The Law on Consultation Votes, which will be used to call the non-binding consultation vote on independence scheduled for the 9th of November, was approved on Friday 09.19.2014 by 79% of the Catalan Parliament, with the only opposition being from Spanish nationalists People's Party (PP) and Ciutadans (C's). Therefore, parties supporting self-determination continue with their road map in order to organise such a vote legally and with full democratic guarantees. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and does not support November's consultation vote, supported for the new law, although they underlined it was not the right tool for calling November's vote, according to them.
The bill approved was already foreseen in the 2006 Statute of Autonomy, Catalonia's main law after the Constitution, but it had not been approved yet. Now, once the new law is published on Catalonia's Official Journal (DOGC), the Catalan President will immediately sign the Decree calling November's vote. The Spanish Government announced last week it already had two appeals ready to be filed to the Constitutional Court – even though the definitive law had not been approved yet. If the Constitutional Court were to accept the appeals, it would immediately suspend the Catalan Law and the Decree for a 5-month temporary period, which could be extended until the Court reaches a final decision. The Court could spend years debating in order to reach a final decision.
"It is an historical day", stated the Vice-President of the Catalan Government, the Christian-Democrat Joana Ortega. She also welcomed the large consensus around this new Law, which authorises the Catalan Government to organise non-binding consultation votes throughout Catalonia. Ortega stressed the 80% consensus and thanked the parties for having worked "with commitment and absolute rigour".
A law to call the self-determination vote
This legal tool will be used as the legal base for the non-binding consultation vote to be held on the 9th of November, in which Catalans will be asked if they want Catalonia to become a State and if they want this State to be independent. The Catalan Council on Constitutional Guarantees (CGE), which is an advisory body equivalent to a Constitutional Court, issued a report a few weeks ago back the constitutionality of the new law and its use as the legal base for November's vote. However, a minority of the CGE, which is formed by independent renowned experts, expressed their doubts about this last point.
The new law will be to call non-binding consultation votes on a wide array of issues. The Catalan President will call them on issues over which it has jurisdiction, except the fundamental rights included in the Constitution and the Catalan Statute of Autonomy. The vote will take place at least 30 days after the decree's signature and not later than 60 days after. There will be consultation votes organised throughout the entire Catalonia or at a local level, in a municipality or a group of towns. In the votes for the entire Catalonia, such as that of the 9th of November, all the Catalans of 16 and above will be allowed to vote, including EU citizens who can prove they have been living in Catalonia for at least a year and the non-EU citizens who can prove a three-year residence period. Both the foreigners and the Catalans living outside of Catalonia will have to explicitly ask to be registered to vote. The electoral census will be formed from the municipalities' registration census. The law also foresees electronic voting, but it will not be available for November's vote due to its complexity. In addition, not only will political parties be able to campaign, but also civil society institutions. An Electoral Commission will be created, with 7 independent members of renowned professional prestige, who will be elected by the Catalan Parliament with a 60% majority.
The new law is backed by 7 parties from 5 different political groups
At the end, the governing centre-right pro-Catalan state coalition CiU (which brings together Liberals and Christian-Democrats), the left-wing independence party ERC (which shares a parliamentary stability agreement with the CiU), the PSC (which is part of the Spanish PSOE), the green socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA and the alternative left and radical independence party CUP have all backed the new Law on Consultation Votes. A total of 106 votes (since one MP was ill) backed the bill, against 28 "no" votes from the conservative PP (which runs the Spanish Government) and the populist C's.
The doubts expressed by the PSC but refuted by a wide majority of parties
In fact, the PSC, which has backed the new law, also thinks that this legal tool cannot be used to call November's vote. According to the PSC a non-binding consultation vote in Catalonia cannot be used to decide on Spain's sovereignty and the relationship of Catalonia with the rest of Spain. However, parties supporting the vote reply that Catalans have the right to have their say on how they want their relationship with Spain to be like, including total independence. The PSC had been supporting self-determination in the last Catalan elections but after quarrelling with the PSOE, the PSC leadership decided to stop supporting the self-determination process. For this reason, many members of the PSC have quit the party and a few of its MPs have directly backed the self-determination process, despite the party instructions to do the contrary. On Wednesday, the Catalan Parliament filed a motion explicitly supporting the 9th of November consultation with "democratic guarantees", which was voted by 67% of the Catalan Parliament, including a few MPs from the PSC who disobeyed the party instructions.
The parties supporting November's vote stress they are respecting the legal framework
The CiU's MP, Josep Rull, stated that the new law is based on an Article from the Catalan Statute of Autonomy which was backed by the Constitutional court in 2010. Therefore, it is fully Constitutional, since it has also received the green light from the Council on Constitutional Guarantees (CGE). The Liberal MP complained that "when Rajoy says 'I can't [authorise a self-determination vote] and I don't want to do so', he could do it, but there is not political will" to do so. The problem is not legal but political: the Spanish Government does not want to allow a self-determination vote to happen in Catalonia and it is blocking it. Finally, he emphasised that the Catalan "nation" has "the right to express itself". "A wide majority of Catalans have decided that it's time for democracy, it's time for freedom", he concluded.
The ERC's MP, Gemma Calvet, defended the full Constitutionality of the new law, mentioning the report from the CGE. The pro-independence Social-Democrats MP accused those against the 9th of November vote of "not honouring the Constitution if they deny the option of listening to the citizenry" through a democratic vote. Calvet argued that politicians decide on the laws, on the citizens' legal limitations and on how to structure public services, "but we cannot listen to the citizens?", she wondered.
The ICV-EUiA's Spokesperson, Dolors Camats, strongly defended the new law, its full constitutionality and its full capacity to call November's vote. The Greens MP said that the new consultation vote "is the best tool, democratically impeccable, socially desirable and, now, politically indispensable". She insisted that the 9th of November vote should have "all the guarantees, all the guarantees foreseen in this law: the principles of plurality, institutional neutrality, transparency, non-discrimination and personal data protection". "Democracy without freedom is a simulation, and we do not want simulations; now we want to vote", she stressed. However, she regretted that the Spanish Government and the PP are "allergic to democracy". Furthermore, she pointed out that the new law will be used for a wide array of issues and that her party could ask for a consultation vote to validate projects such as the $6 billion holiday and casino resort BCN World, to be built in Salou.
The CUP MP, Quim Arrufat, argued that the new law was the tool to call the 9th of November self-determination vote. However, the alternative left MP also pointed out that the new law will be used "to give Catalans a voice" and will not leave politics in the hands of dark court houses or in the hands of concealed politics". He compared the situation in Scotland, "with ballot boxes, debate and result", with "Spain and Catalonia, with war drums, prosecutors on-call, penal code and threats". "From now on we have a law on citizen consultation votes. People, it is yours; defend it and use it", Arrufat added. "On the 9th of November we will have a consultation vote; on the 9th of November we will vote; on the 9th of November we will vote and we will win", he concluded.
Spanish nationalist parties are outraged
According to the PP's MP, Santi Rodríguez, the new law "has been drafted 'ad hoc' for calling the 9th of November vote" and "this is the reason" why they are opposing the law. Therefore, the PP was indirectly admitting that the new law was Constitutional, as it develops an Article of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy backed by the Constitutional Court. The PP insisted that Catalonia's "independence" is way beyond the Catalan Government's jurisdiction. In addition, he said that "Catalans are not sovereign" and reminded that the Constitutional Court said that, since "the sovereignty belongs to the Spanish people as a whole". The Conservative MP regretted the PSC's "naïve" support. He finally stated that their "no" is a "yes" to democracy, to the rule of law, to conviviality, to Catalonia, to Spain and to Europe".
The C's President, Albert Rivera, emphasised that this 19th of September "is not a celebration day", "neither for those who are happy for Scotland's 'no', neither for those who believe that a law on consultation votes is good news". The populist MP added that "the United States of Europe is in jeopardy because of nationalisms and populisms. We have to fight them with democracy and with an appealing project". Rivera said that "in the end, regardless of whether there is a [self-determination] vote or not, the damage is already done". "The fracture [of Catalan society] has already been accomplished", he concluded.