How will Spain respond to Catalan independence vote?

Daniel Cetrà on how the main political consequence of Sunday’s events is that the Spanish Government has lost the battle of legitimacy in Catalonia.This article originally appeared in The Herald.

Their response proved both repressive and ineffective, and the Catalan government has gained significant political capital and control of the narrative. So what will happen now?

There are three main possible scenarios:

The first and most radical is that the Catalan Government could declare independence unilaterally. The Catalan referendum law foresees a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in the event of a Yes vote, and there is a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament which support this declaration.

This would be extremely problematic. The UDI would not be recognised internationally, the Catalan Government is unlikely to be able to actually implement the decision, and the pro-independence movement could lose the political capital gained on Sunday. After all, there is not a clear pro-independence majority in Catalonia – although Sunday’s events may have had an impact on public opinion.

A UDI would probably be followed by the Spanish Government drawing on article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to take control or dissolve Catalonia’s autonomy.

The second scenario is the EU mediating to promote dialogue between the two governments and stop the escalation. This seems to be the main goal of the Catalan Government, drawing on the remedial notion that democracy and basic rights are being disrespected within a member state. This is the least likely scenario, but it could become more likely if the events described in the first scenario unfold.

The third scenario is snap elections in Catalonia and Spain. Pro-independence parties could use the momentum to gain a stronger parliamentary majority, while the PP could campaign around the issue of state unity to strengthen its parliamentary position.

A snap election is unlikely in Catalonia. Pro-independence supporters would inevitably see the move as a step back. This move would also create tensions among the plurality of pro-independence parties.

A snap election in Spain is more likely but also unclear. To pass a vote of non-confidence for President Rajoy, as Podemos demands, the key actor is the Socialist Party. The Socialists are uncomfortable, critical with the PP for Sunday’s violence but broadly in agreement with their constitutionalist arguments and their opposition to a Catalan referendum.

In short, there are three main future scenarios and it is the least likely, EU mediation, the one that would most effectively de-escalate the political tension.

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post by Daniel Cetrà
University of Edinburgh
4th October 2017
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