Carles Castro, Barcelona, July 4, 2021
Participation in the 9-N 2014 consultation was massive but did not reach 40% of the census / Own sources
Nobody calls a referendum to lose it, although the unexpected defeats generated by this type of consultation should deter the reckless who still demand them. In the Catalan case, the referendum is presented as the talismanic formula that will allow resolving the territorial conflict that faces half of Catalonia with the rest of Spain. And to reinforce its character as the holy grail of democracy, it is argued that an overwhelming majority of Catalans are betting on this mechanism to get out of the impasse of procés.
However, on the subject of the consultation semi-truths are wielded that often lead to the tangled territory of self-deception. To begin with, the electoral results – the best indicator of the country’s will – have been registering a situation of technical tie between supporters and detractors of independence, which falls apart in favor of those opposed to secession when participation shoots up, as happened. in 2015 or 2017. In other words, the foreseeable outcome of a referendum would leave Catalonia even more divided and dissatisfied.
The broad support for a consultation in Catalonia is conditional on its celebration being agreed with the State
However, beyond the forecasts, Catalan society itself expresses its reservations about the referendum through the polls. It is true that the consultation has broad social support in Catalonia, in the confidence – perhaps unfounded – that it would allow the majority will of the country to be elucidated once and for all. However, for a referendum to be valid, it must be accepted as a decision-making mechanism by a substantial majority of society and not only by those who strongly desire it. And that is where the experiences of 9-N, 2014 and October 1, 2017 show that the will to participate in a unilateral consultation is not the majority. In both cases, turnout did not go much beyond 40% of the electoral roll.
BUT WHAT KIND OF REFERENDUM?
In reality, behind the supposed massive support for a self-determination referendum there are hidden conditions that qualify its validity as a healing instrument for the Catalan fissure. The fundamental requirement to guarantee majority support for this formula is, according to the polls, that the consultation be agreed. If this condition is not met, support for a unilateral referendum falls to 50% or even lower, according to the polls of the Center d’Estudis d’Opinió carried out in the critical period of the sovereign process. And according to the GAD3 surveys for La Vanguardia, the requirement that the consultation be held only as a result of an agreement with the State would be even a majority.
DEGREE OF AGREEMENT WITH THE RIGHT TO DECIDE THE FUTURE IN A REFERENDUM
Finally, when Catalan society is asked what is the best way to resolve the territorial conflict, the answer is clear. Only 23% of those consulted bet on the consultation, while a similar percentage proposes a constitutional reform to settle the position of Catalonia in Spain. And, in parallel, there is growing support for an improvement in the financing system as the most suitable formula to resolve the Catalan conflict, which in the GAD3 survey last May already reached 36% of those consulted.
MORE SPECIFICALLY, IF A REFERENDUM WERE MADE TOMORROW TO DECIDE THE INDEPENDENCE OF CATALUNYA, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
From there, it is difficult to understand why the independence movement is entrenched in the demand for a referendum that it would foreseeably lose and that does not fit into the Spanish Constitution, so no central government will authorize it. The explanation lies in the inertia that maintains among the sovereign electorate the story that the parties of that sign have constructed about the thaumaturgical effects of the consultation. In other words, only to the extent that the secessionist forces rewrite that story and bring it closer to reality, will their voters accept moving on more possible margins, as is already the case among ERC voters.
Thus, while more than half of those opposed to independence bet on a reform of the financing system, as a way to resolve the conflict, the pro-independence voters favor the referendum (in a percentage that exceeds 45%). Of course, with some nuances: while among the voters of Junts an unchanging 60% defend the consultation, among those of ERC that rate would have fallen 15 points, to 37%, between January and May.