What happens the 1 of October in Catalonia will only accentuate the process of independence, whether or not to carry out the referendum; whether or not the road map of the secessionist parties is imposed. That will be the moment in which the war of positions is consumed by the clash of legitimacies of democratic power. 

Eduardo Alvarado Espina

IMG-20150907-WA0003The political story of the parties and civil associations for independence is based on two arguable assumptions. The first, from which the right to decide is justified, is that the Spanish State has historically subdued and relegated the Catalans. The message of «Spain robs us and prevents the will of the majority from being expressed» has permeated a large number of citizens, thanks also to the inestimable and interested collaboration of that sociological Francoism that characterizes the Popular Party (PP).

The second is the assertion that there are precepts of international law to create certain appearance of legitimacy to the path chosen for the referendum. In this sense, the appeal to the right to self-determination the palm leads to for its banalization. A right that only applies when the human rights of a people are violated by a national or foreign force whose territory has been occupied – colonized. This is objective reality of Catalonia? If you think so, then one might ask: how does this reality resemble that of the Saharawi, Palestinian or Kurdish people?

However, beyond these assumptions of legitimacy, there are aspects that support the independence cause, such as the majority nationalist-sovereign identity of the Catalans or the mutilation of the Estatut, which had been ratified by the Catalan citizenship, by the Constitutional Court in 2010.

If one notices the political behaviour of the seventeen autonomous communities in which the Kingdom of Spain is divided, only two of them have a powerful nationalist political expression, Euskadi and Catalonia. In both territories, unlike all others, party governments with state presence have been the exception. Both the PNV and CiU have practically monopolized power for four decades. To this it is added that in the last general elections the party that governs Spain – in minority – only obtained 13% of the votes in both territories. Is it not foolish to deny or even discuss the cultural and political reality of Catalans and Basques when explaining their relationship with the State?

On the other hand, the constant increase in the percentage of people who would support the independence of Catalonia is due more to a political challenge against the party that has systematically denied Catalan identity, than to a sedimented and univocal feeling of a particular people. A challenge that can’t be explained without that nonsense the folly of cutting the most substantial aspects of the Catalan Statute. From then on, the common sense of many Catalans began to move progressively from self-government to the political rebellion that today symbolizes independence.

Thus, all these elements have ended up drawing a dichotomous outline in the dispute for democracy. On the one hand is the legal legitimacy, and on the other the legitimacy of the popular will. The result is a confrontation between those who claim to represent the rules of the game in force and those who claim to represent the majority public opinion. But how do we understand these legitimacies with a view to 1 of October?

Of conflicting legitimacy

For the popular will to be legitimately democratic, it must reflect the consent of the citizenship without ambiguity. It has to meet certain requirements. First, it has to be inclusive; that is, «friends and foes» share formulas and procedures to resolve their conflicts. Accepting the one-sidedness of the decisions of more than two antagonistic political actors renders democracy impracticable.

Second, the popular will must be the result of a free, fair and clean electoral process. In other words, for a ballot to have legitimacy and democratic strength, it must be guaranteed that all parties to the conflict have the same possibilities of informing and controlling the implementation of the process. A process that, moreover, must be transparent.

Today, the decisions that can be taken by the Catalan political power, on this case, lack legitimacy.

Regarding the legitimacy of legality, this is not exclusively the coercive capacity that the State has to enforce the laws. Legality also implies the voluntary consent of those who must enforce the laws and those who must comply with them. The first is a function that corresponds a judges and police within the constitutional framework. The second concerns the conviction of individuals that complying with the norm is more beneficial than violating it.

In the current context of Catalonia, consent to the legal route of the State shows a high fragility, if it is considered that over 60% of the population indicates that they will vote and that more than 700 mayors will not abide by the decision of the constitutional court. One of the main reasons for this is that the party that heads this path is the same one that is judicially considered a «criminal organization»; the one that implements an unconstitutional fiscal amnesty; the one who boasts of not applying the law of historical memory; or that which is used by the Attorney General for political purposes. If one does not comply with the laws can they demand that others do?

In this way, and before the ‘city of the gods’ or ‘utopian paradise’ offered by the independence parties, the Spanish Government only responds with the image of a dystopian Spain of repression, legal threat and economic blackmail.

The referendum agreed as political solution

Although the political solution is a complex one, it is necessary to contemplate, with a certain amount of realism, the possibility of a referendum negotiated between representatives of the popular sovereignty of Spain and Catalonia. A possibility that would redirect legality and popular will in the same direction. This does not imply accepting the budgets and objectives of the breakers political parties from the start, but rather resumes a political debate that serves to recover the nationalists not breakers, who prefer self-government to secession.

But holding a referendum with guarantees means agreeing on a minimum threshold of participation and a qualified majority criterion in order for the outcome to be binding on all parties. A formula that requires a shared ‘common sense’, in addition to a high degree of rationality. Thus, for example, a referendum of this draft could not consider a participation lower than that which occurred in 1978 for the referendum of the Constitution (70%), nor independence an approval that is not close to the percentage obtained by said constitution (90%).

In this way, when the democratic process seeks to break with the legal framework of a State to create a new one, the guiding principle can be no other than that the legitimacy of such a change necessarily happens because the new regime has popular support equivalent to that of its predecessor. No shortcuts can be pursued, such as the unilateral rupture, which, moreover, is unfeasible for a Catalonia lacking hard power – military force – to impose itself.

But no progress in this direction will be possible if Rajoy continues to govern with the cynical support of Citizens Party. A minority government that does not have an alternative story to face the illusion of the «Catalan Republic». And what is even worse, it will not have, since the idea that defines this right is the defense of the status quo through fear and threat.

In short, what happens the 1 of October in Catalonia will only accentuate the process of independence, whether or not to carry out the referendum; whether or not the road map of the secessionist parties is imposed. That will be the moment in which the war of positions is consumed by the clash of legitimacies of democratic power.

Leaving aside the Manichaean and exaggerated interpretations of both sides, if there is no alternative to this confrontation, the gap between political elites and democracy will widen even more, and with this the territorial fracture will become irreversible.


* This is a english version of «1-O Un choque de legitimidades». I want to thank the suggestions made by Matthew Robson to improvide this translation.

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