Behind each of us there lies a circumstance, a history and a society. I was born and raised Basque, am almost entirely Catalan by family and have lived in Scotland for over twenty years. In each of these places, I have come across a different form of nationalism, forms which, depending on their nature and intensity, possess the power to unite or fracture.
No fundamental right is unlimited or free of controversy. Any rights must be balanced with the rights of others and the community’s safety and stability. In the case of the self determination rigth, the dilemma lies in determining the circumstances which justify such extremes as independence or secession.
In international law, secession and self-determination are not even remotely synonymous. Secession is categorically proscribed and self-determination is contemplated, bar colonial situations, only through self-government within an existing state. The latter occurred in Spain when the 1978 constitution, which recognises the diversity of the country’s national identities, was adopted with overwhelming popular support. Just ten years later, a federal-type system with a very high degree of local and fiscal autonomy was in place. Indeed, the right to self-government and identity rights were so thoroughly guaranteed that the pro-independence Catalan government had to acknowledge in its 2014 White Paper on national transition that ‘neither EU nor international law has any provision for a procedure […] to convene a consultation of the sort the majority of the people in Catalonia are demanding.’
Which brings us to one of Mrs López’s more reasonable desires: one day an international conference should be convened to review the right to self-determination and establish the criteria needed to implement it. Although she informs us that these criteria will need to be broader —(alas) she fails to say what these criteria might be— than the ‘all-too Canadian’ Clarity Act, which recognises the possibility of secession provided that the decision is not unilateral, has the support of a clear majority and respects the rights of minorities, which may involve the redefinition of borders.
In Spain, the intelligence needed to narrow down dialogue, the ability to establish agreed principles to mitigate individual, social and national tensions, was based on the exercise of consensus.
This trait was, and is, the maxim of moral conduct and foundational awareness behind our constitution.
Since 1978, our nation has built itself around the following principles: the primacy of the individual and civil liberties on the one hand; and an identity as a community that safeguards its diversity on the other.
The excessive “judicialisation” of politics and “appeals to the Constitutional Court” have been dominating the best part of the news and discourse about the political situation in Catalonia, becoming a, comfortable and intentional, convenient truth.
That was the answer given by two professors of political science at Harvard and Stanford, the authors of one of the go-to books on governing plurinational societies.¹
In Politics in Plural Societies: a theory of democratic instability, Rabushka and Shepsle present a model of development of political phenomena in multi-ethnic nations, which they refer to as plural, analysing the behaviour of both the political elites and the population of over a dozen countries in four continents.
A nation must meet three conditions in order to be qualified as plural.
It needs to have diverse identities;
these must be organised into cohesive political sections (parties, trade unions, etc.); and
In Catalonia, we have been witnessing the socially and culturally dominant hegemony of nationalism and a regime which exerts unseemly psychological and moral influence over society for forty years now.
The recent funeral of Montserrat Caballé, held entirely in Spanish, led the popular, pro-independence tenor José Carreras to exclaim:
‘There is nothing to say –but I will say–a little bit more Catalan wouldn’t have gone amiss.’
This is just one example of many of how the constant manipulation by nationalist power groups finds its way into even the most intimately personal acts.
Even when it is not subjected to direct action of any kind, this power is exercised by simultaneously imposing certain forms of social behaviour and discrediting dissidents.