Catalonia: Independence bid in danger of sinking

Artur Mas wants the ballot to read 'Do you want Catalonia to become a state within the European Union?'. Picture: AFP
Artur Mas wants the ballot to read 'Do you want Catalonia to become a state within the European Union?'. Picture: AFP
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CATALONIA’S ruling Convergència i Unió (CiU) party is desperately trying to present a united front after one of its leaders declared that “nothing is happening” to bring about independence and it emerged that the two party leaders cannot agree on the wording of the ballot paper in the proposed
referendum.

Artur Mas, the Convergència leader, wants the ballot to read “Do you want Catalonia to become a state within the European Union?” However, the Unió wing led by Josep Antoni Duran Lleida favours the wording, “How do you want Catalonia to be linked to Spain: as an autonomous region, within a federal state or as an independent nation?”

The split this week emerged a day after Mr Duran Lleida angered colleagues when he told the right-wing newspaper La Razón that the independence process was going nowhere.

“As for the sovereignty process,” he said in an interview. “The Catalan parliament has made two declarations [on the right to decide] and a commission has been set up but in practice nothing is happening.”

The following day, the party’s secretary-general, Josep Maria Pelegri, assured a press conference that “we’re all going in the same direction. Everyone tries to exploit what we say but the route has been mapped out and no-one has deviated from it.” However, he conceded that there was not sufficient consensus on Mr Mas’ proposal of a
single question ballot.

Jurists within the National Transition Council set up by Mr Mas are said to feel that a question with multiple options would see the international community take the referendum seriously.

This assertion of unity is unlikely to alter the growing public perception that nothing of substance is happening and that the process is becoming bogged down in detail. There is an ongoing dispute about whether there is any point in holding a referendum if the Spanish government does not recognise it as legitimate. Madrid cites the constitution, which outlaws referendums, and earlier this month the constitutional court threw out the Catalan parliament’s declaration of sovereignty and the right to decide.

However, there is no law preventing the Catalan government from holding a consultation on the right to decide, so long as it does not call it a referendum.

Were there a majority in favour of independence, Madrid might have trouble ignoring the will of the people, even though the ballot had no legal status.

Meanwhile, a commission has been established with academics and other wise men and women enlisted to come up with ideas of what the institutions of a
putative Catalan state would look like. One proposal includes putting Catalonia’s defence in the hands of the French government.

Attempts to drum up support for independence among Catalonia’s large Moroccan community fell flat when Noureddin Ziani, the man recruited to the task by CiU, was deported as a spy.

On the more pressing economic front, with news that the number of young Catalans forced to emigrate in search of work has risen by 42 per cent in four years, CiU and its coalition partner Esquerra Republicana have still to agree a budget five months into their mandate.

The elephant in the room is that neither of CiU’s leaders is interested in independence. Mr Duran Lleida has opposed it publicly on numerous occasions, while Mr Mas only jumped on the bandwagon last September when it became politically expedient to do so.

Perhaps in their wrangling about the wording of the ballot they are both seeking the best formula to ensure they get the desired response: Independence, no thanks.