Half a year after the problematic referendum for independence in the Spanish region of Catalonia, it is fair to call into question what is going to happen next. As a Spaniard studying abroad this year, I was able to follow the events from outside which provided me certain distant perspective. Still, at the same time, I also get information from inside the country, through national polls, national newspapers, and the testimonies of friends and family. After careful analysis of this complex situation, it is my estimation that Catalonia is not likely to become an independent state anytime soon. Here are the four main reasons why:
1. Independentists inside Catalonia are less than 50% of the population.
In spite that pro-independence parties won the majority of the seats in the last regional elections, 52.1% of the voters supported non-independentist parties. This circumstance was possible as a result of the Spanish electoral system, similarly to the US electoral college system, it underrepresents the most populated urban areas, where the highest percentage of non-independentist votes are located. The elections, held last December, 21, represent another proof that the percentage of pro-independence people inside Catalonia has never surpassed the 50% barrier. As consistently shown in all the statistics and polls, through this process, the number of Catalans that in favor of Catalonia becoming an independent state always stayed below 50%, the highest being 48% in October 2017, just before the referendum. Furthermore, the last survey published, this February, shows a historic drop in support for independence to 40.8%, the lowest point in the last four years. While the anti-independence sentiment reached its highest (53.9%).
2. The rest of Spanish people are not even that concerned about it.
Among Spain in general, according to the last official statistics, the option to continue with the current territorial organization is what more people prefer (38%), in a growing trend over the previous months. Around 20% would prefer an even more centralized state, and around 10% would argue for less autonomy to the current regions. Only around 10% of the Spanish people are in favor of a state that recognizes the possibility for regions to become independent. Hence, the support for Catalonia’s independence is definitely really reduced among the general Spanish population. Yet, last October, coinciding with the Catalan referendum, the concern about the possible independence of Catalonia was regarded as the second main concern for Spaniards (29%), only behind their concern for unemployment (66%). Nevertheless, as shown in the graph below, that concern has drastically plunged over 20 points in five months, to the current 8.6%.
3. It would not be economically smart.
Although behind the pro-independence movement lay economic causes, in the present situation, and especially without the option to be part of the European Union, independence would bring an economic disaster for Catalonia. As the richest Spanish region, together with Madrid, it is often thought by pro-independentists, that other Spanish regions benefit economically from Catalonia’s revenues, making the possibility of economy sovereignty one of the main factors driving the movement. However, ever since this political upheaval started, more than 3,000 companies have relocated their corporate bases outside of Catalonia, in fear of a possible unilateral independence declaration. Some of them are among the biggest Spanish firms, such as Caixabank, Gas Natural or Banco Sabadell. Moreover, other economic indicators have also been affected, for example, consumption, tourism, and productive investment.
4. Pro-independentists have not been able to rally international support.
The Spanish government violent attempt to stop the referendum by force made the front pages of all the main international newspapers, as well as the principal information for the news agencies. Similarly, international media also paid attention to the repression against peaceful demonstrators and the judicial prosecution to the entirety of the elected Catalan government at the time of the referendum. These questionable measures have led to a sharp decline in the Spanish democratic credentials, for example, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democratic Index in 2017, situated Spain at the boundary of becoming a “flawed democracy”. However, after all, Spain is still considered as a full liberal democracy, over older and more stable democracies, for example, the US democracy, labeled as “flawed democracy” by the same index since 2016. It could be fair to question the objectivity of these kinds of indexes, nonetheless, it is clear that, except some isolated cases (Scotland, Venezuela…), the international community sides with the Spanish government in its anti-independence endeavors. Especially the European Union member states, the majority of which, also face regional pro-independence movement in their own regions.
All in all, after taking into account all the factors, it is highly unlikely that the region of Catalonia will become an independent state. At least in the near future. The support for independence seems to have reached its peak, and it is unlikely to mobilize more supporters. Moreover, the recent release on bail of former Catalonia’s leader, Carles Puigdemont by a German court, can hopefully force the Spanish judiciary to reconsider the excessive rebellion charges against the rest of the members of the Catalonian government at the time, now detained in the Spanish prisons without bail. This decision could finally create a path towards a possible a rapprochement, decreasing the high social polarization between pro and anti-independence people inside and outside of Catalonia. Yet, as the year 2016 demonstrated, in current politics, nothing is set in stone. There is still vast uncertainty on how the judicial processes will evolve, and the popular response to Puigdemont’s return. The political fragmentation of the last elected regional parliament will more likely lead to new elections in the upcoming months, which will be decisive to predict what is going to happen in the close future.
*Photo: Màrius Montón. Barcelona September 11, 2017. Wikipedia Commons. Creative Commons License I <https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DiadadelSi_15.jpg>