About midday on October 27, 2017, the Catalan regional parliament was on the verge of declaring independence from Spain. Or so it seemed. By this point, nothing was a sure thing anymore. To some it was a historic culmination of centuries of wrangling with bad old Spain, and a look at the past might suggest that. As usual, these are half-baked notions.
- 1641 – Catalonia wishes to break away from the Spanish crown and join the French one. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call independence. They were just looking for a new boss.
- 1714 – Searching once again. This time turning their backs on Philip V in favor of Archduke Charles. No independence. Another failure.
- 1873 – They try to form a new state within a federal framework during Spain’s First Republic. It wasn’t really a call to secede.
- 1931 – The renewed announcement for a state forming part of the Iberian Federation. As it lasted only three days, we can consider it a flop.
- 1934 – Three years laters, yet another attempt to rearrange the Spanish political setup. Didn’t happen.
This time around, the secessionists weren’t going to skirt the issue. They weren’t going to beat around the bush. At least, that was what I was hoping for. With three false starts in a month, people were starting to believe they were chickening out. Me included. But they actually pulled it off.
Now, as brave and daring as it may have seemed, after all many were facing jail time for open rebellion, the actual events and circumstances were a great deal less heroic than what will probably go down in the history books. Trust me, Patrick Henry would have been slapping his forehead in disbelief.
First of all, they had no choice. After weeks of dillydallying, time was running out. Rajoy and the “constitutionalist” parties weren’t budging an inch, and the senate was about to pass a bill to activate Article 155, which would effectively suspend home rule for the region and land the insurrectionists in the slammer. You could say, things looked bleak. As it was, Puigdemont was already earning a fairly well-deserved reputation for being a wimp when it came to throwing down the gauntlet; were he to back down and obey Rajoy’s executive orders, you could pretty much kiss goodbye his and Catalonia’s aspirations. It was time to take the plunge.
But that wasn’t all. By declaring independence before the executive order was approved, the Catalonian government could claim it no longer had to abide by Article 155 since it was now a sovereign nation. If they waited for the order to be put into effect, they would essentially be saying that they still belonged to Spain. In short, it was their last chance. So it was pretty much a given that it would do it.
Parliament convened for a few minutes until it became evident that there would be a vote on independence. The infamous DUI, as they called it. This may sound like getting picked up for drunk driving in Spain, but it actually stands for Declaración Unilateral de Independencia, and it loomed ominously.
A unilateral vote. Boy, do the Spanish get all hot and heavy when they talk about this. The Spanish press and the central government go nuts. They rant and rave and bitch about it not being fair. This, of course, is ludicrous because, just how often are formal declarations of independence pronounced on a consensual basis? Spaniards I knew would complain about this and, once again, ask for my opinion on the matter. So, while visions of the Congressional Congress mooning the monarchy danced in my head, I pondered my answer. I mean, I can’t imagine Jefferson raising his hand and saying, “maybe we should run this document by King George III before we sign it.”
So, I tell them. But they don’t want to hear the truth.
“They can’t do it!”
“Because it’s not legal!”
“Neither is declaring independence! So who cares if it’s unilateral or not?”
“Because they can’t do it. They just can’t.” There was no point in carrying on.
Anyway, unilateral or not, the vote was imminent, and once it became clear they were going to ask for the “yeas” and “nays”, the Pro-Spain parties walked out in protest because 1) they didn’t have close to the number of votes to shoot the proposal down, and 2) if they had participated, they would have been granting legitimacy to the secessionist movement.
The independence supporters didn’t care because 1) they did have enough votes to carry the motion and 2) they didn’t care much about the legitimacy of anything of anything, so it didn’t matter.
But the best part was yet to come. It what I would later consider to be one of the cheesiest declarations in history, second only to the coitus interruptus two weeks before, the remaining members of parliament decided to make it a silent vote, a highly unusual measure. The aim was simple: if the vote is secret, then the government won’t have any proof of who voted for independence. Some may say, “but I thought only the pro-independence parties participated.” Well, nope. A handful of representatives from a coalition of minor parties known as CSQEP planned on either abstaining or voting no. Everyone pretty much knew who was who, but that was irrelevant. The fact was, no one could prove it.
The procedure was highly criticized by the opposition parties for cowardice, especially by the PP’s Xavier Albiol who, ironically, had supported the idea of a secret vote if he could assure that the no would go his way.
Stop the works!!!! What? So, Mr. Albiol disapproves of the vote, refuses to grant legitimacy to any separatist referendum, and accuses the seccessionists of being a bunch of chickens, says he would vote in secret if he could win?? These are the kinds of things that led to the PP’s pathetic performance in the ensuing elections in December.
In any event, the vote took place. In theory, 72 votes were foreseen to be in favor of the proclamation, with eleven against. In the end, 70 cast their choice to break away, while ten rejected the proposal. Two voted for neither. That means there was another which did not figure anywhere. It didn’t matter. The deed was done.