Catalonia Secession Becomes Damp Squib as Catalans Accept Direct Rule

Well, that was fast. Due to the late hour, forgive me for being a bit terse.

From Politico’s daily European news summary:

Catalonia’s deposed President Carles Puigdemont is coming to this year’s Halloween party dressed as the EU’s worst nightmare. He will be trick or treating today at 12:30 p.m. at a Brussels press conference, expected to be held at Residence Palace, with up to five fellow ex-ministers: Joaquim Forn (interior), Meritxell Borràs (public administration), Dolors Bassa (employment), Antoni Comín (health) and Meritxell Serret (agriculture), in Belgium on the run from Spanish authorities.

And despite the threats of a general strike and fulminations about Catalonian civil servants refusing to take orders from Madrid, Catalans appeared overwhelmingly to accept the new status quo. From Reuters (hat tip Oregoncharles):

On Friday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed Catalonia’s secessionist government, called a regional election for Dec. 21 and said the central government would take direct control.

That process began smoothly on Monday as employees ignored calls for civil disobedience and turned up for work, while secessionist parties agreed to stand in the December poll….

Some of the most prominent ousted Catalan leaders, including Puigdemont and Vice President Oriol Junqueras, had said they would not accept their dismissal.

But their respective parties, PdeCat and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, said on Monday they would take part in the election called by Rajoy, a tacit acceptance of direct rule from Madrid. The regional parliament canceled a meeting for Tuesday, another signal lawmakers accepted they had been dismissed.

A call for widespread civil disobedience from the main civic groups behind the secessionist campaign failed to attract many followers. Public-sector workers such as teachers, firefighters and the police mostly started work as normal on Monday and there was no sign of widespread absenteeism.

As the Financial Times put it more succinctly:

The dream of Catalan separatists of creating Europe’s newest state appeared to crumble on Monday as Madrid moved swiftly to take control of the breakaway region following the decision by its parliament on Friday to declare independence from Spain…

Some former Catalan ministers had said that moves by the Spanish government to assume control would be met with rebellion on the streets and a campaign of civil disobedience. But that failed to materialise, and Spain re-established its authority over the region with ease.

Some readers had argued vociferously that the results of a referendum in which the balloting was not reliable due to a lack of ballot controls plus boycotting by those opposed to independence should nevertheless be treated as valid. The majority it showed was suspect by virtue of the fact that the regional government’s own polls, pre-election, showed only 41% support for independence.

Some argued that the thuggish crackdown on the day of the polling would increase support for the separatists. But as I had indicated, there was good reason to doubt this would have much impact. People are very attached to their prior beliefs. Secession is a hotly and regularly debated issue in Catalonia. Only those who did not have an established position would be move by the spectacle of Guardia Civil head-breaking. How many would that be? Only at most a small percentage of undecides, which would be too few to shift the majority view into the pro-independence camp..

Moreover, as the possibility of independence came closer to being enacted, the divided interests of the forces supporting it became more evident. The main players were anarcho-syncicalists and rich bourgeios Catalans. The latter weren’t all that committed to secession, particularly since their main beef was economic, the taxes they paid to poorer regions. The costs of breaking away would greatly exceed any benefits of autonomy. Catalonia was in no way, shape, or form ready to operate as an independent state, even before you get to the huge difficulties posed by lack of EU support and widespread indications that no (or at least no country that counted) would recognize them.

Recent poll results also showed support for secession to be fading. Again from Reuters:

Two opinion polls showed support for independence may have started to wane. A Sigma Dos survey published in El Mundo showed 33.5 percent of Catalans were in favor of independence, while a Metroscopia poll published by El Pais put that number at 29 percent.

And before readers start complaining about El Pais, the accuracy of the poll is a function of the polling organization. If Metroscopia is a reputable pollster, there is no reason to doubt the results, particularly since it’s within range of the Sigma Dos results. And we see the sentiment shown in both polls confirmed by the lack of rebellion, or even much friction, in Catalonia on Monday.

Greece had good reason to persist in what was nevertheless certain to be a doomed fight with the Trokia in 2015. The country had been abused for no reason that made any economic sense, as Yanis Varoufakis tried explaining to European leaders. But in their political calculus, it was far more attractive to keep kicking the can down the road, and that mean continuing to squeeze the Greek people. Despite lacking its own currency and being dependent on ECB support of its banking system, two fatal weaknesses, Greece was nevertheless vastly more capable of going it alone that Catalonia every would have been by having a fuller government apparatus and vastly greater support of its people. The Greek fight in 2015 was noble even though at the same time painfully naive to watch, since its failure was predestined. By contrast, it was hard to muster much sympathy for Catalonia, when it was only a minority, albeit a large one that wanted to break free of Spain, and then too often for reasons that, when the veneer was stripped away, were simply selfish: a rich region didn’t want to send its tax dollars to poorer ones. This was not a serious enough set of grievances to support the backbreaking work and hard economic costs that rupture from Spain would entail. Enough Catalans recognized it to meekly accept the humiliation of direct rule by Madrid.

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  1. charlie

    As I said a few days ago, Independent Catalonia is a bubble.

    The core issue is the state funded media (channel 3).
    Secondary issue is state support of ON and CNA.

    I don’t know if any future Catalan government can solve that.

    There is another answer – which is to split Barcelona off from Catalonia.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I kind of suspected this would be the case. Catalonia is a relatively prosporous, stable region, people have potentially a lot to lose with a leap into the uncertainty, so it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of the pro-independence movement involves a lot of venting of frustration rather than a real desire for a potentially catastrophic change. You could see this in NI and Scotland where a lot of ‘nationalists’ really only want change if it can be guaranteed not to negatively impact on their personal circumstances. I think its been pretty clear that for most Catalans, they just want more local power, not necessarily independence.

    When you look at the history of independence movements, to get mass support there usually has to be some sort of tipping point issue, something that unites the fairly comfortable with the dispossessed in one desire. For all Rajoys authoritarian tendencies, he doesn’t seem to have gone that far yet.

    1. Ignacio

      Yes. Frustration is one of the drivers. That’s why this occured now. Not a good feeling to improve things should I say. CUP are just lunatics. There is of course “true catalanism” or traditional catalanism that felt repression during Franco’s dictatorship. But that happened too long ago to play a crucial role rigth now.

      Any rational analysis of Catalexit would point to a messy process that would doubtfully do any good for Catalonia and Spain.

      I would also like to be independent of Rajoy…

  3. divadab

    If the Spanish government is wise, they will be accomodative in order to soften the support for independence. This approach worked in both Scotland and Quebec, where multiple independence referenda have failed because the center made concessions that blunted the arguments for independence in enough people.

    However, the wisdom of the current Spanish govt., authoritarian heirs of Franco as they are, is not largely in evidence.

    1. rd

      Historically Quebec has had a significant presence in Parliament and several prime ministers have been from Quebec going back to Wilfrid Laurier in the 1800s. The Liberal Party has always had a major Francophone contingent. Beginning with Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s election, there was a serious movement in Canada to making the entire country more bilingual. Several provinces that were almost exclusively Anglophone resisted it, but the movement continued. Most federal civil servants are now bilingual.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        English-French bilingualism is a condition of employment for all public sector employment in Canada, no?

        1. Craig Burley

          No, that is not a condition for public sector employment at any level here, including at the federal level. Many positions do require bilingual competence.

    2. cirsium

      diva dab – the centre in the UK did not make concessions, it made promises. You will not be surprised to learn that it has not kept those promises which is why IndyRef2 is on the horizon.

  4. XXYY

    I think it’s a mistake to assume secession equals success, continued association with Spain equals failure. Rather, the correct way to see this whole adventure is that Catalonia has managed to put itself on the map and make its concerns known. Much like Scotland and Quebec, the Catalans have raised their voices and put the ruling powers on notice that they will be carefully watched and that the concerns of the region need to be addressed.

    This seems like a successful operation to me.

  5. diptherio

    This is the part that really troubles me:

    Only those who did not have an established position would be move by the spectacle of Guardia Civil head-breaking.

    It’s really this bad with people, isn’t it? “If violence is being carried out for a cause I support, then it’s just fine.” It’s at times like these that I feel like humanity is a lost cause. What kind of society can we expect from people who think like this? What kind of society will we have if we think like this? Jesus wept, along with Buddha, Mohamed, Krishna and all the rest….

    1. Andrew Watts

      Resorting to violence is a common problem-solving solution for humanity. Especially when you consider history or just about every superhero movies story.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        We don’t often have the chance to resort to violence struggling for independence (lots of chances with people in the bar we don’t like, with protesters, etc).

        We do constantly live with the consequences of resorting to violence on massive scales. The lands won from Native Americans via violent victories, for example. Or the territories of Puerto Rico or Guam, etc.

        Are we just as guilty accepting those results, as we do today, as those who participated in getting them, with violence?

    1. Joel

      Oh my God, people out there are actually talking about that? It wouldn’t rise to the level of a nothingburger because we had an entire Civil War to decide this point.

      1. Clive

        And as Brexit is proving, all you end up doing is substituting one lot of hassles for a different (but related) set of other hassles.

        Of course, in reverse, we have the DPRK and South Korea reunification…

      2. Dan

        Indeed, Calexit is nothing but smoke and mirrors. Half our population was born in another state or country, and cultural/economic divisions between rural and urban areas are FAR greater than between California and elsewhere. There’s just no cultural basis for secession – no ethnic, linguistic, or ideological solidarity to base it on – just a quantum of people with college degrees and expensive outdoor wear who like to posture. Nor does the state government have anything like the capacity to run an independent state – customs, currency, borders, military, trade agreements? Not going to happen in this century.

    2. Yves Smith Post author


      Lets start with the list:

      1. California depends on water from other states.

      2. California dependes on energy from other states. It does not even have its own electrical grid.

      3. California depends on drugs from other states.

      1. Crazy Horse

        I agree,Yves. For all its size, the economy of California lacks many of the assets that would benefit it if it were to operate as an independent country.

        On the other hand my country, Cascadia,* has everything it needs to permanently withdraw from the Empire and become a successful nation/state. (*Cascadia consists of the former states of Oregon, Washington, and Northern California merged with the former province of British Colombia.) It’s defining natural feature is the Colombia River, which along with wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear energy makes the region self sufficient in electrical power. We don’t grow our own oranges, but there is a huge amount of arable land sufficient for us to grow everything else we need. There is a reason why the pioneers were willing to cross the great plains in oxcarts to reach the Willamette Valley.

        Culturally and ethnically there is a substantial degree of homogeneity and shared values generated by appreciation of the ecosystem we live in. Perhaps diluted by the growth of the technosphere in the urban centers over the past two decades, but we are still closer to having shared values than most other regions of North America. Culturally we have almost nothing in common with people from New York or Washington DC, for example.

        Even though the Empire is no longer able to maintain Full Spectrum Dominance over the world as it once did, the key factor for any country like Cascadia that wants to follow its citizen’s desires for an independent existence is its’ ability to defend itself militarily. Fortunately at the time of Independence Cascadia had a vast array of the Empire’s armada within its borders. Our Trident missile submarines alone make us invulnerable to attack by any enemy without them suffering total annihilation. Since we don’t have any desire for overseas conquest, we were able to convert our aircraft carriers to oceanographic research platforms and international disaster relief hospitals, thus harvesting good will instead of fear. Initially we had to continually patrol the borders with our Boeing cruise missiles and drones, but as the Empire continued to weaken they have stopped their raids in favor of attempting to control the remaining oil producing regions of the continent.

        So the future is bright underneath our rainforest canopy.

  6. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    How will this impact, say, Taiwan vis-a-vis China?

    Financially, it could be far more costly.

    On the other hand, international players might get involved there.

    1. Brian M

      I’m guessing the CCP has its hands full with Hong Kong right now, and both “sides” will continue to pretend.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Perhaps that’s progress…it used to be that sovereign matters were priceless.

        It didn’t matter if some or a lot of people would lose money.

  7. Tony of CA

    It’s still too early to tell how this is going to work out. Overall Madrid has handled the situation very poorly. The Catalans are going to be extremely restive going forth.

  8. Anon

    for reasons that, when the veneer was stripped away, were simply selfish: a rich region didn’t want to send its tax dollars to poorer ones.

    Really? While I’m certain that there were likely selfish monetary reasons, is it that clear that taxation was the major motivator? There are long standing reports of cultural differences, Madrid incompetence (unfinished capital improvement projects), and a general lack of competence from Spanish leaders. Dissatisfaction can come from the gut, too

    Don’t misread civil servants not boycotting there jobs: it’s money in their pocket (potential piggy bank) and what better way to disrupt the Spanish leaders directives than through a “slow-down” and distortion of proclamations.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Don’t turn out the lights just yet.

  9. Andrew Watts

    If you didn’t see this outcome coming you don’t really understand politics. Under normal circumstances the process will yield a compromise. It isn’t necessarily a satisfactory outcome, or even a good one, but it’s something that most people can accept. With an issue like independence no compromise is possible and to believe otherwise is astonishingly deluded.

    The Catalonian separatists’ declaration of independence when it finally came was nothing more than a symbolic and futile gesture. It was never a position of strength or a bargaining chip. As they were never going to receive international support and that is a necessary prerequisite for any state. Practically every nation-state has a potential separatist movement in their midst and will not overtly support another without risking blowback. The containment of these movements was a founding basis of the EU besides the more idealistic goal of preventing another European Civil War. Magical thinking to the contrary won’t square well with that reality.

    Too many people were prepared to throw others under the bus in the pursuit of their cause. They wouldn’t be the ones to suffer the consequences of that action. That, above everything else, was the reason why I thought that “they’ll fold at the first sign of trouble much less violence.“. Most people live in terror of poverty or losing their jobs. They aren’t prepared to or capable of launching any rebellion. Revolutions happen when there is nothing to be gained through obedience and nothing to lose by rebelling.

    Moreover, people who aren’t willing to become martyrs, fight for their ideals, or stain their own hands in the pursuit of their cause won’t effectively rebel and no amount of protesting will change that. At a certain point people who engage in civil disobedience are reduced to being bystanders.

    1. Anon

      Then how do you explain the Basque Region? While not an independent nation, they’re seemingly more independent that the Catalans.

      1. Andrew Watts

        Depends on which part of that region we’re talking about. The French-controlled part of Basque Country has no autonomy whatsoever. It’s just another department of France with no special privileges as far as I know. As for the Spanish controlled part of Basque country the opportunity cost of subjugating it was probably considered greater than giving them a semi-independent government. Geography has a lot to do with that. Demographics a smaller part. The ETA was an ever-present threat and they have never been big on compromise historically.

        1. Strategist

          Andrew, you have a tendency which I find a little disturbing of wanting to call people wusses because they won’t start violence.
          How about we just put it to a fair vote? That’s all the Catalans ask.
          It’s easy to be a smartarse about realpolitik, but how about some respect for peaceful democracy as an ideal?

          1. Andrew Watts

            Andrew, you have a tendency which I find a little disturbing of wanting to call people wusses because they won’t start violence.

            How so? I wasn’t cheering on the prospect of another Spanish Civil War nor was I egging on the escalation of this crisis. Throughout it I found the actions of the Catalonian leadership to be stupendously foolish. Providing a list of reasons why people won’t revolt isn’t an endorsement of violence.

            How about we just put it to a fair vote? That’s all the Catalans ask. It’s easy to be a smartarse about realpolitik, but how about some respect for peaceful democracy as an ideal?

            The political world doesn’t work the way you want it to. Neither Spain or the European Union will ever view separatism as in their interest and they will resist it. Nor do I accept that this is solely an issue of self-determination. These events were unilaterally initiated by a minority government so any claims this was only the exercise of the self-determination of peoples are little more than propaganda.

            I honestly view this as a struggle between national and regional elites for control over wealth/resources. With the separatists cleverly using historical and cultural myths to manipulate people and aid their cause. Which is something I think we’re going to be seeing more of as we march further into our era of decline.

            1. Strategist

              Thanks for engaging. But I think you are too one-sided in your criticism. The separatists have been pushed into this by the pig-headed intransigence of Rajoy.

              And Catalan nationhood is no less of a historical and cultural myth than Spain as “one nation under God, indivisible”. I have used the divorce analogy before in these boards: is it your position that it is right that a wife should need the husband’s agreement to be able to get a divorce?

              Oh and by the way: “the political world doesn’t work the way you want it to”:
              I know. We can deal with this in different ways. A sceptical and/or cynical eye for events is one way. Flying a little flag for an ideal is another. Likely, we all should do a bit of both.

  10. Meher Baba Fan

    so the core of the government fled despite allegedly having up to two months for possible charges. did they get a tip off? or were they aware things could turn bad very quickly. it was very prompt and organised, all 5 of them. how will they afford it without jobs? did a wealthy patron loan them a brussels manor? they had to leave their families behind. maybe waiting to see if charges will be filed. if they are, they may remain fugitives forever

  11. Meher Baba Fan

    in response to the referendum figures Yves discusses. Isn’t the population of Catalonia about 7 million and the votes about 2.5 million? That indicates just how imbalanced the claims of a majority Pro vote really are

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Is that 7 million voting population, or just population (including those below voting age)?

      And do we ask that of all voting results, to be consistent (out of eligible voters, and not percentages of votes cast)?

    2. Anon

      The BBC reports that there are 5.2 million eligible voters in Catalonia. That makes 2.5 million close to half of all eligibles.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        As I said, the referendum was not trustworthy. No controls to prevent multiple votes being recorded, or people voting in the name of friends and neighbors. Also no evidence of access controls, so anyone could have tampered with the results.

        No independent poll monitor would have approved of how this election was run. I can’t believe you are trying to depict it as having any meaning whatsoever.

  12. Strategist

    I wonder if you’re drawing firm conclusions too early. Maybe they’ll make take their stand at the ballot box?
    Scot Goes Pop is quoting

    Do you want Catalonia to become an independent State?
    Yes 48.7% (+7.6)
    No 43.6% (-5.8)

    The fieldwork dates were 16th-29th October, and with Don’t Knows excluded the results are roughly: Yes 53%, No 47%. Percentage changes are from the same polling organisation’s figures in June.

    I have asked him to provide a link to his source.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Given that I don’t see the name of a pollster, this is presumably an online poll. They are worthless.

      And you can’t call the results of properly constructed polls (one with decent sized samples and sample weights) on Catalonian independence to be volatile. No poll in recent years, maybe evah, has show majority support for secession.

      1. Alister Rutherford

        The poll that Scotgoespop quotes is from a well established and reputable pollster. The Centre d’estudis d’opinio has been carrying quarterly surveys of Catalan opinion since 2004 or 05. 1 338 people were interviewed for the poll. Not quite sure why you seem to be so determined to downplay or as in this case to just dismiss positive news from Catalunya.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Please provide a link. No link means this is not proven.

          Moreover, the behavior of the public at large as witnessed Monday is very much at odds with what the Scotgoespop claims and the work done by other pollsters using reliable sampling methods.

    2. ricard

      Hi again from Barcelona.

      Here it is the CEO whole report (and a huge abstract in English:):

      CEO is more reliable than Metrocospia or Sigma dos.

      As you will see in question 31, NEVER in the historical record, support to independence has been so high. So, it is false that the support to independence process is decreasing, quite the opposite.

      Yesterday, the Spanish government got scared, and now they are menacing us of “deleting” parties that support the independence. At the same time, the “independent” justice is prosecuting all kind of Catalan politicians. We are now living in a non-democratic country. If your thesis was correct, nothing of this would happen.

      I understand your point Ives, but I assure you that, living here, is not so easy to put up with the power of the Spanish government. They are using the power (legal and illegal) to defeat us. We are doing what it is in our hands to deal with it.

      I say it again and again; this process started in the 2000 and is much much more than an economical/fianancial matter. The hidden agenda of the Popular Party is erasing our identity and language.

      Maybe, from your perspective, you see this process as an episode but, for us, it will be really a long-period of time process.

      Thank you again for your interest in the Catalan process.


  13. Strategist

    No poll in recent years, maybe evah, has show majority support for secession.

    Yeah, but rather a lot has gone on in the last few weeks! it will have entrenched many in their positions, but at the margin, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reaction of many to Spanish Guardia Civil (an essentially Francoist institution) all over the place is ‘get me out of here’.

    But agreed Scot Votes Pop should and must link to his source.

    All these seems moot anyway. There’s a real poll going to be held in December: an election. Will the Spanish govt allow the separatist parties to contest it, and will they count it fairly? This is the key issue now. All I’m saying is that it’s too early to call it over yet.

    But thanks for engaging, I know you’re a very busy person.

  14. Strategist

    Thanks for engaging. But I think you are too one-sided in your criticism. The separatists have been pushed into this by the pig-headed intransigence of Rajoy.

    And Catalan nationhood is no less of a historical and cultural myth than Spain as “one nation under God, indivisible”. I have used the divorce analogy before in these boards: is your position that it is right that wife should need the husband’s agreement to be able to get a divorce?

    Oh and by the way: “the political world doesn’t work the way you want it to”:
    I know. We can deal with this in different ways. A sceptical and/or cynical eye for events is one way. Flying a little flag for an ideal is another. Likely, we all should do a bit of both.

Comments are closed.