Juan Soto Ivars 02/23/2020
Image: The authors of the study: Josep M. Oller, Albert Satorra and Adolf Tobeña. (EC)
On February 15, a thorough investigation into the political demography of Catalonia was published in the prestigious academic magazine MDPI, entitled “Privileged rebels: a longitudinal analysis of distinctive economic features of Catalan secessionism”. The results dismantle some of the myths of independence. It is neither a movement as transversal as its leaders claim, nor did it come from the bottom up in reaction to government policies.
Under the political dispute, important economic and cultural differences shine. The authors are professors Josep M. Oller of the Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Statistics of the University of Barcelona; Albert Satorra, from the Department of Economics and Business of the Pompeu Fabra University, and Adolf Tobeña, from the Department of Psychiatry and Forensic Medicine of the Institute of Neurosciences of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. We talked with Professor Oller, who speaks on behalf of his colleagues, about the results of their research. The full study can be read
here (in English)
and here (in Spanish)
Q. The results of your study offer us, at first, a delicious paradox. The independence of Catalonia, the product of an identity discomfort, seems to be the claim of the most affluent people.
A. It is true that from a statistical point of view the group that is openly secessionist shows signs of greater economic well-being than the rest of the population, in terms of the net family income shown. In fact, it is a remarkable phenomenon, rather than surprising: the exaggerated concern for one’s identities usually occurs in societies with many of the basic needs well covered, since secessionist tensions occur with preference in regions with greater resources than the original State average. and tend to rely on somewhat naif direct calculations, disregarding not only considerations based on strict social justice, but also forgetting that the proposed breaks are not a ‘zero sum game’ but rather, in the short term, a game of negative sum, and, in any case, the secessionist demand from large and well-accommodated social sectors is largely explained by taking into account that it is created from the regional power, which is considerable, controlling the regional public media and faced to a considerable passivity of the central State .
Q. What did you intend to achieve when you decided to do this study?
A. First, trying to objectify the phenomenon studied. To do this, we use all available Political Opinion barometers of the Generalitat Polling Agency (CEO) available, to confirm or refute very partial data, on the vectors of the division that has been installed in Catalonia, between secessionists and unionists.
Q. Did this serve you to refute any preconceived ideas?
A. Several. The first and most important refuted idea is that secessionism is transversal: it is not. It obeys a territorial, linguistic and economic segmentation that we have described accurately. The second is that it emerged as a spontaneous political movement that was born and developed from the bottom up. It is not like that either. We have been able to show, in our series of studies, the decisive input of influence factors from top to bottom. The two most relevant: the sharp turn of the moderate and pro-pact nationalism of CIU, in 2012, towards secesionism; and the propaganda impregnation, in a communicative bubble, of regional media under the direct or indirect control of the Generalitat.
Q. It seems then that the point of emotional breakdown did not occur, as the pro-independence sector states, after the controversy of the collection by the PP of signatures against the Statute.
A. Contrary to what some argue, neither this fact nor the ruling of the TC on the 2006 Statute have a significant relevance in the data series. Only as a propaganda ram and later justification: they are used to tell a story.
The president of the Parliament, Roger Torrent (c), together with the members of the Bureau and the lawyers of the Catalan Parliament. (EFE)
Q. What, then, was the breaking point?
A. The crucial takeoff is the turn led and embodied by Mr. Artur Mas, in 2012, to try to consolidate a renewed majority of CIU in the regional elections of November of that year, in times of great economic distress. There are many points to clarify in this period: it was not a simple whim of Artur Mas and a few, but a concerted decision of a large part of the Catalan elite: just remember the important campaigns that economists and academics developed in September 2012, and pay attention!: in English, via the network, while in the counties they offered a more rudimentary version but in the same vein, which had some success in quite uninformed people, just at a very economically delicate time for Spain. It seems clear that it was more than a bluff for many. The result of those elections was what it was, and Artur Mas found himself, unexpectedly, in a scenario where he was held captive by secessionist forces, unless he rectified and assumed significant electoral costs, which he did not do and preferred a flight forward.
Q. Polarization is always attributed to nationalistic feelings, but it seems to have a hidden social class component.
A. The current polarization in Catalonia, although it has its roots in ethnic-cultural differences, where the different social classes are not represented equally, derives mainly from the attempt to complete a secessionist adventure with a base less than half of the population. The “conspiracy of the irresponsible” was called.
Q. According to the data, what is the relationship between wealth and independence?
A. In statistical terms and simplifying, the broad middle and upper-middle classes, well installed and Catalan speaking, are secessionists. The middle-lower strata and the most disadvantaged segments of citizenship are not.
Q. What I am referring to, perhaps in a more generic way, is this: does a trace of the everlasting class arrogance hide in the issue of language?
A. Of course, what seems to be there is an attitude that conveys paternalism and lack of empathy towards a notable group of people and overly concerned with their own identity, which can easily be interpreted as a certain classism.
“This movement was led by wealthy Catalan elites and one of its objectives could be to distort the protests of the 15-M movement”
Q. In the sense of social classes, the trend in Catalonia with independence seems to be going in the opposite direction, for example, to that of Brexit, where the vote of rupture seems more prone in the poor classes.
A. Yes, but only in a sense alone. Catalan elites like the British are segregationists. But he following-up in England and Wales is predominantly popular, while in Catalonia it is middle class and professional, well educated, installed and cosmopolitan.
Q. Something interesting from the point of view of social class is that the most radical left of Catalonia, the CUP, shares objectives with the conservatives of the post-Convergencia. How do you explain it?
A. They are their children and grandchildren. They must preserve businesses, canonries and more or less overlapping links with the regional government, in the long run.
Q. If those in the lower classes are less favorable to independence, how do you explain that the rise of this movement came in the worst years of the economic crisis?
A. This movement was led by wealthy Catalan elites and one of its objectives, in addition to improving self-government or achieving independence, could be to distort the protests of the 15-M movement. In addition, the deep economic crises, -and the one of 2008-2014 was of a big degree-, are a breeding ground for all kinds of political effervescences and for the gain of fishermen in troubled rivers. In Catalonia, the secessionist movement was set because it has a solid minimum base always available and was conducted with a remarkable propaganda efficiency, all watered with abundant public money, and also, I repeat, faced with the passivity of the government of Spain.
Q. In your graphs, social polarization seems to have reached the point of equilibrium, of stagnation. Have we reached a dead end?
A. We are in a chronic and entrenched tie, since the secessionists managed to reverse the serious defeat of the 155 in the December 2017 elections. The mess, the fights, the ineptitude and the morass of Spanish politics has also contributed to this. Notoriously.
Q. Do you anticipate that when new generations reach the age to vote the balance will lean favorably on one side or the other?
A. I think that in the coming years society will change so much (social, technological, demographic changes, etc.) that it is likely that new problems will appear that will rid us of many of the current ones. However, there are so many unknowns that NOTHING is predictable, although there are a lot of business and pseudo-oracles dedicated to it.