Sunday, November 2, 2014

November 9th, in spite of everything

Over the last two years, I have argued in favor of a referendum or some kind of vote1, whether Spain wants it or not, with or without their permission, whether it is legal, illegal, or otherwise. I am convinced that it is the best way for Catalans to exercise the right to self-determination given the current situation, because most Catalans are in favor of it, and because the result would be beyond discussion or interpretation. Last August, I said at the Catalan Summer University that, if more than 3 million people end up voting, out of which 2 million are in favor of separation, Catalonia’s independence would be unstoppable. Why did I talk specifically about these figures? Because I already knew that Catalonia’s law of referenda was going to let non-naturalized immigrants vote, and therefore, according to my calculations, the total census would be around 6 million people—3 million are 50% of 6 million, the minimum turnout accepted during Montenegro’s referendum.

This past October 13th, when the referendum convoked by President Mas was suspended, and it was substituted by a “participative process,” I was deeply disappointed. This might seem contradictory, since up until then I had been a proponent of a whether-they-want-it-or-not referendum in all kinds of debates where political pundits who now back Mas’ proposal accused me of wanting an “Arenys 2”—a non-binding, citizen-initiative, popular vote. It is ironical that the same pundits are now fervent supporters of the souped down “Arenys 2” put together by our government. I was disappointed for two reasons. First, because President Mas had taken away all political overtone from this “New Nov 9” when he said that it would not result in a democratic mandate and that further elections would be needed. By doing this, in one stroke he discouraged all those against independence from going to the polls. Before, it was still hard to ensure that those against independence would vote, but not impossible—if they knew the result would have politically binding repercussions. Now, convincing all these people, the remaining one million in my calculation, that they need to vote may have become complicated. Why would they want to vote if the President himself has said that this is just some kind of preliminary vote? He has also said that, whatever the result, it will not be binding enough to declare or begin negotiations for independence as stipulated in the original November 9 referendum.

The second reason had to do with the details regarding this participative process. As these began to be known, I became more and more concerned. On the one hand, the census from the original decree would not be used. This census would have been of approximately 5.4 million people, because only those foreigners who had been able to register beforehand would have been able to vote, and just a few thousand were able to do so. On the other hand, no census would be used at all—the great shortcoming of popular votes. Back then, not being able to use the census records was inevitable because we did not have these, but now the Catalan Government had them but refused to use them. By the way, popular votes in the past actually did have a “theoretical census” which allowed someone to calculate voter turnout. All official residents in Catalonia over 16 years of age had the right to vote—and this is a publicly available figure. Currently, this figure is of 6.3 million people. However, the government has chosen to grant the right to vote not from official residency status, but from whether someone lives in Catalonia according to ID cards—and this information is not publicly available, and only the Ministry of the Interior knows exactly how many people this is. Can you imagine what kind of image we will be projecting abroad, if the Catalan Government releases one set of voter turnout figures, and the Spanish Government releases different ones? This would not be serious and it would hurt the Nov 9 vote. Another logistical problem, which could become political, is the limited amount of available polling stations. If the Spanish Government decides that public buildings cannot be used, can you explain to me what difference there would be between elementary school and high school buildings? That the first belong to the town and the second to the Catalan Government? So, why are they allowing town governments to collaborate but they place a cap of one building per town? All this does not make any sense at all, it is just making it hard to achieve high voter turnout. It becomes especially surreal when you consider that in places like la Garrotxa or Barcelona the popular vote had more, better distributed polling stations than the Nov 9 vote!

During the days when I felt discouraged, I was being a host in Barcelona to a very special person, Mr. Stephen Noon, chief strategist of the Yes campaign in Scotland. Vividly disappointed at their defeat in the Scottish referendum, but full of insight, he pointed out that we in Catalonia have it better than them did. We have rock-solid economic reasons, mobilized citizens, and a Spanish State that is much less attractive that Britain’s. He gave me a specially important piece of advice he learned from from Alex Salmond, and which comes from golf. No mater how horrible the place where the ball is, this one still needs to be played, and you need to make the most of it. This Nov 9 is like a ball that went off the green, down an unforgiving slope, with the wind blowing in your face, but you must bring it back into the green. What I said last August at Prada de Conflent still holds. If 3 million people show up at the polls on November 9, and 2 million vote in favor of independence, Catalonia’s independence will be unstoppable. If it is fewer than that, independence will be a bit farther away, but it will be by no means lost. We simply will have gone through one more massive mobilization, one of many, and the ball will still be in the politicians’ field. One of these days they will learn how to play it properly.

Elisenda Paluzie 
Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business
University of Barcelona

1. Translator’s note: This kind of non-binding vote or referendum has been usually translated in recent articles elsewhere as “consultation.”

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