|Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP, explains her reasons to be an|
international observer next November 9
On 9th November, on the invitation of the Catalan Government, I will be an international observer for their referendum – or strictly speaking “public consultation process” – on independence from Spain. Unlike the Scottish referendum, the result will not be binding because the Spanish Government has refused to recognise their right to decide on their own future.
Last week I spoke at a seminar in Barcelona on this issue of rights. We have had three referenda in Wales: 1979, 1997 and 2011. The people of Wales were free to vote as they wanted, but on a single question, decided by the government in London. So far, the UK government has governed the pace and the nature of Welsh devolution. It’s time that the people of Wales had the right to decide that themselves, which is why we need the power to write our own constitution.
Much like Wales, the character and standing of Catalonia has evolved and adapted throughout history, and even though sometimes we can feel like progress is slow, when we look back into the past it is astonishing how far we have come, and the journeys that we have taken against the odds.
Catalonia (as the state of Aragon) was independent until the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469, effectively creating the Kingdom of Spain.
After General Franco’s death and the beginnings of the Spanish State’s transition to democracy, Catalonia was granted a Statute of Autonomy in 1979, which legally recognised the Catalan identity as a ‘nationality’, and the Catalan language became a joint official language alongside Castilian Spanish.
In 2012 came a financial dispute with the central Spanish government. Tensions rose and support for independence surged as many Catalans became increasingly frustrated at their lack of fiscal power and serious underfunding, especially given Catalonia’s very high tax contributions to the state. According to the Catalan government, the deficit between the money that Catalans paid in taxes to Madrid and what they were getting back was a massive 8% of the nation’s GDP.
Support for independence has been steadily increasing and now 75% of people support holding a referendum, with polls showing a majority in favour of independence. In September there was a 1.5 million strong rally for independence in Barcelona. Last year a human chain of 1.6 million people stretched for over 250 miles right across the country: the Catalan Way.
In the 2012 Catalan elections, parties supporting a referendum gained over 70% of the vote. In March last year, more than three quarters of Catalan MPs voted for a resolution calling on the Catalan government to negotiate the terms of an independence referendum with Spain. Spain refused to negotiate.
The Catalan government decided to go ahead with the referendum until the issue was referred to the Spanish Constitutional Court which effectively suspended it. So now a very significant consultation vote will be held on 9th November, although legally it can only be non-binding.
Plaid Cymru’s sister party, Esquerra Republicana, is riding high in the polls. It’s likely that there will be early elections following the consultation which could be a mandate for independence. We will work closely with our colleagues in Catalonia at this exciting time.