Was Brexit just the beginning?

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Was Brexit just the beginning?
« on: September 25, 2017, 11:48:44 AM »
Was Brexit just the beginning?
Nick Hubble

Dear Reader

Last night, crowds wandered the streets banging on pots and pans outside our window.

Yesterday was even more of a surprise. It felt like a political rally from 1930s Germany. With a bunch of bewildered tourists thrown in.

Flyers rained down into the square from the rooftops. Fists and four-finger symbols were raised to the Catalan national anthem. Crowds chanted “votem”. There were towers of humans standing on each other’s shoulders, up to nine high, as the tourists had hoped to see. But on top of the towers were little children unfurling banners about “Democracia” and “Si”. People chanted “We will vote”.

I’m in Barcelona, which is making Brexit look boring. The Catalan independence movement is pushing for a referendum on 1 October. The Spanish national government has declared this illegal. The crackdown is creating extraordinary scenes.

In Barcelona and other ports nearby, dockworkers are refusing to offload the cruise ships full of national riot police. The local police have refused to cooperate with national authorities despite getting their funding from the national treasury. The head of the police force became a cult hero after the van terror attack here and is now divided between Catalan independence and the law. National police already arrested leading politicians for their support of the referendum and instigating protest. Postal workers are warned not to handle any vote material.

One thing that makes the Catalan vote so interesting is that it has already defined what the state of Catalonia would look like. Part of the referendum is about the proposed set of policies and the pre-prepared constitution, not just independence. This creates all sorts of confusion and divides the camps of voters.

There are people who think the vote is illegitimate, people who want to vote but vote no; people who want independence but don’t support the proposed set of policies as the more extreme sides of the political spectrum designed them while bizarrely working together; and then there are those supporting the package deal.

For Brexit, we found this division out the hard way after the vote. It left Prime Minister Theresa May severely weakened in Parliament after the subsequent election. During the election campaign, she only pitched one of the many versions of Brexit people voted for, a much smaller support base. The Catalans are dealing with this issue in advance.

Spain’s finance minister has delivered an interesting ultimatum to Catalonia. Either the Catalan government backs down or it loses its financial resources, which are regulated at the national level. This is incredibly ironic as one of the few rational reasons for Catalonia to leave, from what I can gather, is that the prosperous region is constantly sending money to other parts of Spain.

Instead of focusing on this financial benefit, the most popular slogan is “Democracia”, which is utterly bizarre given Spain is a democracy already. And the Catalan president is making odd statements such as ”Every day is a Vietnam”.

The whole issue is not just complicated on the politics, but also on the mechanics. What level of participation is needed to legitimise the referendum? This is really the key issue, as those in favour of independence are vastly more likely to bother voting on 1 October.

When 80% of voters were in favour of independence in 2014, it was only of the 37% who voted. This time around, the Catalan parliament’s laws that would set into effect a split didn’t include a minimum required turnout. That’s dangerous.

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The specifics of Catalonia’s independence aren’t terribly useful to you. But in the wake of Brexit, movements like these will gain in traction. And there are too many separatist movements to count in Europe.
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