A true democratic lesson from the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom, as other important players of the international scene, has had to adopt a muted position with regards to the peaceful bottom-up movement that has been rising in Catalonia in the last few years. But nobody should deceive himself into believing the UK sanctions the way Spain has handled this issue. This silent neutrality is a necessary consequence of having to keep healthy diplomatic relations with Spain.
However, in a country of nations with an ancient democratic tradition such as the UK, people’s voices are not disregarded: they are listened to with sympathy.
Many have heralded Prime Minister David Cameron’s advice “we are better together” as a firm warning that the UK will not recognise an eventual legally seceded Catalonia. However, those who take this view are oblivious to the democratic track-record of the British, whose pragmatic spirit favours resolving conflicts in a rational way rather than fuelling them further with intransigent attitudes.
Certainly, both the UK and Spain have conservative-led governments, but the similarities between the two end here. The British answer to the Scottish Parliament motion of initiating a process for holding a referendum on independence could not have been more different from the Spanish one, where the demands from the Catalan Parliament to hold a referendum fell on deaf ears.
To start with, in a true democratic spirit, the British government doesn’t regard its citizens as incapable of deciding what is best for their future; and therefore, the British government had no fears in consulting the wishes of its own population through a referendum. It did so when it allowed a vote on independence for Scotland to go through and it will soon do it again by tabling another referendum on the permanence of the country in the European Union.
Another contrasting fact is the charming campaign launched by the three main political parties in Westminster making the case before the Scots on the advantages they had by remaining in the UK. Whereas the British made the effort of addressing the real concerns of those who were seeking to leave, Spain just resorted to the judicial menaces and tried to trim off hard-won devolved powers. When Cameron said that the whole of the UK would be more prosperous if the country remained together, his words were followed up by specific proposals to further empower the Scottish population.
The situation of the Scottish and the Catalan government couldn’t be, therefore, more dissimilar. The former had its referendum whilst the latter saw how even a popular consultation in November 9, 2014, was held under intimidation. But the claims for an independent Catalonia will not faint or go away in spite of the use of threats, and it is the duty of the Catalan government to give an answer to the legitimate demands of its population on being consulted about its future.
The Spanish government seeks to portray the right to decide demands, at best, as an internal issue, and, at worst, as illegitimate. But the Catalan government couldn’t hide behind empty words, and has had to resort to the last tool left at its disposal to see if there is a majority of Catalans in favour of independence.
Thus, on 27 September, 2015, the people of Catalonia will, at last, have their say. The upcoming elections to the Catalan Parliament will be regarded as a de facto plebiscite on the political future of the country. The Catalan government is not afraid of the results and will act in consequence to the wishes of the Catalan people.
Josep Suàrez is the Head of the Delegation of the Government of Catalonia to the United Kingdom and Ireland.