When Spain adopted its post-Franco constitution there was a fierce battle over the character of the state. The Right insisted on its unitary character with all its inhabitants simply “Spaniards”. The Left wanted a “plurinational state” with a federal character.
The Right basically won and the 1978 constitution referred to “the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards…”. However, there was a degree of compromise because it also guaranteed “the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed”.
Under the PSOE government, 2004-11, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia increased the authority of the Generalitat de Catalunya. This was approved in a referendum in June 2006 (73.9 per cent Yes, and 20.7 No, on a 49.4 per cent turnout) but in July 2010 the Spanish Constitutional Court, declared references to “Catalonia as a nation” to be invalid. The Court has likewise obstructed all attempts to hold a referendum.
Artur Mas, leader of the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia, CDC, has waged a ceaseless campaign for independence but his liberal bourgeois party has carried out harsh austerity measures during the crisis. This put him at odds with the other significant Catalan nationalist party, the Popular Unity Candidacy, CUP, which defines itself as anticapitalist.
Catalonia is Spain’s richest province and Mas stresses Madrid’s transfer of Catalan tax revenues to the poorer provinces. This utterly selfish capitalist regionalism has nothing to do with ending national oppression of the Catalans. Over the past three decades, this has largely been reduced to denial by the Spanish state of their freedom to secede if they want to. Of course, working class Catalans and youth have suffered under the crisis, but Mas in Barcelona has been no more their friend than Rajoy in Madrid.
In last September’s Catalan elections, which Mas declared a referendum on independence, only 47.7 percent voted for candidates supporting secession. Nevertheless, thanks to the electoral system, which advantages rural voters, the CDC and the CUP together won a majority in parliament.
Both parties have good reason to fear a democratic referendum campaign. The majority of the Catalan working class and the population of Barcelona, its largest city, are opposed to total separation and this majority would probably be even bigger if there were an anti-austerity government in Madrid. Therefore Podemos is correct to defend the Catalans’ right to hold a referendum. The PSOE’s refusal to do is not only a scandalous breach of democratic principles but the major obstacle to the formation of an anti-austerity government in Madrid.