Catalonia Calling! #10

Independence and Social Change - 5/12/2015

I'm in London this week to give a talk to the Basque Society and Catalans UK entitled "Independence and Social Change" so I've decided to make that the sublect of this week's Catalonia Calling #10.

As the remit of Independence and Social Change is so broad, I've decided to focus on some of the reasons why I think independence is necessary for Catalonia and then I'll look at some of the elements included in the roadmap for independence and also the key clauses in the recent Declaration of the Beginning of the Independence Process.

The list isn't exhaustive and the idea is to give key information for those of you who don't follow what's happening in Catalonia very closely and stimulate discussion from those who do.





Background

Obviously, not having been born in Catalonia my reasons for giving support to the cause of Catalan independence aren't primarily identitary. As most of you know from being expats here in England there's a process of adaptation, which gets all of us where we are today, and however much we identify with our new land, we never completely lose our origins. Nor should we.

One of the interesting things about today's discussion is that I'm an outsider formulating my opinions from the inside whilst the Catalans here today are insiders formulating their opinions from the outside.

I cover my process of integration since my arrival in Barcelona in 1988 in Chapter One of Catalonia Is Not Spain, which is called An Adopted Catalan and basically it can be summed up as Enjoying Life, Supporting Barça, Meeting my First Wife, Getting Passionate about the History, Learning the Language and finally, Becoming a Father.


I woke up one day and realised that Catalonia was more home than England and that's when I really started to be concerned about the society I was living in. So my involvement in the movement, in much the same way as friends Liz Castro and Matthew Tree, is really about stimulating social change and making the place I've decided to spend the rest of my life a better place to be.

Despite frustration at the slow progress and the continual party political bickering, the idea of being involved, in however small a way, in the creation of a new state is incredibly exciting. If done properly we really can make Catalonia more prosperous, more efficient but more importantly a fairer society in which to live.

Attitudes

One of my complaints over the last 28 years has been Latin fatalism when comparing themselves to northern Europeans, Anglo-Saxons in particular. Those of you who live here in the UK know it's not that it's far from perfect but when talking about corruption, for example, (and this really shows that Catalonia Is in fact Spain) you so often hear people say "Oh, but we're Latins so we can't do anything about it!" This is so patently false that it makes me quite angry because I think it's a complete cop out, really.

Before the restrictions on smoking in bars, people would say "Oh, we're Latins, we have to smoke in bars!" Before the points system was introduced for driving infractions, they said "Oh, we're Latins, we have to die in hundreds on the roads and you can't expect us not to drink and drive!"

All you have to do is change the system or the laws and people's behaviour changes. This for me has to be the central objective behind Catalonia's push for independence.

Systems

In Catalonia Is Not Spain, I talk about Spain's problems of corruption and nepotism going back to the centralised court system that was established in Madrid during the reign of Felipe II. The problem was exacerbated over following centuries and after the Bourbon Restoration in 1874 developed into the division of political power between Conservatives and Liberals, who alternated in government.

This monopoly on decision-making is what sparked off political Catalanism at the end of the 19th century. Industrialised Catalonia wanted more say in its own  government and more importantly to be able to do business without so much Madrid-based nepotism and corruption.  Remember La Lliga of Prat de la Riba was La Lliga Regionalista, the Regional League. It wasn't some crazed nationalist movement. The Mancomunitat was an attempt at better more efficient government.

But first Primo de Rivera and then Franco came along and things only got worse. Did you know that Franco personally made a fortune out dealing in coffee? He used his position for personal gain as everybody in government had for centuries. Then the Transition came and nothing improved because everyone was frightened of provoking the Bunker. Essentially very little changed in Spain's bureaucratic system for the last  500 years. People shouldn't really be surprised at the Pujol scandal. I'm actually reasonably sure that Pujol, Prenafeta and Macià Alavedra didn't think they were doing anything very wrong. It was just the culture of crony capitalism of the time.

Corruption and Democracy

A Catalan Republic has the chance to reform this by creating an administrative and political system that is more transparent and efficient. This will provoke social change because people will have more confidence in their politicians, which in turn will create more citizen participation.

For example, the way political parties are financed needs to change. The so-called 3% is reprehensible but not really illegal. Do you know how it works? Well, a company makes a "donation" to a party foundation and then the Generalitat or a city council puts a project, such as a hospital or school, out for public tender using relatively general bureaucratic language. Then a party official goes and explains to the donor company exactly what is wanted. The company makes its bid and its chosen by the "impartial" adjudication committee because its offer is obviously the best. Hecho la ley, hecho la trampa. It exxploits the grey areas of Spanish law.

The same goes for the electoral system. The Assessory Council for National Transition have proposed something similar to the German system, I think, which is a kind of hybrid between Britain's first past the post system and Spanish proportional representation. Obviously, first past the post is unfair but it does encourage direct representation and MPs are individually responsible to their voters. In the Spanish closed list system, voters don't have a representative. They only know the names of the party leaders, who are in the top positions in the list. It's not actually in the party leaders interest to have intelligent committed people in the lower positions. No, what they want is sycophants and Yes men. Arselickers for want of a better word.

Neither of these systems will ever change in Spain because they are in the party's and the politicians best interests to keep everything the same. Now, I'm not so disingenuous to think that Catalan politicians are perfect. Let's face it there have been a lot of botiflers over the years. However, the creation of the Catalan Republic opens a window where new systems have to be created hopefully in an atmosphere of idealism and optimism. This is especially true if the representatives during the constituent process come from civil society, as is the case with the CUP and the independents of Junts pel Sí, because they're only there for one term of office and have no vested interest in making life sweet for politicians in the future.

Constitution and Language

The drawing up of the Constitution is another area that will cause social change through citizen participation. I had lunch with Santiago Vidal a few months ago and being a judge, he's a bit obsessed with detail and when we spoke, in my opinion, the draft text specified too much. I think a Constitution should be a general outline with very broad brushstrokes that gives a framework for specific laws to provide the details. If you're interested in participating I think you can still make amendments at www.unanovaconstitucio.cat.

One of the topics Santiago and I discussed was the role of language. I'm sure many of you will have your own opinions on this, which we can discuss later, I don't think the debate about whether Castilian should be co-official with Catalan is relevant because I don't think you need to specify any language in the Constitution. What you have to do is specify that everyone has language rights in public administration or the legal system, for example. Once the Catalan language has its own State it will naturally adopt a position of dominance. If you constitutionally oblige people to use Catalan from the start, you create an abrupt change and this will cause resentment amongst Spanish speakers. I think we need a social evolution that includes people rather than an abrupt social change that makes them feel excluded. A law making Catalan obligatory in public administration and guaranteeing everyone's language rights to be passed after a certain period of time would make more sense.

For example, the legal system in Catalonia is almost totally in Castilian because it's run by central administration. This means that judges and public prosecutors educated only in Castilian come and work in Catalonia and this makes the whole system 95% monolingual. I know a couple of judges or fiscals who try to work mainly in Catalan but they are under pressure to work in Spanish. Once the Catalan Republic exists there's no need for any change to be imposed because it will happen gradually. Inevitably many Spanish law professionals will move away but there is no reason for the people who stay to suddenly switch to Catalan. This will happen gradually as new laws are passed by the Parliament of Catalonia, where they are drafted only in Catalan, and further down the line as people complete law degrees that have been taught only in Catalan.

It seems to me that the linguistic fabric of Catalonia will not go through an abrupt change but will rather evolve over time. At the moment everybody speaks Spanish and a high percentage of people speak Catalan. In a few years time, everybody will speak Catalan and very high percentage will speak Spanish because family links and cultural ties will not have been broken. It will happen because the Catalan language has its own State.

Declaration

The document that seems to me that best sums up the immediate social changes that are facing Catalonia is The Declaration of the Beginning of the Creation of an Independent Catalan State in the form of a Republic, which was passed by Parliament on November 9th.

There are nine articles in total but it is Article 6 and Article 8 that offer the mandate for a democratic disconnection with Spain.

SIX: As trustee of the sovereignty and expression of constituent power, we reiterate that this Parliament and the process of democratic disconnection will not be subordinated to decisions of the Spanish State, in particular, the Constitutional Court, which we consider discredited and without power as a result of, amongst other things, the sentence of June 2010 on the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, which had previously been voted on in referendum by the people.

EIGHT: Urges the future government to only carry out those rules and mandates emanating from this legitimate and democratic chamber in order to protect the fundamental rights that may be affected by decisions of the Spanish State.

So Article Six is about disobedience and disobeying the Constitutional Court, in particular, and Article Eight places the Parliament of Catalonia above the Spanish Congress and guards against new laws being passed to expressly block the Catalan independence process. This is necessary because of the idea of transitory legality, which means that, in order to maintain law and order and an efficient legal system, all Spanish legislation will remain in place until it is overwritten by Catalan laws. Thus making the legislative changes gradual rather than abrupt as I said before.

A Catalan Treasury

However, as far as the next step in the process is concerned, the important article is the fifth, which states:

FIVE: Considers it necessary to define a maximum of thirty days for the passing of the laws of the constituent process, the social security and the Catalan treasury.

This is when the break will happen and in order to circumvent a central government reaction it has to happen fast. The law of the constituent process will be passed within thirty days of the constitution of the new government. On the back of this will come the creation of a Catalan social security system that will be able to pay out benefits and pensions and a Catalan Treasury that will be able to collect taxes.

This is where the financial break will come from Spain and is likely to be the moment of greatest tension. Incidentally, all of these measures infringe the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which suspended the Declaration, and will probably lead to the immediate suspension of Carme Forcadell. However, as Article Six negates the validity of the Constitutional Court, the new government and the Mossos d'Esquadra will ignore the ruling.

Anyway, back to social change. The idea behind the Catalan Treasury, is explained by its architect Joan Iglesias in Una hisenda a la catalana: Preguntes i respostes sobre la hisenda pròpia (A Catalan Treasury: Questions and Answers about our own Treasury). I haven't read the book yet but I have seen Joan Iglesias interviewed and it's quite possible that I'll be having lunch with him next week. His basic argument is that the Spanish system is opaque, complicated and because it's difficult to understand it encourages tax fraud either due to mistakes or deliberately because there are potential loopholes or grey areas. This means that it's a punitive system and miscreants are always being chased.

The Catalan system is designed to be open and understandable and encourage collaboration and will include a clear message about tax responsibility and why taxation benefits everyone, which should increase citizen participation and decrease, accidental and deliberate, tax fraud. The Hisenda Catalana already has a fully-equipped building on Via Laietana and the moment the order is given all the workers currently at Plaça Letamendi can change over in a couple of days.

Social Justice

A final point to the Declaration is the Annex, which was added on the Friday before the debate and was approved with the rest of the text. It includes another 9 clauses that


   1. Specifically supports the Energy Poverty Law, which was suspended by the Constitutional Court
   2. Make it impossible to evict people from their homes, unless they have alternative accommodation
   3. Guarantee health care to everyone including legal immigrants
   4. Explicitly rejects the Wert Law and emphasises the value of linguistic immersion
   5. Rejects the Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana or Gagging Law
   6. Increases the powers of municipal councils
   7. Accept a higher proportion of refugees in the current crisis
   8. Guarantees the right to abortion
   9. Proposes a renegotiation of the Generalitat's debt arrangement with the banks in order to finance all of the above.

I could go into similar detail about the implications of all the clauses in the annex but the point is clear that an independent Catalonia would focus on social justice and citizen participation with transparency and accountability on the part of the administration. I think that would bring about social change in any society so we need now is an agreement and to start taking the first steps in the creation of the Catalan Republic.

We have an amazing opportunity before us and we really mustn't mess it up.



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