Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Independence Question in Catalonia

After the independence vote in Scotland, there is new activity in independence movements elsewhere, including some in regions that are better prepared than Scotland is to be independent countries. One example is Texas, an oil country like Scotland, though one that is already a functioning banking center. An independent Texas might seem less likely than an independent Scotland, though. Unlike Scotland, Texas barely has a national identity, and it faces both legal and cultural challenges in breaking away from the United States. Texas secessionists also face more than the usual political challenges that face any secession movement. Still, there is a substantial contingent of voters to support secession in any U.S. state.

The one region where secession may be seen as purely a political problem is Catalonia. Conquered by Spain ages ago but never really part of it, more prosperous than Spain and lately suffering financially as it is dragged into Spain’s financial and real estate morass, with a strong national identity that is more anti-Spanish than Spanish, Catalonia is part of Spain only as a historical accident. And now, inspired by the vote in Scotland, Catalonia has scheduled a referendum on independence.

It is a vote that Madrid has already vowed to block, and the central government has already filed court papers to do that. It is not entirely clear that Spain has the power to block the vote, though, and the anti-democratic effort will certainly result in a backlash against Spain’s corrupt and already unpopular government, not just in Catalonia, but across Spain.

Where there were questions about how Scotland might function independently, Catalonia is ready to be independent today, with a strong national identity, a functioning banking system, and a reasonably complete institutional framework. If there are obstacles, Catalonia can afford to be patient. It is hard to imagine how an economically stressed Spain can keep its grip on its largest subject region indefinitely.