On Sunday 25th November 2012 the Catalan people vote in regional elections, the leading candidate and current President Arturo Mas has promised a referendum on Catalan independence if re-elected.
In any crisis there is opportunity, opportunity for those who wish to build anew, and opportunity for those who wish to exploit the resultant uncertainty.
It is no coincidence that at the zenith of economic crisis regional nationalism has grown in strength, and calls for separatism and division have grown louder in some quarters.
For populist separatist politicians their ability to appear to present an alternative to the status quo, and their ability to play brinkmanship with the central state, weakened politically and economically by the crisis, has never been greater.
Crisis is a catalyst for a level of upheaval that questions every element of life, and inevitably peoples, communities and nations all seek to urgently pursue their short term interests. An entity in crisis will , however, often attempt to tear itself apart out of desperation, doing greater and more irreparable damage than the crisis itself.
The example of Californians in the great depression of the 1930s is instructive, many Californian citizens called for restrictions to the flood of cross-state immigration and secession from the Union as bankrupt farmers from Oklahoma and other central states flooded into America’s wealthiest state. Their demands were met by the proclamation by Franklin Delano Roosevelt that; “we rise or fall together as one nation”, a quote used by Barack Obama in his 2012 victory speech. Clearly Californian separatism seemed a realistic and even obvious solution at the time, but even in today’s crisis with the benefit of hindsight it seems a foolhardy and unconscionable solution to America’s problems.
To demands of division in the earlier history of a United States on the brink of civil war, Abraham Lincoln announced that; “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” Though a crisis separates people on many levels, the only way through it is to unite beyond short term interests for common aims and common good; the attractive option for the short term may be division, but it is never the long-term solution.
A Europe of the regions is a misnomer. It suggests that there is and should be unity and commonality at European level, but that at a national level regionalism and separatism is to be encouraged. This may serve the aims of the EU to foster a greater reliance on a federal Brussels for European citizens, but destroys the argument which is at its core; that in a world of great change and contrast, peoples of similar background and aspiration should unite for a greater good. There can be debate over whether there is enough common ground among constituent nations for any such European federal union to hold, but where there is already strength in union, within the nations of Europe, that union must hold.
Until now I could have been speaking equally of the United Kingdom or Spain, and this describes how natural and common such occurrences are in difficult times in the life of a nation.
In the United Kingdom calls for Scottish independence have grown in strength since 2007 which saw the election of the Scottish National Party (SNP) as the largest party in Scotland and the subsequent appointment of Alex Salmond as the First Minister of Scotland.
It is no coincidence that the emergence of the global financial crisis has been concurrent with the rise of the SNP. Equally the increasing notion that the European Union offers the umbrella of fiscal and national security has encouraged regional separatists to find alternative therin to the protections and security that has historically been offered by the United Kingdom.
Scotland’s economy is significantly weaker than that of England, but also inseparably interwoven as part of the UK both geographically and culturally. It is therefore highly unlikely that an independent Scotland would offer its citizens greater prosperity than they currently enjoy, and perhaps as a result, according to polling it would appear that most Scottish citizens are sceptical about full independence.
On the basis that all citizens should have the right to self determination however, David Cameron has agreed with Alex Salmond that a referendum on independence will take place in Scotland by the end of 2014.
The sort of populist politics we have seen in Scotland, which has distracted greatly from the real problems present in the United Kingdom, must not be the course for Cataluña and Spain. Unlike Scotland the Catalan economy may be vibrant and strong, among the very strongest in Spain, but that strength is also drawn from inter-reliance within Spain and has been built from the status quo of being an integral part of the Spanish economy without barrier.
To move into uncharted territory without great tangible resources such as mineral or oil wealth, particularly at a time of crisis and uncertainty, would be a grave and unforgiving error.
Even if secession from Spain is achieved, it offers no guarantee of membership of the EU. Such membership is in fact unlikely both in consideration of the fact that from a realpolitik perspective the EU has and would have a stronger bond with Spain with or without Cataluña, and that Spain is able to veto the application of Cataluña to the EU should such an application be made. Separation would leave Spain weaker, but Cataluña stranded and completely isolated.
History has taught us that great nations and great empires rarely strengthen by splitting asunder, and moreover that such a course usually heralds the decline of all parties. If there is ever reason for a great nation such as Spain to signal its own death by dividing itself, it should not be because of a short-term crisis, nor at the whim of populist politicians who wish to exploit that crisis for their own selfish ends.
As the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom alike must rise and fall as one nation.
Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman