Catalonian Independence – will Spain survive the referendum?

I spent all day wondering: should I really write about Catalonian independence?

Then I thought… fuck it.

This whole thing is going from bad to worse, with or without me.

So let’s do it.

As I write this, it’s 2 October. The day after the big referendum up in Catalonia. The Spanish media’s been talking about 1 October for about 6 months – or more.

Am I the only one who never thought for even a single moment what would happen the day after?

Well, either way, the Catalonians say they’ve won, with something like 90% of the vote.

They’re declaring independence… and soon!

And of course you’re wondering, “What does Daniel think?”

Well, you’re about to find out.

This article isn’t too long, and I’ve tried to reference credible sources in the Spanish media. ‘Cause the story they’re telling elsewhere is a bit different.

For what happened in the weeks leading up to the big referendum, this article in the Wall Street Journal is pretty good.

Anyway, without further ado…

Point 1: the whole referendum was unconstitutional

The Spanish Supreme Court declared the referendum for Catalonian independence unconstitutional weeks ago.

The 1978 Constitution has no provision for regions to declare themselves independent – so the Catalonian government just made their own laws about it, ignoring the national government altogether.

The Catalonian police (los Mossos d’Esquadra) were ordered to stop the referendum.

Basically, they refused and spent the day standing around doing nothing.

So the National Police and Civil Guards were sent in to defend the constitution and rule of law where the Mossos wouldn’t.

Shit was gonna happen, and shit happened.

People got hurt.

Now everyone’s outraged… and it’s not every day that Spain becomes international news.

catalonian independence movement in spain
This is actually police in Madrid watching over some German football fans earlier this year. But hey… it’s the most relevant photo I had.

Anyway, let’s move on…

Point 2: Yes, the Spanish government is still incompetent AF

But they were kind of backed into a corner on this one.

I don’t like Rajoy, you don’t like Rajoy, nobody I know likes Rajoy…

But it’s not really clear what else he was supposed to do.

The government kind of has to protect the Constitution. That’s what they’re sworn to do. That’s what all government workers are sworn to do, in fact – from the Prime Minister right down to your mailman: protect the Constitution.

I guess the National Police were a bit heavy-handed in some places.

But to what extent should you be able to overthrow the democratically-elected government of a country without getting whacked with a nightstick?

To what extent can you peacefully break the law (and violate the Constitution) and hope the police will just stand around and watch?

Important questions I wish I had a better answer for.

And also…

Point 3: The whole thing was apparently a huge mess

The articles I’ve read in the international press don’t go into this much…

But apparently the big independence referendum was a “vote wherever you want, maybe even vote twice, whatever floats your boat” kind of deal.

Not particularly rigorous, not overseen (as far as I know) by any outside authority.

It must be said that a lot of this probably had to do with the chaos caused by the police trying to shut the whole thing down… but it seems to me that they were making up the rules for the referendum on the fly as the day went on: vote in the street, print out your ballots at home, no need to show ID, just show up, fuck it.

Whatever, man.

My favorite story from the whole thing: around noon yesterday, someone in the Catalonian government set up a WordPress blog hoping to collect votes online. It lasted for about 10 minutes at before it was taken down.

That’s right, They didn’t even drop 12€ on a domain name.

(Insert your own joke here about what cheapskates they are up in Catalonia… I’d never sink that low. Also, If they had read my book about effective blogging, everything would be different.)

In any case, it was all set up in a way that meant that Catalonian independence was almost guaranteed to win.

The whole referendum was so obviously ridiculous, in fact, that most people stayed home. The only ones who came out were the ones who really wanted independence – a minority out of the total population.

So in reality, abstention was the winner.

Point 4: Blah blah blah democracy blah blah

But what about democracy?

When Trump was elected in the US, our far-left Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena issued a statement saying something like “many of the worst dictatorships in history came to power democratically”.

Touché, Ms Carmena.

(Side note: as of yet, only one member of her government has been in a public scandal for making wildly offensive jokes about the Holocaust.)

In any case, she’s right.

Some really shitty governments in the world have been democratically elected. And some really shitty laws have been pushed through by referendum.

Here’s my theory: a lot of people in the world live boring, ugly lives.

And then a certain type of politician comes along and says “Listen, it’s not your fault… Actually, it’s (insert your choice of evils: Yankee imperialists / Mexican immigrants / the Spanish state / the European Union / whatever). Why if we could just get rid of them, your life would be so much better. Now vote for me!”

It’s called populism, and it’s usually a dirty word in politics.

Once again, is it your democratic right to subvert the constitution? (A constitution, by the way, which was overwhelmingly approved by a referendum in Catalonia back in the 70s.)

Or is it the government’s democratic duty to make sure you can’t?

If only I knew…

So what happens now?

Well, that’s the big question.

As far as I can tell, nobody had been actively oppressing the Catalonian people for about 45 years leading up to yesterday.

Before that, maybe. (I’m no expert in Spanish history).

What is clear is that the photos of police beating protesters who were “just trying to subvert the constitution vote in an illegal referendum” are a gold mine for the narrative of oppression that the Catalonian government wants to sell to the international media.

Of course, most of the great revolutions in history happened illegally. No constitution has a “revolution clause” built in, as far as I know.

And in the game of thrones, you win or you die.

If you win, you make your own laws as soon as the dust settles – and afterwards, you can rewrite history in any damn way you please.

referendum for catalonian independence
Lion outside the Spanish parliament building here in Madrid. Photo by the author.

The Catalonians have promised to officially declare independence within 48 hours.

Potentially we’ve got a really ugly civil-war-looking situation on our hands: each side has a loyal and heavily-armed police force. Each side thinks they’re in the right.

So in my mind, the big question now is this: How many people are willing to die for Catalonia? How about for Spain?

My guess: not many

In this very interesting article a Catalonian journalist claims that a lot of politicians up there are basically narcissistic and hoping to become martyrs (though not in a literal flayed-alive sense, I assume).

It’s a thought that had really never occurred to me before…

But maybe they feel like they could be the George Washington type figure who brings their people out of the darkness.

They could be known for a thousand years (or until the robots take over) as the ones who liberated their people from the yoke of Spanish oppression…

They’d be on a monument a hundred feet tall in the center of Barcelona.

And they’d go down in history as the good guys.

But only if they win the game of thrones.

Will the majority of Catalonian people really benefit from independence one way or the other? I doubt it, but we really have no way of knowing.

Oh well.

Interesting times.

I’m out.


P.S. I could have just as easily spent the afternoon doing nearly anything else besides writing this. Does the world really need to know what I think about Catalonian independence? Probably not. But you know what? I love this country so much I felt like I had to say something. Anyway, have a good night. And feel free to comment, right here…

P.P.S. The saga Catalan independence saga continues here, several days later: Week two of Spain’s national crisis. Enjoy!


How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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