What nationalists are really after

or when the storm brews…keep calm and check reality
Catalan Public Broadcasting Corporation weather forecast. Note the conspicuous absence of Spain and how the map includes Valencia and the Balearic Islands in Spain, and Roussillon in southern France, more than doubling the size of current-day Catalonia

Quite irresponsibly, everyone seems to be overlooking one all-important aspect of the current political situation in Catalonia.

Almost by the day, we find ourselves on the receiving end of a bombardment of largely insignificant news, for the storm brewing ahead, about the percentage in favour of independence standing at 51 or lowering to 48, or whether an independent Catalonia would form part of the European Union or not…

Now, all this is beside the point and little more than beating around the bush!

The sole purpose of the 1 October (third) independence referendum in Catalonia: to increase people´s demands for consultation rights

Everyone seems to agree that the Catalan independence movement currently represents somewhere around half the electorate.

But more important and more serious than this is the existence of an overwhelming majority, over 80% according to some polls, in favour of a referendum to solve the current conflict.

Make no mistake, the third independence referendum on 1 October is not seeking a majority.

It has been called, regardless of what may happen on the day, solely and exclusively to rally and consolidate support for a poll in Catalonia.

This and this alone is the strategic objective of the present attempt to call a third referendum.

The results and implementation of those results is not the priority here.

Following two defeats at the polling stations, first in 2014 in a referendum which was allowed by the Spanish government to go ahead (1), and then in the more recent “plebiscitary” regional elections of 2015, now is not the time for wining majorities.

Now is the time to exacerbate the existing discord and gain recognition of a right to secession which, in itself, would to all intents and purposes elevate Catalonia to the status of nation-state.

They are not actually interested in winning, let alone in implementing the referendum they are preparing for next month in any effective or clear manner.

All they want to do is crank up the tension and frustration pervading Catalan society to keep alive the very widely held belief that a vote endorsing Catalonia as a sovereign state is necessary.

The reason why there would seem to be massive support in Catalonia for settling the political conflict through a referendum on independence can be summarised by reference to three interrelated beliefs:

  1. The belief that in an electoral democracy everything can be discussed and resolved,
  2. the feeling that the conflict is the result of the intolerance of the Spanish side, and
  3. that nothing serious will happen if independence comes out on top.

The first point is theoretical and subject to legitimate conceptual considerations which both support and, much as the pro-independence camp might deny it, also oppose the notion.

But no matter how you appraise the reputed virtues of referendums, certain conditions, even more important than any ideological concern, should govern when and how they are, in practice, held.

As the political thinker Edumund Burke said: “circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind” (2).

The second point, on which side intolerance is manifested, was clarified sometime ago by Josep Tarradellas, the Catalan president in exile between 1954 and 1980.

As he explained in a letter in 1981, the origin of the present conflict and the driving force behind it is the uncooperative inflexibility of the current dominant version of Catalan nationalism (read more here).

Inexplicably, his arguments have found no place in the popular debate.

As the former president explained in some detail, constant dissatisfaction with self-government had been part of the Catalan and Basque nationalists’ strategy ever since democracy was first established in Spain.

Or to put it another way: If they feel so badly done by, how is that Spain has decentralised power more and more quickly than any country in Europe? (3)

Or alternatively: Where has government been recentralised, if not in Vitoria and Barcelona, the capitals of the Basque and Catalan autonomous regions? And where local variants of Catalan and Basque have been cast aside and replaced by a standard homogenised “national” languages, if not there? (4 & 5).

The Catalan and Basque nationalists cannot under any circumstances acknowledge these facts, because, if they did, that would be the end of the conflict between them and the Spanish government.

The constant irritation and frustration with the autonomous community system which the nationalist movements have expressed since it was instituted in 1980 is purely the result of their existential need to foster the dissatisfaction and instigate the confrontational outcome now facing us.

Mythology pure and simple

Even less discussion surrounds the third point, though it is, perhaps, the most fundamental of the three when it comes to the development of the present conflict.

Would the rulers of a future independent Catalonia further social and political stability?

Let’s see what Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican left of Catalonia), the party at the forefront of the secessionist movement, has for decades had to say in its election manifestos, and which the Partido Democrático de Cataluña (Catalan Democratic Party, on the right) runs after like a lapdog.

Regarding territorial expansion, the ultimate goal of Catalan self-determination:

“It is important to cooperate in the development of a process which may also lead to a Valencian republic and the full sovereignty of the Balearic Islands and the current Department of Pyrénées Orientales, as political subjects that propose political reunification in accordance with the terms agreed on by the parties” (6).

Regarding the supremacy of Catalan, within the domestic organisation of an independent Catalonia:

“The state is the tool necessary in order to establish a stable language framework in line with the reality of the country, free of external interference and court rulings. We will work towards a Catalan republic in which Catalan will be the native national language and the main language used at all public sector levels” (7).

“In line with the reality of the country” —to use the expression from Esquerra Republicana’s manifesto—, a country in which in 2013, according to the Catalan Institute for Statistics, Catalan was the mother tongue of 36% of the population, Spanish of 55% and 2.4% considered themselves bilingual Catalan/Spanish speakers (8).

But a country in which one native language, Catalan, prevails over another ‘second-class’ language, Spanish, which is tolerated but by no means on equal terms in the government institutions, media or education, where Catalan has for 37 years been and will continue to be given preference.

“In line with the reality of a country”, Catalonia, which not only has never existed as a kingdom, but even denies the existence of a very real one which has existed as such for more than five hundred years: the Kingdom of Spain (which catalán nationalists call Castile).

“In line with the reality of a country” with entirely imaginary borders —which have no rational basis and are not supported by the facts, just like everything else listed here— that would include the south of France, the Balearic Islands and Valencia, despite such borderlines never having existed.

But, let’s not justify opinions on the basis of historical comparisons with Scotland, Slovakia or Kosovo, which are always complex and easy to simplify and manipulate in meaningless twits, headlines and sound bites.

Lets bell the cat

The central parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada -whose sovereign decision it still is to grant and authorise any future independence referendums- would hardly (i) agree to call a referendum without any guarantee of borders or (ii) equal rights in education and equal rights for the different identities affected (i.e. the Spanish majority) in both education and their dealings with the public sector.

Or seen from a national rather than an international perspective:

Can the Spanish parliament really agree to let Puigdemont and Junqueras, both men of great passion, discipline and determination, come to the fore and do what they have been promising us they will do for decades?

I will leave the reader to make up his/her own mind about that one.

The reader is also free to draw other conclusions, including the implications for the Basque provinces, where it has taken fifty years to put an end to the violence.

They call it democracy
Fact, the  proper term is expansive ethnic nationalism


Could you imagine the Scottish National Party demanding that Scotland be doubled in size and seeking to add on a bit of Northern Ireland just because 30% of those in the north of England and Northern Ireland spoke Scots  as their mother tongue?

Or that all school classes should be given in Scots, with English as a subject occupying just two hours of the school week so as “not to disrupt coexistence”?

Or that public-sector employees and even health professionals should be legally obliged to address the public and communicate with each other in Scots?

Or that all the public information on the police’s website should only be in Scots and German, but not English, the mother tongue of 60% of the population? (8).

If only it were just “some nationalists” as it says on the map!

These claims have always formed part of the agendas and ideologies of the pro-independence parties which have governed the two regions almost uninterruptedly for nearly forty years.

This is the reality of the Catalan language in four regions of Spain, France and Andorra, according to data from their Regional Governments:


The irony is that Catalonia nationalists are using the same excuses to ethnically cleanse spaniards that Spain used to displace Jews in 1492: you may have lived here for centuries, but you are not indigenous, therefore we want you to convert or else.

Only one side benefits from fuelling anger and resentment

At the present moment, it is my firm conviction that, as things stand, absolutely all forms of dialectic confrontation currently serve the aims of the pro-independence camp.

As they well know, each voice raised higher than the other in this conflict goes to increase the number of voters who see a negotiated referendum on independence as the only solution to this rebellion and state of social confrontation.

Because many voters are not really concerned about the origin of the problem, let alone the feasibility of the solutions.

They just want to see an end to all this ruckus and live in some degree of harmony alongside the impassioned supporters of independence.


I repeat, by calling the 1 October referendum, the secessionists are, at present, merely seeking to increase social tension and, consequently, popular support for the right to be consulted in Catalonia.

In the same breath, even if they lost, they would gain de facto recognition as a nation-state and perpetuity of the right to be consulted and secede.

Something unheard of, everywhere except, for the moment, in the United Kingdom (which is facing the greatest constitutional crisis of modern times, 15).

Moreover, by their very nature, such polls are intrinsically asymmetric, as they know all too well in Quebec and Scotland.

Because while support for the Yes vote stands firm, the No vote can be questioned as often as necessary. As a result, three referendums have been held in Quebec and a second stands firmly on the horizon in Scotland, barely two years after the first.

In order to maintain social harmony, it is necessary to reduce the majority of Catalans who are in favour of a referendum. Because for many of them a referendum is less a question of principles than a way to end all this commotion about the independence claims.

This could be achieved by rejecting self-pity, avoiding gratuitous confrontations and rebutting claims that the ineptitude of the current democratic state is somehow to blame for this conflict.

As has been done recently in the Basque Country (16 and 17).

To unequivocally refute the belief that the two sides are equally blameworthy, or worse still, that one is the cause and the other, the victim, and that everything could be sorted by a poll.

But a discourse based on the truth and that alone is not enough.

Nationalism feeds on grievance, so what we also need is conviction and self-restraint.


1. El Diario. EFE – Bellaterra (Barcelona). 07/09/2013. Mas se compromete a celebrar una consulta legal en 2014 “tolerada” por el Estado (Mas commits to a legal referendum “tolerated” by the state in 2014). http://www.eldiario.es/politica/compromete-celebrar-consulta-legal-tolerada_0_172882901.html

2. Edmund Burke (1729–1797).  Reflections on the French Revolution.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14, paragraph 12.

3. Hooghe L., Marks G., Schakel A.H., Chapman Osterkatz S., Niedzwiecki S., and Shair-Rosenfield S. 2016. Measuring Regional Authority: A Postfunctionalist Theory of Governance, Volume I. Oxford University Press.

The most complete study publish to date. Catalonia ranks first of 185 political entities of 81 countries in autonomy, legislative and executive power and second of five groups in levels of competences, only behind Quebec, the Swiss Cantons and Australian States.

4. Euskera unificado (The unified Basque language). Basque Government, Department of Culture and Language Policy. http://www.euskara.euskadi.eus/r59-738/es/contenidos/informacion/euskara_batua/es_7419/euskara_batua.html

“The modernisation of a language calls for … the definition of a standard model … A general language of this kind is essential to the normalisation of a language”.

5. What was known as the “normalisation” of Catalan in the days of the Renaixença in the 19th century and has continued through to the present. See dialects of Catalan: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectos_del_catalán

6. Programa Electoral Eleccions a les Corta espanyoles (Spanish Parliamentary Election Manifesto). 2016, page 24. http://luniccanvipossible.esquerra.cat/pdf/e2016-programa.pdf

7. Programa Electoral Eleccions 2012 al Parlament de Catalunya (2012 Catalan Parliamentary Election Manifesto) 2012, page 154. http://www.esquerra.cat/eleccions2012/c2012_programa.pdf

8. Mossos d’Esquadra. Police force of Catalonia, largely replacing the Guardia Civil and National Police, present in other regions of Spain. Since its inception their webpage informs catalán citizens only in catalán and english. Spanish has no place here.  http://mossos.gencat.cat/en/inici/index.html

English version:


Catalan version:


and, as of today, that’s that!

9. Catalan Government. Catalan Institute for Statistics (Idescat). Generalidad de Cataluña. Estadística d’usos lingüístics de la població 2013, p.6. http://llengua.gencat.cat/ca/serveis/dades_i_estudis/poblacio/eulp/

10. Valencian Government. Generalitat Valenciana. Knowledge and Social Use of Valencian Language. General Survey 2015. Synthesis of Results. 2015, p.20. http://www.ceice.gva.es/web/fondo-estadistico-documental/fondo-datos-numericos

11. Melià J. 2015. El català a les Illes Balears. 2014, primera aproximació. Llengua i ús: revista tècnica de política lingüística. No. 57, p 64. http://www.raco.cat/index.php/LlenguaUs/article/view/300745

12. Govern d’Andorra. Servie de Política Lingüistica. 2014. Coneixements i usos lingüisticos de la població d’Andorra. Situació actual i evolució (1995-2014), p.9. http://www.cultura.ad/images/stories/Llengua/Documents/Coneixements_i_usos_llengua_2014.pdf

13. Catalan Government. Culture Department. Els usos usos lingüisticos a la Franja, 2014 p.12. http://llengua.gencat.cat/ca/serveis/informacio_i_difusio/publicacions_en_linia/btpl_col/eulf2014/

14. Catalan Government. Enquesta d’usos lingüístics a la Catalunya del Nord 2015. Principals resultats de l”Enquesta d’usos linguistics a al Catalunya del Nord (EULCN) 2015, p.5. http://llengua.gencat.cat/ca/serveis/dades_i_estudis/territoris-de-llengua-catalana/catalunya-del-nord/#bloc1

15. Mitchell J., 2009. The Westminster Model and the State of Unions. Parliamentary Affairs, Volume 63, Issue 1, 1 January 2010, pp:85–88. https://academic.oup.com/pa/article/63/1/85/1435458/The-Westminster-Model-and-the-State-of-Unions

16. López Romo, Raúl. Informe Foronda. (2014[EJ1] ) Los efectos del terrorismo en la sociedad vasca (1968-2010) (Foronda Report. The effects of terrorism on Basque society (1968-2010)). (2015). Drawn up at the request of the Directorate for the Promotion of Culture of the Basque Government. http://www.pensamientocritico.org/raulop0415.pdf

“In this regard, all public policies should disqualify the perpetrators and avoid, in the eyes of public opinion, both their rehabilitation as such and the relativisation of their activities, which stems from symmetrical comparisons with violations of the law committed by servants of the state.”

17. Fonseca, C., Carro Carrera, E., Martín Pallín, J.A., Rodríguez Uribes J.M. (2004) Informe sobre la situación procesal de los atentados perpetrados por organizaciones terroristas con resultado de muerte entre 1960 y 2014. Caso vasco (Report on the procedural situation of the attacks committed by terrorist organisations resulting in death between 1960 and 2014. The Basque case). Commissioned by: Secretariat General of Peace and Coexistence. Basque Government. https://www.irekia.euskadi.eus/uploads/attachments/5797/Informe_Situacion_procesal_atentados_terroristas_cas.pdf?1422265019

“ETA has killed 849 people, 91.58% of all those killed; 67 (7.23%) have fallen victim to counter-terrorism actions and the remaining 11 deaths (1.19%) are unattributable”.


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