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A referendum on independence is the worst remedy for a divided society like ours

07/30/2019 at 18:53


 EVA GRANADOS Member of the Catalan Parliament for the PSC

After the failure of the unilateral way, the pro-independence parties return to request a referendum and ensure that any consolidated democracy would celebrate it. But the leaders of ERC and JxCat do not cite the same examples, in our opinion they do not explain them in a complete way and do not incorporate into the analysis other examples that are at least as relevant.

In a recent conference, Roger Torrent mentioned the usual precedents of the pro-independence argument: the referendums in Scotland and Quebec, and a clarity agreement that the media have associated with the Canadian law of clarity. Instead, in his latest book, former President Carles Puigdemont says that “the Spanish government should adopt the attitude of David Cameron when he was the British Prime Minister”, but it is to be noticed that Quebec does not appear in any of the 240 pages of that book. To know why, we only need to see the interview Lídia Heredia did on TV3 with Jean-François Lisée, formerly leader of the Quebecois Party. The pro-independence leader said that “Canada has failed to find a solution to the Quebec question”, that “Quebec has not approved the Constitution, but it has been imposed instead” and that the law of clarity is an impossible “path” for independence. Lisée concluded that “if you seek an international example, the Scottish one is the example”.

The Québecois pro-independence forces reject the law of clarity, from the year 2000

Indeed, both Québec referendums (in 1980 and 1995) were unilateral, and Canada did not consider them binding. For example, Pierre Trudeau, prime minister during the first, said that even a 100% in favor would not give even the right to start a negotiation. Québec pro-independence parties reject the law of clarity of 2000, since 1) it denies Quebec’s right to self-determination (it states that the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that there is no right to a unilateral secession of Quebec in international law); 2) it establishes sovereignty throughout the whole of Canada (a possible agreement should be approved in constitutional reform by the 10 provinces, and if only one said ‘no’, there would be no secession); and 3) it recognizes the divisibility of Quebec, a principle that transferred to our own situation would open the door to Tabarnia.

It is also meaningful that Puigdemont speaks of David Cameron, and not of the United Kingdom, which also has its logic. In an interview with Jordi Basté at RAC1, Alex Salmond explained that they had awaited for “a whole century” until a prime minister granted a referendum, and that Cameron did so because he was convinced that the yes would not go beyond the 30%. He said: “Like the typical conservatives of Eton, [Cameron] is only willing to play when he has a guaranteed victory”. Subsequently, May and Johnson did not accept the new referendum the Scottish government wants. Referendums in the United Kingdom are the outcome of the discretion of the prime minister and not of a right recognized to the Parliament and citizens of Scotland.

Cameron has achieved an absolutely new unanimity against the two referendums: from Owen Jones to Martin Wolf

According to the ‘Financial Times’, Cameron also assured Obama and Merkel that the yes to Brexit would not be beyond the 30%. Just for the referendums, Cameron has reached an unheard of unanimity: both Owen Jones, a journalist for ‘The Guardian’ and a guest speaker at the meetings of the ‘Comuns’, and Martin Wolf, chief economist of the Financial Times and voice of orthodoxy, have agreed in describing it as “the worst prime minister in history”, and they have regretted the division caused. Jones has stated that “both Scotland and Britain are bitterly divided and the catalyst were both referendums in 2014 and 2016”, and that “a second referendum in Scotland would leave society even more divided”. Trudeau and Jean Chrétien (prime minister during the second Quebec referendum) have also left vivid testimonies of the strong division produced.

But in addition to Quebec and Scotland there are other precedents that the pro-Independence parties ignore. Let’s see some of them. In 2006, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that “the secession is clearly unconstitutional and therefore an improper object for a consultation initiative” as petitioned by a citizen. In 2013, the White House of Obama responded to a pro-independence popular petition in Texas that “the United States Constitution does not provide mechanisms to leave the Union”. In 2014, leading a coalition chosen with 60.16% of the votes, the Northern League in Italy passed in the Veneto Parliament a law for the organization of a referendum on independence. The government Renzi brought it to the Constitutional Court, which prohibited it by saying that the independence of a region is not possible (unlike Spain), not even through a constitutional amendment. In 2016, the German Constitutional Court prohibited a referendum requested by a small Bavarian political party, saying that “there is no place in the fundamental law [the Constitution] for the aspirations for independence of the lands”. And Denmark explicitly prohibits in its Constitution referendums in a series of matters such as monarchy and taxes.

Pro-independence parties use as models the referendums in Quebec and Scotland, which in fact have not provided a solution, but rather a division

 The former vice-president Oriol Junqueras gave this answer in this newspaper to Antoni Bassas: “In the good practices of Western democracies is not included prohibiting citizens from voting; In the same way that the United Kingdom does not prohibit Scottish citizens from voting, nor does Canada prohibit Quebecois from voting, the Spanish state should not prohibit the citizens of Catalonia from voting”. But, as Lisée told TV3 and as is clear from the examples cited, the fact is that only Cameron has done what Oriol Junqueras presents as a general rule, and probably for that reason only the British politician appears as a precedent in the book of Carles Puigdemont.

The pro-independence parties use as models the referendums in Quebec and Scotland, which in fact have not provided a solution, but rather a division; and they have generated important reactions from the political system and from civil society because they have been not repeated. As Lídia Heredia pointed out in the aforementioned interview, the true intention of the Canadian government with the law of clarity was to avoid a third referendum. Outstanding opinion leaders as the head of Politics in the progressive media ‘The Observer’ propose that the United Kingdom provide itself with a Constitution to disable Cameron’s way.

Of all these experiences, at the PSC we conclude that a referendum on independence is the worst remedy for a society as divided as ours, and while some want a referendum to break up, we Socialists want one just to endorse a big agreement.


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