Today is National Day in Spain, an occasion where Spaniards are supposed to reflect on their nation, heritage and history, and take pride in the diversity of the 17 regions that together make up their homeland. It officially marks the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas. And it’s also a time too where Spaniards should reflect on the past 12 days and events in Catalonia, where Spain has been pushed to the brink of their worst political crisis since the end of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco four decades ago.
It appears for now, at least, that the Catalonian separatists have stepped back from brink, opting to accept that they had been given a mandate for independence, but suspending the declaration of that statehood as they seek talks with the central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid. On Tuesday evening, in the regional assembly in Barcelona, Carles Puigdemont, the separatist leader, kept the nation at bay for more than an hour as he worked out the finer details of his speech, showing the deep fissures that exist within the coalition he heads in the regional assembly. Much as with the Brexit argument in the United Kingdom, there are those within Puigdemont’s alliance who seek a short and sharp separation from Spain, others who seek talks and a conciliatory route before their dream of Catalonia independence takes hold.
For most Spaniards, the notion of Catalan independence is anathema, and Spain’s Constitution does not allow any means for any region to separate. While the Catalonians may feel that their distinctive language and culture are sufficient for a separate state, most Spaniards rightly say that Catalonia has been part of their nation for years before Columbus set sail over the horizon.
Spain’s Constitutional Court has twice been asked to rule on the legitimacy of Catalan referendums, and twice it has deemed them to be illegal. Catalonia’s own High Court has also said the most recent vote on October 1 was illegal. Indeed, while 2.26 million Catalonians voted and 90 per cent of those choose independence, the reality is that the entire process had been blocked and largely ignored by Spanish nationalists living in the region that accounts for one-fifth of the country’s economy.
The reality is that Puigdemont has no alternative but to seek talks. It’s an opportunity that Rajoy should embrace, and a better alternative for him than arresting the separatists and suspending the Catalan regional assembly.