Article 1.2 of the preliminary title of the Spanish Constitution states: “National sovereignty resides in the Spanish people, from whom the powers of the State emanate.” In essence, the distribution of power in Spain is dictated from the bottom upwards, in accordance to the will of the Spanish people. This is a very important fact to highlight, since many articles of the Spanish constitution are being pointed out and activated, and perhaps the most fundamental ones – the ones that define Spain as a democracy – are being overlooked by the central government.
On the 10th October 2017, the Catalan government proclaimed and annulled its independence, triggering the activation of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. This article requires the autonomous communities of Spain to comply with the Spanish constitution, and allows the government to take any necessary measures in order for compliance to be ensured. In 2017, these measures consisted of Spanish vice-president Mariano Rajoy dissolving the Catalan parliament and calling for new elections; an act that effectively left the Catalan government destitute
The referendum carried out on the 1st October was unquestionably illegal: aside from the many irregularities that occurred during voting, which have been corroborated by multiple delegations of international observers, it was deemed anti-constitutional mainly because of the fact that it was announced to be legally binding; and such legally binding referendums can only be called by the central government.
Why then, are there claims that the central government is overlooking the rights of the Catalan people for self-determination? Simply put, the central government has offered no legal way for the Catalan people to decide if they want to be part of Spain or not. The central government is fully aware of the independence movement that has arisen in Cataluña. There is a considerable proportion of the Catalan demographic that has been asking to be heard for years now, who have been overlooked by the central government one too many times. Whilst some may argue that acknowledging this movement would show a sign of weakness, it is clear that this argument lacks critical thinking, since this movement has arisen from the discontent of how the central government has been managing the country. This discontent should not come as a surprise, given the multiple corruption scandals that have been uncovered, or the drastic decline in standards of public healthcare, schools, and services across Catalonia, the reduction in worker’s rights and protections, and overall the very poor performance of the Spanish economy.
“The central government has offered no legal way for the Catalan people to make a choice”
If Mariano Rajoy’s government is fully aware that only they can legally call a referendum regarding the sovereignty of Cataluña, and it is also aware that there is a sizeable portion of the population that have expressed their will to be heard, how can the Catalan government be condemned for not following the constitution, when the central government is not following democracy? If, as the central government claims, they truly represent all the people of Spain, including the Catalans, then why hasn’t a nation-wide referendum been called to ask all of Spain and Cataluña their opinion on this matter?
But perhaps the most shameful and damaging outcome of this situation is the witch-hunt that has stemmed from it. As people take to the streets in Cataluña, in frustration and anger for having their voices ignored over and over, leaders of these protests are being charged with sedition and rebellion. Sedition is defined in the Spanish legal code as the tumultuous and public uprising to avoid the enforcement of law. Rebellion, in turn, is defined as public and violent uprising for a series of reasons, which includes declaring the independence of a national territory. These charges to leaders such as Charles Puigdemont, the president of the Catalan government, would be valid were there any other legal alternatives given to holding the referendum. However, there aren’t.
Puigdemont has a duty to represent the Catalan people as their elected president, so charging him with rebellion, sedition, and even embezzlement is the central government’s way of making it clear that they do not intend on listening to or sitting down at a negotiations table with the Catalan government in order to offer a viable alternative. The charge of embezzlement is particularly ridiculous, as the reason of the charge is that the Catalan government used public funds to finance the referendum; because of this they are being accused of misuse of funds. Does the central government really expect Puigdemont to pay for the ballot boxes and the civil servants from his very own pocket? Wouldn’t it be more suitable for them to investigate the 121, 756 million Euros that have been stolen due to corruption to date by the current party in power? Perhaps the most important question is the following: is democracy really democracy, if only a few have the right vote?