Catalonia’s Drive for Independence and the Emergence of Global Cities

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Yves here. Tuesday night, we will have a much better idea of whether Catalonia’s separatists will execute their threat to declare independence, or will try to find a way to back down. But even if the separatist leaders decide to retreat, the secession movement is not going away any time soon.

While the idea that a major, if not the main, driver of the Catalonia independence movement is that the Spanish government is greatly favoring Madrid over Barcelona, sounds intriguing, I’d very much like to get a reaction from our readers in Spain. The most consistent grievance stated in comments has been that the central government is corrupt. Another big one is that its austerity policies have hurt the country. In other words, this sounds as if a driver is that Catalonia is upset about what they see as distant and not sufficiently accountable government, that Madrid doesn’t care much/enough about Catalonia, and that may go deeper than just the budget issues.

A strong thread in the zeitgeist is for more relocalization of power, economically and politically. Some of this is a reaction to the way globalization has created an economic elite that lives apart from the overwhelming majority of people and almost without exception, makes it far too clear that it not only fails to share their interests but even holds them in contempt. Another reason is the pragmatic recognition that globalization combined with the push both by businesses and government for greater efficiencies (as in cost savings), save for obvious exercises in pork like the F-35, is that systems built for high efficiency are very fragile. Formula One cars run only one race. Cheetahs are far more injury-prone than other high-level predators.

So the interest in relocalization is on many levels defensive, based on concern that those extended supply chains, Federal disaster rescue efforts, and other important but distant supply sources might not be there when you need them.

This article argues for yet anther set of drivers: competition by two world cities for one national budget.

But I think, contra Joseph Tainter, that cultures can forestall collapse by leading the elites to focus on the general good when they have to resolve conflicts among their often conflicting responsibilities. And their example helps make that a strong social norm. Otherwise, they wind up in the situation Jamie Lannister describes in the Game of Thrones:

So many vows…they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.

By Jacint Jordana, professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Originally published at openDemocracy

There are two large metropolitan areas in Spain: Barcelona and Madrid. While Madrid, with a population of 6.5 million, sits in third place in Europe, after London and Paris, Barcelona is in sixth place, with nearly 5 million. The two are global capitals and compete primarily in a European and international arena, although the tensions between them can be seen as drivers of the current political-territorial dispute in Spain.

Both are members of a small group of cities – not more than a dozen in Europe – where resources and information flow at high speed, in a game of planetary dimensions. In this sense there is no direct competition between Madrid and Barcelona; it is only that they compete in the same league, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

However, the current conflict between Catalonia and Spain cannot be fully comprehended without understanding that, in the context of globalization, both cities, and the large metropolitan areas in which are embedded, are trying to concentrate the prominence and accumulate most of the resources linked to growth and power. For this reason, any analysis of the territorial conflict in Spain should incorporate this dimension if it is to avoid falling into an outdated understanding of the current political conflict.

Asymmetric Competition 

It must be understood that a metropolitan area is a top-level node in this globalized world, drawing resources from its surroundings while it distributes them. So, it requires a political articulation that normally implies the recycling of traditional state models that emerged in the 19th century, albeit with some significant changes.

Obviously, if this state recycling does not take place smoothly, adopting new functions that permit develop intense relations with other areas and territories, the development of the metropolitan area and its global position can suffer, even though (of course) it all depends on its competitive advantages. Global cities need states; in fact, they certainly need to make them theirs. A state can serve a single metropolitan area converted into a global city, as in the cases of Paris and London, or it can serve more than one, as we see in Italy and Germany. Logically, if such support is distributed, the capacity and projection of global cities does not reach the same proportions, as shown in the cases of Milan and Rome, or Berlin and Frankfurt; but note that these are cities belonging to two relatively new states, both formed in the second half of the 19th century.

Without digging into historical revisions, tensions between Barcelona and Madrid in recent decades, and especially since the start of the great economic crisis initiated in 2008, contain an element of dispute over the role of the state in supporting the construction of global cities. Barcelona’s economic, cultural and social elites perceive that they do not receive enough support from the Spanish state, since it directs its support towards turning Madrid into a global city. They complain that Spain’s model is a state with a single global city, having the largest possible projection and heaviest possible economic weight.

Madrid’s political and economic elites perceive Barcelona as something alien to their state model, and consider that in any case its global positioning should be subordinated to the objectives of promoting a single great global city in Spain. Unlike Italy or Germany, the Spanish state has bet on a single global city. Or, to put it in other way round, Madrid elites have mainly captured the state.

It is obvious that this is a conflict between the elites of two European global cities which share a state, where one of them has captured the state, to propel its own development in the global arena. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the elites of the other global city in Spain are considering the idea of building a state of their own. The awareness of such a need is a fundamental difference in the political positions in recent years of much of the Catalan elites, compared to their positions over the previous two centuries, when there were no major claims for a state of their own.

This ambition is often formulated through nationalist speech, but also with cosmopolitan arguments, and discussion of investment and the distribution of fiscal resources. In many cases, this involves a similar tension, based on the absence of a state capable of backing and assisting the position of Barcelona and its surroundings as a global city.

Without going more deeply into Spain’s current political configuration, it should be noted Spanish state’s significant weaknesses in knowledge and specialized skills. Outdated and widely inefficient recruitment procedures, an old-fashioned organizational model, and its numerous bodies of civil servants undergoing constant internal struggles and heavily corporate, have together generated a weak state when it comes to acting in a globalized environment. It is unable to autonomous leadership as to territorial matters and depends heavily on the large business corporations that have contributed to made Madrid its global capital. This interpenetration among a few national champions –that benefited from state support, and very much so, in their global expansion – and within the state itself as an organization, has been consolidated in the age of globalization, contributing to the upholding and projecting of its global city.

Will the State Evolve into a Model of Two Global Cities?

It is difficult to imagine how this model can be reversed, and how Spain could adopt a state model with a number of global cities, or at least two, and evolve into a format of neutrality. There are examples in Europe, but the difficulties of such a transformation would be extreme, given the existing historical and social conditioning.

In fact, one could view the efforts to reform the Catalan Statute in 2006, and the claims for a fiscal pact for Catalonia at the beginning of the 2010s, as a bid by its political and economic elites to establish a model that would permit the absorption of additional resources and capabilities from the Spanish state, yet which would still be compatible with the state’s commitment to support Madrid as a global city.

Divergent perceptions and other commitments – all in the middle of a harsh Spanish fiscal and financial crisis – prevented the completion of such agreements, triggering higher-risk alternatives that had been discarded until that moment by the Catalan elites. Besides, EU single market and globalization also helped to consider alternative scenarios.

There’s Something Else

A struggle between elites of two global cities favoured very asymmetrically by a state can become bloody, but this would be a limited explanation of the aggravated social and political conflict between Spain and Catalonia over the last few years. As much as one cannot look upon the role of the state in the territory as if we were at the beginning of the 20th century, this alone is not enough to explain the mobilization capacity and the intensity of the feelings aroused. There is something else.

Globalization has not only generated the phenomenon of global cities, it has also produced profound changes in the distribution of income between different social sectors, as well as access to well-paying jobs. Following the studies of Branko Milanovic and other analysts, we know for a fact that among those left behind by globalization there are numerous segments of the middle class and skilled workers from the developed countries.

The reasons for this relative impoverishment are related to global competition that led to open trade agreements and promoted new technologies; its political consequences have become apparent in recent years. Events such as the recent election of Trump in the United States, or the UK voting in 2016 to leave the EU, are in a way related to this process of relative impoverishment of some social groups in the developed countries, to the extent that speeches calling for a reversal of globalization and a return to models of markets protected by states can now be perceived increasingly as a political option.

These developments are also present in Spain and in Catalonia – not in the form of a rise of the extreme right, fortunately, as in France or just recently in Germany, but in forms buried in numerous political behaviours, conditioned political strategies or multiple social mobilizations. We cannot analyse in detail the political implications of these social changes in Spain, but we can highlight some very visible aspects.

One central element is the challenge to the maintenance of the classical benefits of the welfare state, focused on the distribution of resources in a passive way to many social groups affected by economic changes, direct or indirect, as a result of globalization, that are especially intense in some areas of the country. To some extent, strong state support to launch a global city was legitimized by keeping such policies for large social groups across the entire Spanish territory.

To oversimplify, we could point out two large groups. There are several generations of workers who have experienced relatively stable employment and the welfare state benefits established in the 1980s by socialist governments. There are also professional sectors and large groups of young people who have enjoyed hardly any welfare safety nets, and whose prospects of stability and professional advancement are slim. Both groups share expectations and frustrations about the political-economic model, betting on different policy options to avoid welfare dismantling.

Although Catalonia benefited also from the afore mentioned territorial pact, the weight and the visibility of its global city destabilized the equation, as well as its particular social and cultural integration with different legitimate discourses. Yet in Catalonia it has generated an additional alternative, which attracts a broad segment of the second group and, possibly, some members of the first group. That alternative is the option of an independent state of Catalonia.

Setting aside its eventual plausibility, these perceptions encourage the mobilization of broad sectors of losers – or potential losers – due to globalization in Catalonia, and those who in recent years have experienced wage reductions, lack of opportunities, professional stagnation, or even exclusion from the labour market.

Among the attractions of this additional alternative are the expectations of better social benefits, because the new state will have, predictably, a greater income. There may also be higher expectations of growth, with the perception of a more sustainable economic model, as well as diffuse expectations about state-building opportunities and further potential support for professional careers.

A Singular Coalition

The pro-independence movement in Catalonia has created a singular coalition that includes: beneficiaries of globalization, the elites of a global city, those left behind by globalization, and the popular sectors that are losing opportunities in comparison to previous generations and are witnessing shortages or are being left out of the welfare state.

This alliance, not so conspicuous in daily politics in Catalonia, but very effective, is held together by three very important conditions. First, there is the common perception that it is a non-zero sum game bigger that zero, where everyone will benefit. Secondly, there is the shared perception of belonging to a political community, a well-defined territory with elements of cultural identity, widely recognized; and third, the balance between rural territory and a global city that does not generate major tensions.

Thus, the independence movement in Catalonia is not only a nationalist movement, although there is a strong nationalist component within it; nor is it a movement based on irrational feelings, mired in a glorious past. It is also a political response, with a strong strategic component of territorial base, to the challenges that globalisation is creating in all developed countries, particularly in its current multi-polar phase.

The struggle for survival and well-being of political communities in the developed north has just started. Global cities and regional integration mechanisms have much more capacity to adapt to these changes than European states established many centuries ago -unless they actively transform and innovate themselves. However, cities still need states.

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  1. Ruben

    The article correctly highlights one important aspect of the territorial crisis in Spain. The elites of a global city like Barcelona want a state that serves them, the Spanish state is a poor choice, the Spanish state cannot afford to be a better state for Barcelona, and Barcelona’s elites have found an unlikely ally on the systemic and anti-systemic left of the Catalan political spectrum to form a critical mass of separatists.

    The question then is why the Spanish state cannot be a better state for Barcelona? There are proximate and ultimate causes.

    Among the proximate causes the most important ones are (1) the very intellectually-challenged nature of the current leadership in Spain, both in the gov’t and the opposition, but most remarkably in the gov’t, leading to a gov’t policy of doing nothing and waiting while the separatist movement gathered strength, (2) the financial crisis which increased public debt to astronomical figures as well led to the on-going depletion of the social security fund, thus creating a central gov’t that is starved for cash and cannot make any budget concession, fairer allocation of resources, to a richer region such as Catalonya.

    Among the ultimate causes the most important one is the imbalance in productivity among Spanish regions combined with the different cultures and languages of those regions. The two most productive regions are Catalonya and the Basque Country, both having their own languages. The separatist movement of the latter has been neutralized by giving this region a large degree of autonomy in collecting and using tax revenue, this is a special, unique situation in Spain, but the same cannot be done with Catalonya because Catalonya is much bigger than the Basque Country. The Spanish state cannot afford to give Catalonya the same degree of tax autonomy it has given to the Basque Country.

    The push for relocalization in response to the elites concentration of wealth as a result of globalization, does not play a role here. It is more like Jordana says, a struggle between two elites, facilitated by the (intellectually and economically) weak dominant elite residing in Madrid.

    1. Basil Pesto

      I just wrote a long ranty essay to no-one in particular (title: “Catalunya and the political misuse of the concepts of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights'”) – while I was researching it I came across this report. It’s four years old, but it touches on the second proximate cause that you raise, and gives some specific examples from Catalunya as well (Catalonia is too close to Catatonia for my liking). Here’s the summary of the relevant findings (there is also a section on police brutality, which is what lead me to the report in the first place):


      Commissioner Nils Muižnieks and his delegation visited Spain from 3 to 7 June 2013. In the course of this visit the Commissioner held discussions with state authorities and non-governmental, national and international organisations. The present report draws on the themes of the Commissioner’s visit and focuses on the following human rights issues:

      I. Impact of the economic crisis and fiscal austerity measures on children

      The Commissioner is concerned by the growing child poverty rate in Spain, which reached 30.6% in 2011, and has a potentially devastating long-term impact on children and the country. Children have been disproportionately affected by cuts in social, health and educational budgets and shrinking family benefits have led some children to experience destitution and nutrition problems. The Commissioner urges the authorities to adopt and implement more vigorous and co-ordinated strategies to tackle the root causes of child poverty and to prevent it. In this context, Spain is called on to accede to the revised European Social Charter and to its mechanism of collective complaints. He also underlines the need for a systematic impact assessment of austerity measures on children and other vulnerable social groups, in close co-operation with civil society and National Human Rights Structures such as the national and regional ombudsmen. He is particularly concerned about the detrimental impact of forced evictions on children and their families. The Commissioner is also concerned at the reported growing obstacles that undocumented migrant children face in accessing health care in contravention of the standards contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by which Spain is bound. The Commissioner is worried about the substantial cuts inflicted on education budgets in the last three years, ranging from 14.4% to 21.4%, and their impact on equality of opportunities and on the principle of inclusive education. The authorities are called upon to make sure that cuts in education budgets, notably in programmes of support for children with specific difficulties, do not affect equal access to quality education for all children. Lastly, the Commissioner calls on the authorities to reconsider their plans to abolish mandatory education for citizenship and human rights in schools, stressing that human rights-related education is key to combating all forms of intolerance and developing generations of active and responsible citizens – indispensable in a democratic society.

      II. Impact of the economic crisis and fiscal austerity measures on persons with disabilities

      Whilst welcoming substantial improvements in the policy and legal framework that aims to promote and protect the human rights of the 3.8 million persons with disabilities in Spain, the Commissioner is worried about the serious impact that budgetary cuts have had on the living conditions of these persons and their social inclusion. No impact assessment of budgetary cuts on persons with disabilities has yet been carried out. The Commissioner is concerned about shortcomings in the implementation of the 2006 law on personal autonomy and care for dependency, such as the strict categorisation of persons with disabilities according to their levels of diagnosed disability. The Commissioner is also concerned by the fact that the economic crisis and financial restrictions have had a detrimental impact on most programmes and policies aimed at promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities on an equal footing with others, including measures to improve accessibility to general services as well as employment and training programmes. Given the very high rate of unemployment among persons with disabilities, estimated at over 30%, the authorities are called on to avoid limiting training opportunities and assistance in the field of employment for these persons. The Commissioner is particularly worried about the potential impact of shrinking educational budgets on the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream education, taking into account the already high drop-out rate among these children in Spain. The authorities are urged to pay more attention to and accommodate the needs of persons with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities, 10 000 of whom are currently estimated to be homeless, while budgetary cuts threaten the community-based mental health model introduced in Spain in 1986. The Commissioner calls on Spain to promptly complete the process of reform of the legislation on the legal capacity of persons with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities and to ensure their full participation in the country’s political and public life, giving full effect to the principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to the Council of Europe standards.

      The Council of Europe is not the EU, so I can’t get too upset at the “you’re not spending enough money on these important things” alarm. The report gives an earnest account with a sense of it being an unhappy place for a lot of people:

      – Characteristically, in 2012 in the region of Catalonia 20% of young people between 16 and 19 were neither working nor studying

      – In Catalonia, for instance, the regional budget for support to families with children was reduced by about 75% in 2011

      – In August 2013, the Ombudsman of Catalonia published a report indicating that about 50 000 children currently face nutrition problems in Catalonia, including acute ones for 750 of them.

      1. Ruben

        The Spanish state has been trying to crapify social services all over the territory they control, but they have failed to a certain degree in the Basque Country because of its large degree of fiscal autonomy. I remember cases in health coverage and in education, where the Basque gov’t has by-passed or challenged Spanish laws intended to make life harder for the less wealthy (co-pay for medicines of retirees, rejection of health service to undocumented immigrants, removing support for school books for poor children). I am a frequent visitor to the Basque Country because of business but I am not a local so if I am wrong about some details I invite Basque readers to correct me. Of course Catalonya does not have the same degree of fiscal autonomy so it finds harder to fight off the impoverishment that the Spanish state has been trying to spread all over its territory.

    2. Neeraj

      That the elites are fueling the proletariat’s independence drive – Is there any evidence of that? I thought the 522 smaller cities (proletariat) that are not called Barcelona are the prime drivers of independence.

      [In the U.S. the elites remain the puppet-masters – It was the elites financing the establishment (Republicans & Democrats) and it is the elites (Mercer Family) fueling the current cultural war (Bannon, et al). The proletariat (conservatives, neo-conservatives, neo-liberals, the educated working class) were are continue to be the puppets].

  2. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    Common sense, that seemingly increasingly rare thing is I believe is at the root of the above & the deep pain out there has been suppressed but is constantly growing & seeking an outlet. As someone still climbing out of that pit of despair I can understand it, although I do not like most of the available options of expression – but whose fault is that ?

  3. Zzzz Andrew

    Yves, apologies for pointing out a typo, but it’s an important sentence and I’d like to understand better what you mean:

    But I think, contra Joseph Tainter, that culture can forestall collapse by leading the elites focus mainly the general good when they have to resolve the conflicts among their often conflicting responsibilities.

    “by leading the elites focus mainly the general good” … should that be “by leading the elites to focus mainly on the general good”? or “by leading elites’ focus mainly on the general good”? The latter would make more sense to me, but maybe you meant something else.

  4. ChrisAtRU

    Ahhhh the stench of Austerity

    #AncientReasons aside, of course – yes, our elites don’t like their elites is something that likely manifests itself regardless, given history. However, it’s easier to starve one child to ensure the “growth” of the other using austerity as a bludgeon.

    I’m reminded of #OldElPasoTacoGirlMeme: Why Can’t We Have Both? (Madrid and Barcelona)

    Well perhaps, because Austerity

    And for Yves, a quick note on this:

    “Formula One cars run only one race.”

    Thankfully no longer the case really. During the final years of the Ecclestone era, there was a marked shift towards cost reduction which meant making sure engines could endure more than one race. Today’s “power units” are hybrids as well, so have both a combustion part and a battery part allowing them to consume less fuel than their predecessors. For this season, the rules are complex since there are penalties for replacing individual parts of the power unit.

  5. tegnost

    Very interesting and thought provoking article, thanks…someone please explain to me why I kept thinking about amazon’s idea to have two headquarter cities…the contrast between a region that has stumbled on unity vs a goliath that that thrives on disunity perhaps?

  6. michael

    While the article about Madrid v Barcelona municipality tensions is interesting, the context for the current push towards independence cannot be reduced to any single driver. First off, those in power in Catalonia are much better at motivating action by protesters and voters. As those in the US can attest, real and perceived outrage is a powerful motivational factor for voting in local elections and primaries. Once in place, the local power has been dragging along supporters by nature of the general population’s willingness to blame others for injustices (real and imagined) and to go along with sound-bite-sized solutions. Still, as the reality of possible independence starts to become clear for the millions of pro-Spanish Catalans (and immigrants), you’re starting to see more courage against the more vocal and better organised Independistas. What’s remarkable to me is that external media, even thoughtful reports, reduce the situation to Catalans shaking off the yoke of an oppressive central government. In my personal experience, the superficial perspectives of those outside of Spain that Madrid is oppressing democracy and cultural expression in Catalonia disappear once people understand just how much autonomy Catalonia enjoys today (lawmaking, language and education, policing, etc). “Oh, I didn’t know that,” they reply.

    No doubt there are those in power in Madrid who, through ugly politics and sometimes downright corruption, make investment decisions favouring the country as a whole and sometimes favouring the Madrid community in particular. In an independent Catalonia, few Catalans are considering a scenario where the city of Barcelona, with 1/2 of the population for the entire region, decides on funds that, say, Girona wants. Without a sizeable counterbalance, we know who wins that political battle. The mechanisms of power are still the same.

    Likewise, many of the “accepted truths” about Catalonia’s superior productivity and disproportionate tax flows situation are debatable (e.g an OECD report from 2010 showed not only that Catalonia’s productivity was middling compared to the rest of Spain, but that it was mostly driven by immigrants. I’ll see if I can find a more recent study from a similarly reputable source). How much of Barcelona’s economic situation is not from “hush money,” other unique advantages (e.g. port of entry for Spain from goods through Mediterranean as well as for tourists entering Spain from Europe), or their willingness to carry debt loads far higher than the rest of Spain’s regions? This is not to say that Barcelona isn’t a relatively competitive economy compared to the rest of Spain, but to call out its relative economic status today as evidence of Catalonia’s potential is conjecture at best.

    The “Spain is corrupt” argument is also selective and reductive. Catalonia has its own versions of power grabbing — sometimes abjectly corrupt (see Pujol, his friends and family), but also driven by political manoeuvring (see countless examples such as Telefonica’s, a supposedly public company, continued R&D center investments in Barcelona at the expense of other regions or centrally in Madrid).

    What I’ve been hearing from Spaniards in Madrid (not necessary elites, but highly educated from many different regions including Catalonia) is that they would sadly accept Catalan independence, but not on the backs of the hopelessly flawed context of an illegal vote. Agree with the constitution or not, the vote was illegal. Instead, first establish legally binding criteria for a referendum that would require a significant participation rate (say 85%) including Catalans living in and working in other Spain regions. Also, require more than a simple majority to agree to independence, but something more significant (say 66%). Provide an “equal voices” rule that prevents intimidation of dissenting voices in either direction. While these criteria may seem challenging, and similar proposals have been discussed but not enacted in the past, it does force an honest discussion of the pros and cons independence and agreement by more than the vocal and very emotionally motivated percentage behind the movement today.

    1. Anon

      Thanks for your perspective.

      I don’t know whom will win out in this affair, or whom has the most compelling narrative, but it is CLEAR that the national government in Madrid is incompetent (the US has its own corollary). Sending in the Civil Guard to disrupt the vote, negates your point about a “hopelessly flawed” vote for independence. The point of the Civil Guard was disruption/intimidation; unfortunately an undetermined number of Catalonians had to be battered to do that.

      If, in fact, there are hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Catalonians determined to be an “independent” region, and willing to sacrifice for it, then allowing the vote and indulging in discussion over possible solutions to grievances is much wiser than the possible alternative: internecine guerilla warfare. (See: Basque region.)

      1. Michael

        Thanks for your reply. The vote was flawed because of the asymmetric “get out the vote” and eventual participation. If you are pro-Spain in Catalonia, you have tremendous social pressure to not participate ( also, by nature of the fact you respect the law and the central government accusations that the act of voting is illegal.) This is far from being a democratic process.

        Allowing the vote (again, asymmetrically organised by one side) THEN indulging in possible solutions to grievances? This context is not new nor are the claims. The independistas are (mostly) not saying “Either give into our demands for more autonomy and a fairer share of our tax revenues or we will demand to be completely independent”. It is independence, punto.

        Look, I agree the Spanish govt was heavy handed and I understand that taxes can be unfair. But I do have a hard time connecting with the independistas’ “because we want to be free” platitudes when the majority of residents will be much worse off financially, and the disruption will also bring unpredictable and cascading social impacts. Catalonia has many immigrants and non-Catalan companies, who are contributing to the economy and culture as much as any independista, and who settled expecting the context of being in Spain and the EU, not Catalonia.

        As much as the central govt handling has been incompetent (although they lose no matter what they do if Catalonia goes through with it), the Catalan independence movement has been at best naive about the unpredictability of a post independence existence and at worst abjectly disingenuous.

    2. Basil Pesto

      Provide an “equal voices” rule that prevents intimidation of dissenting voices in either direction. While these criteria may seem challenging, and similar proposals have been discussed but not enacted in the past, it does force an honest discussion of the pros and cons independence and agreement by more than the vocal and very emotionally motivated percentage behind the movement today.

      This is indeed standard good practice for holding referendums. See here. Those guidelines in general show that what happened on October 1 was very, very far from a bona fide democratic exercise.

      Many thanks for your insights.

    3. Ruben

      “What I’ve been hearing from Spaniards in Madrid (not necessary elites, but highly educated from many different regions including Catalonia) is that they would sadly accept Catalan independence, but not on the backs of the hopelessly flawed context of an illegal vote.”

      This is the Spanish position on this: “We made your referendum illegal so we cannot accept your illegal referendum”.

    4. enrique

      Very good analysis that goes beyond “the good ( Catalonia) the bad (Spain ) and the ugly” simplistic analysis.

      My concern is about the reactionary and dark aspects of the Catalan nationalism. Below the “Democracy” “Freedom” and the pseudo flower power fachade you can find very unpleasant surprises which put the Cataland “Freedom” movement it in the same category with other European dark phenomena such as AFD or UKIP

      I will make use of one quote to explain my point and leave other aspects (such as the exclusive use of the Catalan and the explicit discrmination of the Castellano Speakers 50% of the population, or the way Spaniards are pictured in Spain) to other ocassion:

      “<blockquote>or a referendum that would require a significant participation rate (say 85%) including Catalans living in and working in other Spain regions.

      Such sentence reflects an implicit acceptance of the ethnic based Catalan nationalism:
      Lets analyze: If the right to participate in an “agreed” referéndum” is confined only to “Catalans” (and not to Spanish CITIZENS) , the question is how to define “who is Catalan” ( Zionism is also forced to dela with the question, but Israel, at least legally belongs to its citizens, Arabs and Jews). The implicit (and rather dangerous) hypothesis is that rights to vote are given also to “Catalans living and working in other regions of Spain” (For example, Man. City manager who lives in England). That means that the privilege is based upon ETHNIC criterion, not to say racist as it discriminantes between a Madrileño with Catalan origins and a Madrileño without them.

      Therefore, the whole structure of the “mega cities” competition analysis does not fit with the ethnic focus : If a Catalan living in Madrid is considered part of the Catalan collective, how can we talk about a territorial conflict? Once again, there are for sure economic aspects in the Catalan independence aspirations, but they go hand in hand with very dark and dangerous underground streams.

  7. Ignacio

    There are many things to discuss about this article. It is indeed interesting but in my opinion incurs in the fallacy of competition so strongly supported by the Word Economic Forum and the likes. Competition, competitiveness, governance… fill the mouths of notables and it much has to do with competition between elites that they would like the rest of us to transpire. I don’t really believe that rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid is what drives independentism currently. It was the case during centralist and anti-catalanist Franco’s dictatorship but not now. The core of Catalonian independentism resides in rural areas.

    Global cities are more prone to integration than independentism

  8. Synoia

    Madrid’s political and economic elites perceive Barcelona …Madrid elites have mainly captured the state.

    I believe from visiting Barcelona, the locals believe they are sending money to Madrid better spent locally. With a blanket of austerity covering the world this should be an expected reaction.

    Does austerity lead to “our taxes are better spent near home?”

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We don’t have that in the US (see California and New York) but our austerity is pretty lite and has been administered gradually over a long time.

      1. flora

        ah, but austerity lite administered over a very long time works like compound interest – or negative compound interest – on the real economy. administered gradually over a long period of time doesn’t create a sudden big shock, and consequently no sudden public outrage. even though the final economic result is the same.

        Slightly off topic, did the Occupy movement produce any white papers addressing austerity and budget cutting on the real economy while the FIRE sector was bailed out?

  9. Jesus Martinez

    Hi all
    regarding the subject of the elites, I think that the game described by the author existed clearly up until 2 years ago. I have posted before about how the Catalan elites lost control of events and even their own party of choice to exert that control (that was in a recent links section, I seem to recall). Their scenario is D+ (devolution+). What we have been seeing recently is a different thing. Ignacio’s comment, for instance, is interesting under this light.

    Puigdemont’s declaration of independence today marks a watershed. And not a positive one in my view. I think it is one of those Florentine subtlety tricks that have worked in Catalan politics, but it is not going to work with the Spanish repressive apparatus. I am terribly disappointed. I think that Puigdemont has sent the popular sentiment momentum down the drain. A popular revolt was the only chance to force the Spanish police/judiciary out of the country. And I think that the military option was a huge source of trouble for the EU (imagine only what Beppe Grillo’s campaign is going to do with the images of police repression, and then imagine what it would do if in stead of the police it was the tanks) that they would want to avoid at all costs.

    We’ll see how things pan out in the next few days, but I am not expecting much. New cycle in Catalan politics?

    By the way, re. elites: their pet instrument in Catalan politics (CiU/PDeCAT) is probably dead now, after having been useless for their purposes for the last couple of years. Puigdemont was their only real asset. Now he is gone. They’ll come up with something, I am sure.

    1. Ruben

      I share your sentiments but I disagree with your diagnosis. I think that by accepting the validity of the independence vote but delaying the independence declaration and calling for dialogue and negotiation, the Catalan leader Puidgemont has done the right move. First, the call for negotiation and dialogue exploits the incompetence of the Spanish leadership. Second, delaying the independence declaration pleases EU leaders and the Spanish left (Podemos), and both of these potentially are the best possible allies/helpers/non-obstacles of the Catalan push for independence.

  10. enrique

    Questions and comments:

    1. How the thesis that the Catalan Nationalism is not more than a fight for hegemony (Catalonia was the economic Spain´s engine for decades), fits with the massive run away of Banks and Major Companies from Catalonia to other regiones in Spain? Shouldn´t we expect the opposite reaction, i.e. a firm support of the Nationalistic case?

    2. Catalonia was for decades the economic engine of Spain thanks to …Franco! The most industrialized in Spain region enjoyed an proto fascist autarchic economy for 40 years, a huge flow of cheap labor “Charnegos” from agrarian Spain ( Catalonia doubled its population in 30 years time) and the support of the regime. Even the first Olympiads in Spain were in Barcelona. The question is why the Catalan Elite decided to give up the fight for hegemony in Spain and opted for the independent state solution.

    3. According to the Spanish press, the plan for detachment from Spain was formulated ap. 10 years ago within CIU , the right wing dominant party. Therefore the Supreme Court corrections of the Autonomic “Estatut” in 2010 sounds more as an excuse than a real motivation for the detachment process.

    4. The Catalan society is deeply divided between ap. 40% separatists, 40% unionist and 20% in the middle ( personal evaluation based upon polls ) . Now, the fact that the Separatists are dominant is thanks to their control over the beaurocratic apparatus, communication, education and economic power of the state used to finance or support ONG close in spirit and mind ( AND, OMNIUM and others) to the regime. Please do not put all the Catalans in the same basket.

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