In an unofficial referendum in Catalonia two years ago, more than two million Spanish citizens voted to end their Barcelona-dominated region’s membership in Spain. The vote had no legal standing, the result wasn’t recognised and the independence aspirations of Catalans remains unfulfilled. And will be so, given that there is no means of separation within the Spanish constitution.
At a rally in Barcelona on Sunday, tens of thousands of Catalans again took to the streets at the end of a four-day regional holiday to press for independence — but there were fewer than other years. In short, it appear as if this cause is running out of steam for now and there is little realistic chance of a separatist Catalan state existing in the foreseeable future.
This movement for Catalan separation grew in part from the economic morass that affected Spain. High unemployment, a property crash, little work for jobless youths and crushing debt levels created an atmosphere in which Catalans believed they would do better outside of Spain proper. Thanks to the work of the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over that time, Spain’s economic predicament has improved, even if his own electoral fortunes have left him struggling to find coalition candidates after bruising general election campaigns.
Rajoy has warned that if the Catalans press their case, the leaders of the separatist movement face jail for defying the rulings of Spain’s courts that separation is illegal. He has steered Spain through the worst of the crisis, through the influx of refugees and Brexit. Anything that would now weaken Spain would also weaken the European Union. And there has been enough of that already since the Brexit vote.