results. The two that we're most concerned with are, on the one hand, turnout, and on the other hand, the yes/no vote. It seems quite clear because of the interventions by the Spanish government, you know, they've not just intervened Catalan institutions, they've also taken up all of the ballots, they've taken up a lot of the ballot boxes, a lot of the sort of physical infrastructure of the referendum. It seems like the referendum will not be able to be held under normal conditions.

Polls currently have a similar number of people saying that they will participate in the referendum as we saw in November of 2014. The polls then showed that something like 60% of Catalans intended to vote in the referendum, but then in the end they turned out with 37%. This is quite similar, it's a quite similar number this time of people saying that they will turn out. Whether the raised stakes will get more people to turn out than usual remains to be seen, but also whether the increased repression deters people from turning out is also under ... It remains to be seen. What's clear though is that there is clearly going to be a higher mobilization of yes voters because a lot of the no voters may not even recognize the legitimacy of this referendum so they won't even participate, and they understand that a higher degree of participation would be further legitimacy for a referendum that many of them might view as illegal. So I think there's a lot of questions and factors at play.

What's very clear in the polling, however, is that the vast majority of Catalan society wants a legal, binding referendum that has been agreed to with the Spanish State. The most recent poll by the Metroscopia shows that 82% of Catalans wants this, and what that implies is that not just people on the independence parties want a legal, binding referendum, but people in the sort of non-independence left-wing parties, but also in the socialist party, the sort of center, center-left party that has historically been very powerful in Catalonia until recent years, and also even the right-ring parties. President Rajoy's own party has 49% of its voters in favor of a legal, binding referendum in Catalonia, and that's 49% of its voters in Catalonia, not the rest of Spain, so that's important to consider.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right, and this is probably because of the fatigue around this referendum that keeps coming up annually, and people just want some closure put to it. The leadership of the independence movement has been asking for a binding referendum as well. From their point of view, what does this mean? What does a binding referendum actually mean?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, first, that it's recognized legally by the Catalan Parliament, which this one, it's unclear whether it is. I mean, the Catalan Parliament in the government passed it, but their own legal service has said that it was in violation of Catalan law. But in the case of what we're talking about now, the referendum that most people would support in Catalonia would be recognized as legal by the central government in Madrid as well. This would require, in all likelihood, a reform of the constitution, or it would have to take the form of a sort of legal consultation as part of a negotiation strategy between a friendlier government in Madrid than the one that we have now, and certain concessions on their part to a more sovereignty-favoring majority in Catalonia.

SHARMINI PERIES: Carlos, so as you've already indicated there are various mechanisms being used by Madrid to intervene in this process. Is there any indication that there would be any military force or police force used to stop this referendum from happening?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, the fact that Spain has a cruise ship with military police on board seems to suggest that they're at least threatening to use military force. I don't think that they're going to try this. I think that they would rather use police, first off, but they will use force. I think it's not unlikely that they would try it. It would be a disastrous strategy, though, and it seems quite clear that such an intervention would not only be very unpopular in Catalonia, it would hopefully be very unpopular in the rest of Spain, and I think it would get a lot of pressure from international observers and different countries.

It's just a bad look to put police in front of ballot boxes in a country, and certainly in a country that not even a half-century has passed since it was a dictatorship. It's not a good look to be putting riot police in front of the ballot boxes. And the sheer size of the movement, I think, and the degree of the response that they've shown in recent weeks, is enough to suggest, I think, that it would not be very wise on the part of the Spanish police to try to use force to quell it.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. One final question. Now, the Catalans seem to be rather split on the desire for this kind of independence, although they're all saying that they want the matter settled and they want something binding, yea or nay. However, is there a middle ground here? Is there a way in which to carve out the status of independence in a way that is sort of like Quebec, for example, acts as a fairly independent province in Canada and governs themselves largely, and yet is a part of a federated provincial government in Ottawa. Is there any of this sort of a model being discussed?

CARLOS DELCLOS: Well, I think these models are very much being discussed by political theorists here and even by different political parties. But we don't even have to look that far beyond Spain's borders to find an example. I mean, the Basque region has a great amount of fiscal autonomy that I think a lot of Catalans would have accepted years ago, but I don't know whether Rajoy's strategy in recent years has pushed Catalans beyond this point. Now, I do think that support for independence hasn't risen beyond its levels two, three years ago, but it has risen since its levels seven years ago. Rajoy's approach may be producing more and more subsequent generations of independentists, so there's definitely an interest in finding an agreement that pleases most of society sooner, rather than later, and I don't think Rajoy can continue to do this.

Now, any solution to the territorial conflict is going to have to go through, it seems, an alternative government in Madrid that's composed of parties that are more favorable. Just a few days ago we actually saw a vote that suggested a possible coalition of actors that could enforce a motion of censure on Rajoy and put a Podemos socialist government in Madrid that would kind of be based around an agreement to reform the Constitution. That vote that I'm talking about was a vote proposed by the right-wing upstart Ciudadanos party that said, it was a non-binding law that asked people to say whether they supported Rajoy's approach, and the only two that supported Rajoy's approach were Rajoy's party and the Ciudadanos party, and the motion was rejected because of the majority of other parties saying no, that they did not like this approach. That was kind of a hint of a possible coalition in the future that could get a new government elected in Madrid and maybe find a little bit of wiggle room between the different factions that have polarized this debate so far.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Carlos, I thank you so much for joining us, and we'll look for you on, I guess it's Monday, October 2nd. Thank you so much.


SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


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