Top Catalan independence party fails to move the needle

You may recall my November 2014 post “Just 3 in 10 back Catalonia independence in ridiculous referendum” in which I broke down what the “80% for independence” recorded on a non-binding referendum sponsored and staffed by the Spanish region’s secessionist movement actually translated into real-world proportions. Ultimately I determined that only about 30% of registered voters — 1.6 million people — had actually showed up and voted for independence on behalf of 7.5 million residents.

We now have the results from this month’s regional parliamentary elections. While the turnout was much higher, a few facts jump out presenting a very similar picture all the same:
1. In September 2015 Catalonia parliamentary elections, 48% of those 77% who voted chose two parties supporting independence from Spain, handing them a “victory.”
2. In absolute numbers, this translated to just shy of 2 million votes for pro-independence parties. (The opposing 4 parties actually won slightly more votes than the two pro-independence parties.)
3. That’s less than 36% of all registered voters and barely more than a quarter of the region’s total population (7.5 million).

And the biggest observation of all?
4. The first-place party, really the same umbrella coalition behind the referendum, won 1.6 million votes and 29% of the registered voters.

Wow. That’s exactly the same as the November 2014 referendum outcome. 1.6 million and about 30% of registered voters. So all they’ve proven is that they are disciplined enough to get their same 1.6 million people out to the polls twice in 12 months. They didn’t grow their base at all over that span. They didn’t move the public needle on independence. And 65% of registered voters either voted for a party that doesn’t support Catalonia becoming independent or couldn’t be bothered to show up to vote at all because this doesn’t matter to them.

No wonder the Spanish central government doesn’t particularly feel compelled to negotiate with such a small and unpersuasive faction. In the final analysis, this “movement” so far remains less about Catalan identity and more about wealthy conservatives trying to keep poorer people in other parts of Spain from getting any of their money.

The feuding between [Prime Minister] Rajoy and Mr. Mas started in 2012 as a dispute over the financial contribution that Catalonia should make to a Spanish system that redistributes tax income from Catalonia and other wealthy regions to poorer parts of the country.

Mr. Mas then turned his frustrated demand for fiscal concessions into a full-fledged drive for independence.


Regional flag of Catalonia

Regional flag of Catalonia

Peaceful protest is becoming much harder

Not only is riot suppression an increasingly lucrative global business opportunity, but governments in advanced democracies have been taking cues from their more authoritarian brethren in outlawing or severely curtailing the right to peaceful assembly altogether.

In other words, these democracies are demanding non-violent protest, but then outlawing peaceful protest, too. Some recent examples, among many, of this trend:
Under the [Spanish] provision, which goes into effect on July 1, police will have the discretionary ability to hand out fines up to $650,000 to “unauthorized” demonstrators who protest near a transport hub or nuclear power plant. They will be allowed to issue fines of up to $30,000 for taking pictures of police during protest, failing to show police ID, or just gathering in an unauthorized way near government buildings.
And the United States is hardly doing better. In Baltimore, many of those who protested Freddie Gray’s death were held without charges for over 48 hours. Cells designed for one or two people were crammed with dozens, and prisoners haven’t been allowed phone calls, blankets, pillows, or any contact with lawyers or anyone from the outside world. In 2012, H.R. 347 made protesting near government buildings, political conventions or global summits — except in heavily policed and encaged “free speech zones” — a federal crime. After the Black Lives Matter movement had subsided in New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton demanded a new force of 1,000 police, armed with machine guns, specifically to monitor protests and sought to turn resisting arrest into a felony charge.

This is, of course, antithetical to representative democracy and core founding values of the United States, but it’s also fairly stupid in the long run. Why? Because if there’s one thing humans like almost as much as actually getting their grievances fixed is the having opportunity to loudly tell everyone about their grievances in a public place and to get other people to listen, even if they don’t agree or don’t do anything in response. I’m serious. People will often settle for at least “being heard” if they can’t actually get their way. It’s a lesser form of catharsis and has a positive effect on society in terms of defusing (or diffusing) some of the tensions into more constructive paths before they can build into violence. It’s also vital to incorporating minority political opinions in a theoretically majoritarian system without provoking open conflict.

Unfortunately, letting frustrated people be heard doesn’t seem to be on the agenda anymore in the developed world, democratic or otherwise. To quote the previous item again, an op-ed by Willie Osterweil:

These new laws suggest that the ruling elites are preparing themselves for protracted conflict. Rather than genuflect before the idols of democratic freedoms — or, God forbid, actually attempt to alleviate such widespread social problems as inequality, racist violence and ecological collapse — governments are giving themselves new weapons to crush those who demand change. But once non-violent marches are punished just as harshly as rioting, will protesters stick to passive demonstration? Or will they take the streets with more radical ideas about what’s required to win justice?


Riot police in action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul, June 16, 2013. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia)

Riot police in action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul, June 16, 2013. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia)

Previously from AFD:
“After Baltimore: In defense of riots” by De Ana
“After Ferguson: In defense of non-peaceful resistance” by Bill

“Non-violence has cost at least 2.7 million Black US lives” by Bill

The Questions Posed by the World’s 2015 Elections

15 national elections I’m watching on 2015 and the questions I’m asking about them, organized in chronological order.


Greece: Can modern Greek democracy survive the combined effects of years of extraordinary fiscal mismanagement, a devastating recession, and a sudden day of reckoning (austerity) stage-managed from Berlin? That’s the bigger question the world is asking when Greece heads to the polls this coming weekend, behind narrow questions of what might happen in the next six months. Newcomer “Syriza” – a party with moderate rhetoric, yet still an unknown quantity – has led the polling average since November 2013, more than a year before snap elections were called. Syriza could shake things up — for good or ill — in the country whose ancestors founded much of Western democracy. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks also formalized the concepts of “oligarchy,” “aristocracy,” and “tyranny,” so that’s not a huge comfort. Modern Greek democracy is just 40 years old, and Plato might forecast a turn to a less participatory form of The Kyklos (the cycle of governance between such forms) is about due. The rise of the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” as a potent force in Greek politics offers that grim path.

Nigeria: Should a young democracy re-elect a civilian president from the same party that has won every election since 1998? Should it do so despite his record of extreme incompetence in handling an insurgency that has now seized more territory than ISIS controls in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy? What if the alternative choice is a former military dictator and perennial also-ran? These are the basic questions facing Nigerians in February’s election that will see once-accidental President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party face off against Gen. Muhammadu Buhari at the head of an increasingly powerful opposition coalition and amid plunging oil prices. The legislative chambers are also up for election. Even if Jonathan is re-elected, he may face a hostile majority.

Israel: Can the Israeli left make a serious comeback in the country’s politics after Israel voters increasingly veered to the right and after significant party changes shattered the Labor Party for almost a decade? Would it make any difference to Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the world at large? Would it change the economic fortunes of average Israelis?

United Kingdom: Is the Westminster System — as it has traditionally existed in its tripartite form since the arrival of universal male suffrage — finished in Westminster itself? UKIP, the Scottish National Party, and other parties outside the Big Three make another coalition government of some kind almost a certainty – likely with huge effects for the British populace and their place within the European Union.

Mexico: Will the insulated Federal District finally be shaken out of its slumber by a growing protest movement and other reactions to the total capture of Mexican state and local government by the cartels? The Congress is up for election, but without a sea change in the foreign-focused Peña Nieto administration, few expect serious policy shifts at home, whatever the outcome of the midterms. Still, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition any more than they expect a spontaneous mass uprising that forces just such a sea change. Could be too early to tell.
Read more

November 19, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 107


Topics: Catalonia referendum, Soccer politics (FIFA, German hooligans, FC Chelsea, and more), and Illinois corruption. People: Bill, Nate, Persephone. Produced: November 17th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– What does the unofficial Catalonia referendum really mean for the region and Spain?
– Soccer Politics:

  • What’s next for FIFA after a bogus inquiry report summary?
  • Why are German soccer hooligans rallying against Muslims?
  • From Chelsea to Man City and beyond: Is big foreign money tainting the game?

– US midterms: Will Illinois Governor-elect Bruce Rauner survive a brewing corruption scandal?

Episode 107 (52 min)
AFD 107

Related links
Segment 1

AFD: Just 3 in 10 back Catalonia independence in ridiculous referendum
AFD: Against Independence for Catalonia

Segment 2

NYT: FIFA Inquiry Clears Qatar and Russia in World Cup Bids
France24: German football hooligans join far-right protests
The Globalist: Chelsea and Beyond: How the Rich Will Destroy Soccer

Segment 3

AFD: Who wants to be … a millionaire Illinois ex-governor?


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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Just 3 in 10 back Catalonia independence in ridiculous referendum

The headlines are blaring that 80% of Catalonians just voted for independence from Spain, but the real story is essentially the opposite. Consider these facts:

1. Only about 37% of the 5.4 million registered voters (less than 4 in 10) actually participated in the non-binding referendum. That’s not even 37% of the whole population, but just registered voters.
2. 80% of 37% is roughly 30%. That proportion is even lower (about 21%) when non-voters are factored in to the population count of the region (7.5 million).
3. This referendum was organized and run by over 40,000 pro-independence volunteers after Spain’s high court ruled an official referendum unconstitutional.
(Data Source: BBC)

A ballot campaign orchestrated, organized, staffed by, and managed from start to finish by one side is hardly a recipe for a representative vote. (For all we know, they discouraged turnout in anti-independence areas or made it harder to vote.) And even with all that going for them, they still only managed to get 30% of the voters to back them up.

They got the headline they wanted, but the underlying result is clear: Most Catalonians are not interested in the independence agenda being pushed by hardliners or the wealthy who want to “Go Galt” and stop paying taxes to support their less fortunate regional neighbors in the rest of Spain.

Map of Catalonia region within Spain. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Map of Catalonia region within Spain. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Against independence for Catalonia

The elites of Catalonia, the economically wealthy region that co-founded Spain, want to leave Spain and become their own country where they don’t have to pay taxes to help their less fortunate neighbors.

They are so determined to do this that they are blowing past every objection raised by the European Union and the Spanish central government and are forging ahead with a “non-binding” and “consultative” referendum, since their original plan for a unilateral referendum on secession was ruled wholly unconstitutional.

In a powerful op-ed in The New York Times — presumably aimed at rallying Americans against the Catalan separatist cause (before someone else makes up their minds for them) — Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo (journalist and MP from Madrid), Núria Amat (novelist from Barcelona), and Mario Vargas Llosa (Spanish-Peruvian novelist and 2010 Nobel Literature Laureate) lay out a multifaceted case for why Catalonia should not only not be granted independence but should not even be voting on it right now.

For one thing, it’s not very consistent with the values of democratic constitutionalism and rule of law, which the Catalan elite claims to be upholding, to stick it to the central government and the Spanish constitution — unlike, say, Scotland, which negotiated with the central UK government to hold a legal referendum on national status. For another, it just makes no justifiable sense historically or today, because they are an integral part of the formation of Spain and are not currently being legally or forcibly oppressed by the central state:

In their attempt to undermine the workings of the constitutional government, Catalan separatists have displayed a remarkable indifference to historical truth. Catalonia was never an independent state. It was never subjected to conquest. And it is not the victim of an authoritarian regime. As a part of the crown of Aragon and later in its own right, Catalonia contributed decisively to making Spain what it has been for over three centuries: an impressive attempt to reconcile unity and diversity — a pioneering effort to integrate different cultures, languages and traditions into a single viable political community.
It’s true that Catalonia was a particularly fierce battleground during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), with brutal atrocities committed on both sides, and that the region faced some of the most severe reprisals under Franco’s regime. For many, the wounds still have not healed, and they fuel the fires of the separatist movement.

But the advent of democracy brought official recognition to Spain’s distinctive cultures, and set the foundations for the autonomy the Catalans enjoy today. Catalonia has its own official language, its own government, its own police force. Catalans endorsed the Constitution overwhelmingly: 90 percent of them voted yes in the referendum of Dec. 6, 1978. The millions of tourists who flock to Barcelona every year, drawn by the beguiling blend of Gothic and Gaudí, attest to the vigor of Catalonia’s culture. The claim that Catalonia’s personality is being stifled and its freedoms oppressed is simply untrue.

It’s also a disturbing step backward, away from the progress Western Europe has made toward transcending petty differences and the destructive powers of extreme nationalism:

Exiled from the European Union, economically impoverished and socially divided, the 7.6 million Catalans would be subjected to an extreme form of nationalism we Europeans remember all too well. Millions of lives were lost in the nationalist frenzy that tore Europe apart during the 20th century.

Are we to sit back and watch the European Union relapse, fall prey to ethnic prejudices and become a fragile cluster of chauvinistic nations rather than a vigorous union of democratic states? Are we to relinquish individual rights and the rule of law to the new nationalists and populists?

Nationalism effaces the individual, fuels imaginary grievances and rejects solidarity. It divides and discriminates. And it defies the essence of democracy: respect for diversity. Complex identities are a key feature of modern society. Spain is no exception.

That divisiveness is particularly troubling when one realizes how many dual-identity or Spanish-identifying people live in Catalonia despite the flag-waving, drum-banging of the elites who are trying to distill out a pure nationalism where one doesn’t exist. They will not just rip themselves out of Spain’s culture and economy if they declare independence, but they will also be taking with them a lot of unwilling Spanish Catalan citizens, many of whom don’t speak Catalan as a first language. By some accounts I’ve seen, that might even be half or more of the regional population.

This is a dangerous and disturbing project by wealthy elites and perennial axe-grinders that is fueling a lot of nasty, hyper-nationalist behavior, which Europe and Spain should be leaving behind and not returning to.

Flag of Spain

Flag of Spain

April 14, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 80

Description | Topics: Hobby Lobby contraception case, Catalonia and European nationalism in the 21st century, autism awareness month. People: Bill, Sasha, Persephone, and guest Monika Brooks.

AFD 80

(Nate and Greg are off this week.)

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links

Think Progress: “If Hobby Lobby Wins, It Will Be Even Worse For Birth Control Access Than You Think”
Think Progress: “Justice Kennedy Thinks Hobby Lobby Is An Abortion Case — That’s Bad News For Birth Control”
Think Progress: “A Hobby Lobby Win Would Put Birth Control Coverage In Jeopardy At 71 Other Companies”
TIME: “Catalonia Independence Referendum Ruled Unconstitutional”
AFD: “Mocha Autism Network: Autism Awareness Month”

Mocha Autism Network
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Google Plus: +Mocha Autism Network


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