Catalonian Independence and Constitutional Amendments

Just some short thoughts on the Catalonian referendum on independence.


1. I’ve said this before, about Brexit and about the referendum that legitimized Erdogan’s autocracy, but I’ll repeat it. Referendums with a simple majority (50 percent of the vote +1) as a threshold on constitutional issues may be democratic, but they are not legitimate to me. A simple majority should not be able to change the constitution, and thereby have the right to abolish minority rights. In this case we have no clue what Catalonian independence will do to the political and property rights of Catalonians, including those who don’t want an independent Catalonia. Constitutional democracy requires a balance between democratic principles and the protection of minority rights. Currently the Catalonian politicians error to the side of democratic principles in my opinion.

2. A referendum with the simple question: ‘independence or no independence’ is ridiculous. The question of independence is incredibly complex: can Catalonia join the EU afterwards? Can individuals maintain their Spanish nationality, or will Catalonia or Spain revoke this? What happens to property held by Catalonians in the rest of Spain (houses, pension rights, money, etc)? All these questions matter for an informed choice on independence. Unless this is all specified, declaring independence based on this referendum is illegitimate. We’ve seen in Brexit that people did not know what they voted for, in fact, the politicians proposing Brexit didn’t not know what they were proposing. Catalonian politicians are doing exactly the same thing right now, and I think this is utterly irresponsible.

3. Violence to protect the constitution is not necessarily immoral or undemocratic. The question is when and how it is used to protect what kind of constitution. In this case I think Rajoy’s policy to deny any possibility of separation is bad, it hurts his own interests and it only helps the separatists. His use of violence to protect a non-democratic constitution (it denies the possibility of the public to decide to become independent, even after long deliberation, good information) is immoral to me. However, it could have been moral to defend the constitution form what essentially could be a minority coup (only 48percent of the Catalonians voted for independence parties!). Nevertheless, I think that Rajoy is erring to the side of constitutionalism when it comes to the Catalonian issue. He pretends the constitution is set in stone, while it could be changed to allow independence negotiations or devolution of power to Catalonia.

Bottom line: Both unionists and separatists are behaving irresponsibly, and against what I would call constitutional democracy. Rajoy is loves his constitution too much, while Puigdemont loves democracy too much.


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