RQ | The Catalan Referendum

The results of the Catalan “informal referendum” are in, and show that over 80% of the respondents in the referendum have indicated a “Yes, Yes”, which means they want an independent Catalunyan nation. Of course, as pointed out here last weekend, this referendum doesn’t mean a thing, for there is significant selection bias in voting – for people in favour of secession would have had a much higher incentive to turn up on Sunday compared to those that were against.

So what does the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy do now? Though this vote means nothing, one thing the “massive majority” does is to strengthen the case for the Catalans to press for a more formal referendum, one that is recognised by the Spanish Parliament. What this “massive majority” also does is to embolden the leaders of the Catalan independence movement towards becoming more hardline in their demands.

Spain can ill afford to lose Catalunya, for that is one part of the country whose economy isn’t as badly wrecked as that of the rest of the country. In fact, given complications in terms of membership of the EU, it may not actually be in Catalunya’s interest to be an independent nation – though that is another story. The best solution going forward would be what a referendum would have termed a “Yes, No”, that is to give Catalunya more autonomy as a “state” (right now it’s an “autonomous region”) within Spain.

Other regions of Spain such as the Basque Country have much more control over their finances than Catalunya does, and the Spanish government would do well to make such federalism uniform and give Catalunya similar powers. This would help maintain status quo over national identity, while conceding to the Catalans their biggest demand which is that too much of their tax money is going to fund the rest of Spain. Of course the rest of Spain will take a hit in terms of finances, but it can be worked out so that it is a gradual process and not sudden.

It is also worth examining the reasons behind the current wave of Catalan nationalism. There are two factors – firstly the Catalans resent that their tax money is being spent on the rest of Spain. When this combines with the fact that Catalunya is culturally different from the rest of Spain, and harbours an anger towards Madrid for what can be described as three centuries of “Castilian imperialism”, this leads to secessionist tendencies.

There are important lessons to be learnt from this for other countries which are also multicultural, and where one part (which represents a “different culture”) is significant superior to the other economically. There can be only one solution to keep such countries united – greater federalism, and to give the culturally-different-economically-superior regions belief that they are not being controlled by the “centre”. It is time for multicultural countries to embrace this rather than pretending to rule under the assumption that they are monocultural, and with an iron fist.