Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Catalonia, Referenda and when the People rise above the law

The issue of the independence of Catalonia places Europe in the middle of a quandary, in unchartered territory where the Union has never been before. Some speak of the break-up of the European Union, others of the right of a people to self-determination, others of respect for the Spanish Constitution. But at what point is a document worthless?

As someone once said, "It's the economy, stupid!" and how right he (former President Bill Clinton) was. In fact if we look at the geopolitical history of Europe and of the world, the question of the independence or integration of Catalonia is not new, nor is it even in the context of Iberia. In 1640, the same year the Portuguese were gaining their independence from Spain after sixty years of cohabitation in the same kingdom (after the death of Sebastian I supposedly at the battle of El-Ksar el-Qibir [Alcácer-Quibir], the Spanish crown was heir to the throne), Madrid had to decide which way to turn because the Catalans were rebelling in the East. Madrid chose to suppress Catalonia, considering the Portuguese too strong and having their own national institutions set up since the twelfth century. Portugal became a State once again, Catalonia an assimilated Nation.

The same took place in France, where the Duchy of Brittany was assimilated into the Kingdom in 1532; France itself was a vague notion stitched together and comprising various peoples and languages and cultures; part of it belonged to the Holy Roman Empire which changed its shape and composition dramatically between 962 and 1806; Brittany in turn had never been part of the Frankish Kingdom between the fifth and early ninth centuries (AD) but had integrated the Roman Empire which stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, from the Baltic to the Red Sea, from the Caspian Sea to the Sahara Desert.

Nationhood and Statehood

Nationhood is a permanent state which does not need a consensus of its society, it is a cultural, mutualistic entity practising common values and habits. Statehood is different in that it does need this consensus. Ask the Irish, Welsh, Cornish or Scottish whose languages and cultures were suppressed for centuries, ask countless "nations" with their own languages and customs and cultures across the European continent, ask the Catalans.

It is where the Constitutions and laws of Statehood meet the customs and lores of nationhood that the potential flashpoint arises. The saying goes that laws are made to be broken. Indeed, laws which existed not so long ago, such as the right to publicly flog a slave for being insolent, or for locking her/him in a mental institution because (s)he expressed (gasp) the desire to be free - laws practiced in and by countries which today boast of their wonderful history of freedom and respect for human rights - would not be accepted by anyone today, except perhaps by a lunatic.

And back we come to Clinton's statement about the economy. Economics is a social science which must comprehend vectors ranging from development, history, trading practices, resources, moving and changing flows of people and goods. As Obama said, but did not do, it's about Change and response to changing realities. The history of diplomatic relations shows us that a Treaty is not worth the paper it is written on if the consensus changes, or if the balance of power alters, or if confidence shifts for whatever reason.

Or, importantly, when one group, or Nation, understands that it has more to gain by becoming a State. This was the argument behind the Scottish referendum in 2014, in which 55.3 per cent voted to remain in the United Kingdom and 44.7 per cent, to leave (Scotland joined England in the Act of Union in 1707) with a voter turnout of 84.59%, which could have made a difference on the day.

The E-argument

Economics was the argument used by the Brexiteers, whose serial lies about having an extra 350 million pounds a week to spend on the National Health Service duped the British public into taking the most drastic step into the unknown, leaving the European Union and the interfering hand of Brussels and its hated Eurocrats, and on the day, with a turnout of 72.21%, 51.89% voted to leave, against 48.11 wishing to remain, among whom was the Scottish vote, Northern Ireland and London. As the UK slides down a slippery slope, finding out that the rest of Europe has no intention of facilitating matters, the Statehood of the Scottish nation (and who knows, the Union with Northern Ireland) may be put to the test. Again.

Being a social science, economic systems rely on three precepts - solidarity, mutualism and respect for the law. The first runs along the lines of those who have must support those who do not; the second, similarly, that people pay into a kitty used by those who govern for all, as they see fit and the third is valid until the law is broken and loses force because it has become unenforceable.

None of these precepts are sacrosanct or eternal. If the majority of the Catalans (we have yet to examine the real figures) understand that they do not wish to show solidarity with other groups in Spain who they accuse of sitting on their backsides receiving handouts while the Catalans do the work and are alone responsible for 25% of Spain's exports; if they are tired of practising mutualism but getting less back than they give year on year, and if they consider the Constitution belongs to the Kingdom of Spain but not the Republic of Catalonia, Madrid has a problem.

The response from the central authority to send in thugs posing as policemen, beating elderly ladies, pulling women by the hair, throwing girls to the floor and kicking people when they were down, was perhaps the most unintelligent response a Government could have made, but then Spain has a Prime Minister called Mariano Rajoy. But then again, if Madrid had done nothing?

A qualified majority and the Federal option

And if on such matters of National importance a qualified majority were a preconceived condition for a free and fair vote, such as two-thirds plus one? Had the British government foreseen this and imposed this condition, Brexit would have been Bremain. It would have made no difference in Crimea, where in 2014 with a voter turnout of 83.1%, 96.11 per cent voted to "Join Russian Federation"; in Kosovo any referendum on Statehood is invalid because this province of Serbia was swamped with Albanian refugees who then bit the hand that fed them, like a rabid dog, and declared independence, not because Kosovo is a State or even a Nation, but because its terrorist campaign was supported by the USA and its chihuahuas.

As for Catalonia, if a proper Referendum is to be held, and respected by Madrid (the intelligent path) and over two-thirds vote to form an independent State, who can argue that democracy should not be applied? The Kingdom of Spain and the Republic of Catalonia would have problems to solve, such as Catalonia's substantial debt to the central authority, such as financing the mechanisms of Statehood - and they would have a possible solution which responds to the crisis, namely forming a Federated State of the Kingdom of Spain and the Republic of Catalonia.

Food for thought...better than beating old ladies with batons. And perhaps, now we speak about it, someone in Madrid, including King Felipe VI himself, could show some dignity, decency and courage, and apologize for what happened last Sunday. For now, the ones showing dignity, decency and courage are the Catalans. 1-0 for Barça, against Read Madrid.

Photo: By JuanmaRamos-Avui-El Punt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


Twitter: @TimothyBHinchey

[email protected]


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*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.



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