Tag Archives: independence referendum

Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Tim Farron has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a new broad-based liberal, moderate and pro-Europe party across the United Kingdom. (Daniel Hambury / Stella Pictures)

In calling a snap election for June 8, British prime minister Theresa May has done exactly what former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown didn’t do a decade ago — taking initiative to win a personal mandate and extend her party’s majority for up to five more years.

With Labour’s likely support tomorrow, May is set to win a two-thirds majority to hold an election, in spite of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that would otherwise set the next general election for 2020 — long after the two-year negotiations triggered last month by Article 50 to leave the European Union are set to end. May and the Conservatives now hope that voters will give her an emphatic endorsement for her approach to Brexit — and a much wider majority than the 17-seat margin the Conservatives currently enjoy in the House of Commons. Though some commentators believe a wide Tory victory would make a ‘hard Brexit’ more likely, a lot of sharp commentators believe that it could give May the cushion she needs to implement a much less radical ‘soft Brexit.’

In any event, it’s not unreasonable for May to seek a snap election while EU officials pull together their negotiating positions for later this summer — since the last vote in 2015, the country’s experienced the Brexit earthquake and a change in leadership among all three national parties.

It will also come as the Tories are riding high in the polls by a margin of around 20% against Labour, now in its second year of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left leadership. If the election were held today, every indication points to a historic defeat for Labour. It’s not only the polls, which are dismal enough. Corbyn has made so many enemies among the parliamentary Labour Party that many MPs will not stand for reelection (including former home secretary Alan Johnson, one of the few genuinely popular figures around who represent ‘New Labour’).

Corbyn’s electoral record, too, is weak. When Jamie Reed, a Corbyn critic and an MP since 2005, resigned, Conservative Trudy Harrison captured his Copeland constituency by a 5% margin against the Labour candidate in a February 23 by-election. Not only was it the first gain for a governing party in a by-election since 1982, it was a seat in Labour’s once-reliable northern heartland, held without interruption since 1935.

Without a major change (and it’s hard to see anything that could swing voters on Corbyn at this point), Labour is doomed. The next 51 days will likely bring iteration after iteration of Corbyn’s political obituary, with a crescendo of the infighting within Labour that has characterized his leadership.

It will be ugly.

Labour, with 229 seats, is already near the disastrous levels of its post-war low of 1983 (just 27.6% and 209 seats), and there’s reason to believe Corbyn could still sink further. No one would laugh at the suggestion Labour might lose another 100 seats in June. For Corbyn’s opponents within Labour, the only silver lining to a snap election is that a decisive defeat could end Corbyn’s leadership now (not in 2020), giving Labour an opportunity to rebuild under a more talented and inclusive leader.

Moreover, in the wake of a call for a second referendum on independence for Scotland (which would presumably seek to rejoin the European Union), Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon could well improve the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) position — the party now holds 54 of 57 seats in Scotland with the unionist opposition divided among the three national parties.

So where does this leave anti-Brexit voters who are uncomfortable casting a vote for May’s Tories?

The Liberal Democrats. Continue reading Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Nationalists hope to thrive in quiet Welsh elections

Plaid Cymru's leader Leanne Wood (right) is a popular left-wing Welsh nationalist, but she doesn't command regional politics like Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland. (Facebook)
Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood (right) is a popular left-wing Welsh nationalist, but she doesn’t command regional politics like Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland. (Facebook)

Across the United Kingdom, voters will go to the polls Thursday for regional council elections nationwide and to elect regional governments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.United Kingdom Flag Iconwales

Most political attention has focused on London, where Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, seems set to win by a hearty margin, or more generally on England, where the rest of the Labour Party will be watching to gauge the effects of Jeremy Corbyn’s eight-month leadership.

In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is expected to win a landslide victory, with Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives vying for a distant second place.

Above all, voters and politicians are already looking beyond Thursday’s regional and council votes to the European Union referendum on June 23, which could cause national, regional and global tremors.

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RELATED: Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

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But Wales is also voting to elect all 60 members of the National Assembly (Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru). Voters choose members directly through constituencies, but vote a second time for a particular party that provides additional seats, on a regional basis, through proportional representation. Though the region has attracted far less attention than Scotland or even Northern Ireland of late, it still boasts 3.1 million residents of its own — a population that’s equal to about 60% of Scotland’s and just 5% of the overall UK population.

As Labour struggles throughout the rest of the country, polls show that the Welsh Labour Party is on track to win Thursday’s vote with ease, which will give Carwyn Jones, the Welsh first minister since December 2009, an easy path to reelection. The center-left Labour, which has historically taken a more nationalist approach to politics in Wales, has won every regional election since 1999, the first in the post-devolution era. Continue reading Nationalists hope to thrive in quiet Welsh elections

Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

On May 6, Scotland could wake up to a Conservative leader of the opposition in Ruth Davidson. (Facebook)
On May 6, Scotland could wake up to a Conservative leader of the opposition in Ruth Davidson. (Facebook)

The next opposition leader of Scotland’s regional parliament just might be an openly gay Conservative woman.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

It sounds farfetched, but polls show that as the Scottish National Party (SNP) continues to lead by a wide margin with regional elections approaching on May 5, the Scottish Labour Party has sunk so low that Scottish Conservatives actually have a strong chance to place second — albeit a very far second behind the SNP and its popular leader, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

If the Tories do indeed pull off a victory in Scotland, it would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Scottish Tories to rebrand themselves in Davidson’s image — and it would make Davidson, nearly overnight, a model figure in the modern Conservative Party.

Nothing’s certain.

The latest Survation/Daily Record poll conducted between April 15 and 20 gives the SNP a massive lead with 53% of the vote. Far behind in second place was Labour with 18%, but directly behind Labour? The Conservatives with 17%.

It’s virtually a law of post-Thatcher British politics that Scotland is a no-go zone for the Tories. In the 2015 general election, prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives won just one seat (out of 59) and 14.9% of the vote, its lowest-ever vote share. The last time the Conservatives won even 25% of the Scottish vote in a general election was 1992. Since the 1997 landslide that wiped out the Conservatives, the party has elected just two MPs and, since 2005, the only Tory MP has been David Mundell, who represents Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Since May 2015, Mundell has served as the secretary of state for Scotland.

It’s been even worse for the Scottish Tories in local elections — the region-wide Conservative vote was just 12.4% in 2011 and just 13.9% in 2007. In Scotland’s post-devolution history (it’s had a regional parliament only since 1999), the Conservatives have held no more than 18 seats (out of 129).

So it’s remarkable that, at this point, the Conservatives even have a shot at becoming the official opposition at Holyrood.

Much of the credit belongs to Davidson, who is not your typical Tory.  Continue reading Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote

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Everyone knows that Scotland narrowly voted against independence in September 2014.scotlandEuropean_UnionUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

The ‘Yes’ campaign  waged that fight fully knowing that, by 2017, there would be a broader UK-wide vote on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. Given that Scots are relatively (though not universally) more pro-European than English voters, growing British euroscepticism may have played an important role to nudge some Scots toward the ‘Yes’ camp.

With that Brexit referendum now set for June 23, it’s the Scottish referendum that looms over the coming vote in at least two ways that could make Brexit more likely.

The first amounts to pure game theory on the part of Scotland’s voters, who comprise around 8.4% of the total UK population.

Continue reading How Scotland’s referendum will influence Brexit vote

Catalan election results: pro-independence parties win narrow majority

Regional president Artur Mas declares victory in Sunday's Catalan elections.(Reuters/Sergio Pérez)
Regional president Artur Mas declares victory in Sunday’s Catalan elections.(Reuters/Sergio Pérez)

There’s no doubt that the pro-independence Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition won a resounding victory in Sunday’s regional elections in Catalonia. With nearly 40% of the vote, it is by far the largest force in Catalonia’s regional government and with the support of the ardently pro-independence, hard-left Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP, Popular Unity Candidacy), it is likely to form a government that will carry forward the cause of Catalan independence over the next 18 months. Spain_Flag_Iconcatalonia

For the first time in Catalan history, an explicitly pro-independence coalition, running expressly on the campaign pledge to enact an 18-month process toward declaring independence, will control the Generalitat, the Catalan government.

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But that’s essentially where the good news ends for Catalonia’s independence movement, which now faces the real prospect of hubris and overreach in the days and weeks ahead.

A democratic deficit

The first difficulty is that, though pro-independence parties now control the Catalan parliament, those parties did not, as a technical matter, win a majority of votes in the election. Pro-independence parties together won around 47.9% of the vote, just shy of an outright majority, depriving the pro-independence camp of an important moral victory in its quest. It’s difficult to claim that your movement commands democratic support when a majority of voters, in an election with nearly 77.5% turnout, supported anti-independence parties.

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It’s hard to compare the 2015 result against the 2012 result because that’s something of an apples-to-oranges comparison. But in the broadest sense, the parties supporting independence (or at least sympathetic to the cause of Catalan nationalism) won 74 seats in the Catalan parliament. That’s actually two more seats than the pro-independence parties won in the 2015 vote.

Continue reading Catalan election results: pro-independence parties win narrow majority

What’s at stake in this weekend’s Catalan regional elections

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If September 2014 was the month when Scottish independence made global headlines, it might be September 2015 when Catalan independence has its breakthrough — at least if regional president Artur Mas has his way. cataloniaSpain_Flag_Icon

Barely 10 months after Catalonia’s regional government held a non-binding referendum on independence, and just three months before the Spanish general election, Catalan voters will elect a new regional parliament in a campaign that Mas has been waging for months as a de facto referendum on the region’s future status within — or outside of — Spain.

Mas, the presidential candidate of the cross-ideological Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition, argues that a victory for the pro-independence forces will give him the leverage he needs to demand negotiations with Spain’s central government. Spain’s conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy, however, has steadfastly refused to discuss autonomy with Mas, let alone an independence referendum. Rajoy contends that any independence process is illegal, and Spain’s constitutional court ruled that last year’s November referendum was illegal. Though Mas backed down and canceled the vote, he nevertheless provoked Madrid by holding a non-binding plebiscite to flex the muscles of the Catalan independence movement. In turn, Rajoy’s refusal to discuss the matter or even permit an in-out referendum has alienated Catalan voters who might not otherwise be enthusiastic about independence.

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RELATED: Can Felipe VI do for federalism
what Juan Carlos did for democracy?

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At face value, Catalans are merely going to the polls on September 27 to elect the 135 members of the regional parliament. But after the Greek eurozone showdown earlier the summer threatened the eurozone’s stability and split Europe’s north and south, and even as the ongoing refugee crisis is threatening the integrity of the borders-free Schengen zone, splitting Europe’s west and east, the cause of Catalan independence could become the European Union’s next fashionable crisis.

Mas promises that if the Catalan electorate gives Junts pel Sí a majority in the Catalan parliament, however narrow, it will be sufficient to launch an 18-month process that will result in the region’s independence and promulgate a new Catalan constitution.

So what exactly is happening in Catalonia? And what should we expect the day after regional elections? Continue reading What’s at stake in this weekend’s Catalan regional elections

The lessons of Newfoundland’s 1948 referendum

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Imagine a North America with three, not two, countries north of the Rio Grande — the United States, Canada and… Newfoundland.newfoundlandCanada Flag Icon

Newfoundland!? That’s right. The Canadian outpost in the north Atlantic. Imagine today a proud population of nearly 530,000, now basking in the proceeds of a thriving offshore oil market, growing interest in summer tourism and a historical reliance on fisheries.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds — and if not for the votes of 7,000 Newfoundlanders on this day in 1948, the proudly sovereign country of Newfoundland and Labrador might exist today as a strategic Atlantic hub.

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With an area slightly larger than Bangladesh or Greece, and with a population similar to that of Luxembourg and larger than the populations of Iceland, Belize, Brunei or Malta, the Canadian province today has a GDP per capita of nearly $68,000, in Canadian dollars (as of 2013) — much higher than the Canadian average of nearly $54,000.

On July 22, 1948, nearly 150,000 Newfoundlanders voted in the second of two fiercely contested referenda. They decided, however narrowly, in favor of confederation with Canada. On April 1 of the following year, Newfoundland and Labrador became the 10th Canadian province. The referendum brought to an end 15 years of uncertain status — that’s because in 1934, the essentially independent ‘Dominion of Newfoundland’ reverted back to colonial status after a financial crisis left the country unable to service its debt.

Sound familiar? Relations today between Greece and the rest of the eurozone (most especially Germany) are as strained as ever. With a third bailout effectively ceding control of Greek fiscal policy from prime minister Alexis Tsipras to European authorities, Newfoundland’s example holds instructive lessons on sovereignty and debt. The referendum — and the failure of the pro-independence campaign — also provides a data point for aspiring nations like Scotland and Catalunya.

Nearly 80 years of sovereignty

Newfoundland first won self-rule in 1854, with the introduction of ‘responsible government,’ and it acquired more formal dominion status (equivalent to the dominion status Canada held) in 1907. Continue reading The lessons of Newfoundland’s 1948 referendum

Québec bids farewell to Parizeau, its would-be founding father

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No one in the history of the province of Québec is more responsible for the fact that, for a few fleeting moments in 1995, it seemed like Québec would finally win its independence as a sovereign state. Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Jacques Parizeau, Québec’s premier at the time, was the leading light of the Parti québécois (PQ), and one of the leaders of the so-called Quiet Revolution that ended the decades of Duplessis-era parochial Catholic paternalism in the province. That revolution, in turn, shook loose pent-up energy for a new Québécois assertiveness that, by the 1970s, took the form social democratic welfare legislation, aggressive laws enshrining the dominance of the French language and, of course, the push for Québec’s independence.

Twice, in 1980 and again in 1995, the Québécois people voted on the question of leaving Canada. Parizeau’s movement lost the 1995 vote by the slimmest of margins, and his party has suffered increasing setbacks in the two ensuing decades. Today, the growing numbers of immigrants to the province speak native languages neither French nor English, and Québec’s youthful, English-speaking Millennials hold a less confrontational stance with respect to English Canada.

Parizeau died late Monday night at the age 84, an avowed sovereigntist until the very end and a would-be founding father of a nation-state that never emerged. Though he’ll be remembered for his sneering referendum-night comments that ‘money and the ethnic vote’ doomed the separatist effort, his career was far more textured than one night’s unfortunate comments. The new PQ leader, Pierre Karl Péladeau, elected just last month, used the occasion of Parizeau’s death to suggest that it will give Quebeckers an opportunity to reconsider — and embrace — the independence movement afresh. Continue reading Québec bids farewell to Parizeau, its would-be founding father

Major’s scare tactics show Tories running scared

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If it was surprising to see former prime minister Tony Blair two weeks ago back in the spotlight of British politics, it was even more surprising Tuesday to see his predecessor, Conservative prime minister John Major, stealing the show with just over two weeks to go until the United Kingdom’s general election.United Kingdom Flag Icon

His remarks, a calculated warning about the potential rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is now forecast to win nearly all of Scotland’s 59 seats to the House of Commons, show just how worried the Conservatives are about a potential coalition between the center-left Labour Party and the SNP.

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RELATED: Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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With Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon apparently impervious to attack from Tories or from Labour in Scotland, Major delivered a rare speech on Tuesday warning that a Labour-SNP government would be a ‘clear and present danger’ to British unity, echoing in softer tones the warnings of prime minister David Cameron a few days ago, who declared a potential Labour-SNP alliance a ‘coalition of chaos.’

In typical Major style, there were few histrionics in his speech, but the only living former Conservative prime minister made it clear just how seriously the Tories are taking the joint Labour-SNP threat by warning that the SNP would ‘blackmail’ a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, pushing for small victories that will secure the SNP’s popularity prior to regional Scottish elections in 2016, en route to demands for another referendum on independence:

It is to drive a wedge between Scotland and – especially – England.  They will manufacture grievance to make it more likely any future Referendum would deliver a majority for independence.  They will ask for the impossible and create merry hell if it is denied.  The nightmare of a broken United Kingdom has not gone away.  The separation debate is not over.  The SNP is determined to prise apart the United Kingdom.

With just two weeks until British voters choose their next government, there’s no sign that either the Conservatives or Labour can win a majority to govern alone. Even with the support of the Liberal Democrats, neither party is projected to win the 326 seats they will need to form a majority. With Sturgeon’s surging SNP set to win nearly all of the 59 seats in Scotland, that’s made her the potential kingmaker for the next British government.

Unlike Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg, who has made it clear that he could partner with either major party, Sturgeon has made it clear that she will not support a Tory government at Westminster. With little support to lose in Scotland itself, Major’s return indicates that the Conservative strategy for the next two weeks will be to scare English voters into supporting Tories with the threat of a Scottish-controlled parliament. Continue reading Major’s scare tactics show Tories running scared

Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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A poll late last week confirmed that, if survey trends hold, it will be very difficult for the Labour Party to form a new government without the support of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) after the United Kingdom’s May 7 general elections.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Presumably, that makes Labour leader Ed Miliband’s declaration this week ruling out any coalition with the SNP somewhat awkward with the reality that the SNP may win between 40 and 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the House of Commons, many of which are currently held by Labour MPs and which for years were reliable seats on the Labour backbenches — so reliable, in fact, that none of those 59 constituencies changed parties between the 2005 and 2010 general elections.

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No longer.

With polls showing that Labour’s narrow lead against the governing Conservative Party has vanished, the SNP earthquake means that Labour is unlikely to form a government without at least some form of SNP support and, notably, Miliband didn’t rule out an informal arrangement whereby the SNP supports a Labour minority government. Nevertheless, just six months after Scottish voters narrowly rejected independence, they are now set to determine the balance of power throughout the entire United Kingdom.

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RELATED: Scottish referendum results — winners and losers

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Post-referendum, Scottish voters are now flocking to the SNP not only in regional politics (the SNP controls a majority government in the Scottish parliament) but in national politics as well. With the SNP winning nearly half of the Scottish vote and with a lead of around 20% against Labour, it could turn Scotland almost universally yellow (the SNP’s color), wiping out Labour’s Scottish heartland and depriving the Liberal Democrats of many of their 11 seats as well, nearly 20% of the LibDem MPs in total.

It’s not entirely surprising. Scottish voters are keen to hold Westminster accountable for promises of ‘devolution max,’ a set of promises made desperately by Labour and Conservative leaders alike in the last days of the referendum. When the ‘Yes’ campaign lost the referendum, Alex Salmond stepped down both as SNP leader and as Scotland’s first minister. Though he remains a relatively beloved figure in Scotland, his replacement, Nicola Sturgeon (pictured above) is even more popular, especially among young voters, evincing a more progressive edge than Salmond’s hard-edged leftism forged in the divisive politics of the 1970s. Continue reading Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

Madrid ignores Catalan vote at grave risk

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Though Sunday’s unofficial referendum on Catalan sovereignty may have been legally murky, it is nonetheless clear that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s strategy of ignoring the groundswell of support for regional self-determination and autonomy has been a failure.cataloniaSpain_Flag_Icon

So what actually happened on Sunday — and where do the Catalan nationalist movement and the Spanish government go from here?

What happened in Sunday’s ‘consultation’ vote

2004155Photo credit to AFP.

Catalans voted in a non-binding, unofficial ‘consultation’ that its Generalitat (or regional government) once hoped would be a legal referendum not unlike the recent September vote on independence in Scotland. But Rajoy has refused to countenance even the idea of negotiating the terms of such a referendum, and he has consistently ruled out any vote as unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, Catalunya’s regional president Artur Mas (pictured above) has championed a referendum since at least 2012, and his party and other more radical groups in the Catalan regional parliament overwhelmingly voted to hold the referendum, setting the central and Catalan regional governments on what has been a divisive battle over the past year.

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RELATED: Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

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Mas backed down on the ‘official’ nature of the referendum, which in any event was always designed to be non-binding, when Spain’s constitutional court ruled that the vote was illegal last month. Much to the chagrin of other, more leftist nationalists, however, Mas instead moved forward with an unofficial referendum, taking care not to use official Spanish government resources to conduct the vote.

The Spanish constitutional court ruled last week, in a second decision, that even this unofficial, non-binding ‘consultation’ should be delayed until it could have time to rule on its further legality. Mas went ahead with the vote, anyway, however, prompting a sharp rebuke from Rajoy’s government on Sunday:

Justice Minister Rafael Catalá described the November 9 vote as an “act of political propaganda with no democratic validity; a sterile and useless act.”

The minister went on to announce that the public prosecutor would evaluate the facts of Sunday’s vote and decide whether or not to begin legal action in the courts.

Though the law is squarely on the side of the Spanish government, the Catalans seem to have valid political and moral reasons for demanding at least a voice over their own future. In any event, at least 2.3 million Catalans turned out for the vote, representing around 35% of the total Catalan electorate, nearly all of them were pro-independence voters.

The vote asked two questions: first, ‘do you want Catalunya to be a state?’ and second, ‘if so, do you want Catalunya to be an independent state?’

The so-called ‘yes-yes’ vote won with around 80.8% of the vote. The so-called ‘yes-no’ vote (i.e., those supporters of a Catalan state, but not necessarily an independent state) won another 10.1%. ‘No’ won just 4.5% of the vote.

While that’s skewed in favor of the independence movement, it’s also not insignificant — and it indicates that a large portion of the Catalan people want a legal and valid vote on their status. The longer that Madrid assumes an ostrich position over what’s become a very real sense of grievance among everyday Catalans, the worse the standoff over independence will end. By refusing to discuss the possibility, Rajoy and the central government risk pushing moderate unionists into the arms of the Catalan nationalists.

Nevertheless, Sunday’s turnout fell far short of the 3.7 million voters who participated in the most recent November 2012 regional elections, indicating that a substantial number of voters (who presumably aren’t as enthusiastic about independence) didn’t bother to turn out. The two-pronged ballot question demonstrates the kind of too-cute-by-half ambiguity that British prime minister David Cameron refused to entertain when negotiating the Scottish referendum — what, after all, does it mean for Catalunya to be a state if not independent?

A frustrated electorate trapped between Rajoy and Mas

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The most obvious solution to the standoff is a calm, rational conversation between the Mas and Rajoy governments that would result in greater autonomy for Catalunya’s Generalitat with respect to its own finances and spending. Incredibly, however, the two leaders went months earlier this year without even talking.

Rajoy, whose center-right Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party) won the November 2011 Spanish general elections, has consistently refused to discuss greater autonomy for Catalunya. In part, this is because Rajoy’s party has fairly little support within Catalunya — the Partit Popular de Catalunya (PPC, People’s Party of Catalonia) is just the fourth-largest bloc in the regional parliament. So Rajoy feels little immediate political pain from snubbing the region.

When he took office, Rajoy faced the likelihood that Spain would be essentially forced into a European bailout. As it turned out, Rajoy was forced into implementing budget cuts and tax increases to stave off a bailout — in addition to similar austerity measures introduced by his predecessor, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the center-left prime minister whose Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) came to power in 2004 at the dawn of the Spanish construction and finance boom.

Accordingly, Rajoy has a decent argument for avoiding a full-fledged independence referendum: with a 23.7% unemployment rate as of September, Spain is still in the midst of the worst financial and economic crisis in decades. An independence referendum in Catalunya might credibly be followed by a referendum in the Basque Country/Euskadi, another economic powerhouse with an even more painful history of separatism. Copycat movements could thrive in Galicia and elsewhere. So Rajoy has a reasonably sympathetic argument that a Catalan referendum in the midst of the current crisis could eventually pose an existential threat to the Spanish nation.

But that’s not an excuse for ignoring the problem. What’s worse is that the Spanish economic crisis is itself also fueling greater discontent among Catalans, who believe they send far more in revenue to the Spanish central government than they receive back in services and infrastructure. Though the data isn’t entirely clear, the Catalans are essentially correct. It rankles that all high-speed trains in Spain run through Madrid, for example, and that almost all of the country’s international flights arrive at the Madrid airport. Catalunya, with just 7.5 million of Spain’s 47 million citizens, is responsible for 19% of the economy.

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RELATED: In refusing Catalan vote,
Rajoy risks isolating himself and Spain’s future

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The Scottish referendum was also about economics (nationalists believe they can thrive as a smaller, oil-rich country within the European Union) and about politics (like the PP in Catalunya, the Conservatives have relatively little support in Scotland). But the Catalan movement is also colored by additional layers of complexity that Rajoy shows virtually no sign of appreciating — notably decades of suppression of its language and culture by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. When Rajoy’s education minister, a few years ago, suggested a stronger national program in the Castilian language, it particularly rankled Catalans, many of whom remember the days when the Catalan language was legally banned.

But Mas, the leader of the Convergència i Unió (CiU, Convergence and Union), a two-party, center-right nationalist coalition that’s traditionally been the most powerful force in Catalan politics since the return of democracy, is hardly an honest broker. CiU has always been more comfortable with greater autonomy than full independence, and Mas only recently converted to the cause in 2012 following widespread protests. Since taking power in 2010, Mas has made many of the same painful, unpopular budget decisions at the regional level that Rajoy has made at the national level. What’s more, Jordi Pujol, the former CiU leader and Catalan president between 1980 and 2003, has been subject of increasing scrutiny over his personal wealth and corruption accusations.

Accordingly, neither Mas nor Rajoy come out of the current showdown from a incredible position of strength. That might not necessarily matter if they could at least find a middle ground to discuss the most sensible solution to the political crisis — constitutional reform, greater regional autonomy and the possible creation of a federalist system in Spain.

As elections loom, what comes next?

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So far, however, the chances of any productive talks between Madrid and Barcelona seem small.

Mas has given Rajoy a two-week deadline to begin negotiations for a formal referendum. Rajoy, however, is almost certainly unlikely to take Mas up on that offer.

What happens thereafter is murky, though.

Mas’s party, the larger, more moderate and more aggressive Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC, Democratic Covergence) within the CiU, would like to hold early regional elections, rolling the dice that they would become a de facto referendum on Catalan independence — or at least the right of the Catalan government to call a vote. The smaller, Christian democratic Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC, Democratic Union) has always been less enthusiastic about Mas’s push for independence and would prefer to wait on snap elections.

Part of the political calculus for Mas, Rajoy and the CiU are polls that show that the most popular party in Catalunya is now the leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Republican Left of Catalonia), an even more radical pro-independence party led by historian Oriol Junqueras.

On paper, at least, the PP and the CiU have much more in common than the PP and Esquerra, so both Rajoy and Mas have an incentive to reach some kind of face-saving deal in the next few days.

But at the rate Rajoy is going, he may not have the opportunity to negotiate anything in the long run.

The rise of the anti-establishment Podemos (‘We can!’), the movement founded earlier this year by professor Pablo Iglesias (pictured above), has scrambled all pretenses of Spain’s two-party system. Winning five of the country’s seats to the European Parliament in May, Podemos wants to reevaluate Spain’s public debt, lower the retirement age to 60 to free up more jobs for younger workers and reverse the austerity of the past two PSOE and PP governments, using government spending to create jobs for a country that still has the highest unemployment within the European Union, despite signs of new growth. A Podemos win would be a significant setback to the orthodox policies that German chancellor Angela Merkel has attempted to establish throughout the eurozone, including the 2011 ‘fiscal compact’ that firmly limits national budget deficits to less than 3% of GDP.

Podemos, in a shock Metroscopia poll a couple weeks ago, gained the lead among potential voters in advance of the next Spanish general election, which must be held before December 2015 — it would win 27.7% to just 26.2% for the PSOE, under the leadership of Pedro Sánchez, who won his party’s July leadership contest, and 20.7 for Rajoy’s PP. Sánchez, for his part, opposes Catalan independence, but has indicated much greater willingness to hold discussions with regional leaders over constitutional reform.

The local Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC-PSOE, Socialists’ Party of Catalonia) controlled the regional government between 2003 and 2010, and many of its members are sympathetic to the idea that Catalans should have the right to self-determination.

Though Podemos is widely viewed as a leftist alternative, it has attracted widespread support from many Spaniards who have lost faith in both major parties, especially among young voters who face the worst job prospects, and the indignados, the unemployed protestors who have given voice to the harsh effects of what are now a half-decade of austerity policies.

Ironically, Podemos has attracted little support within Catalunya, where voters have a nationalist (and leftist) alternative in Esquerra.

But as Spain nears the one-year mark until its elections, with the November 9 referendum now in the rear-view mirror, the brinksmanship between Rajoy and Mas won’t matter if they can’t find a path toward reconciliation. At this time next year, their respective governments could be headed by much more radical figures.

Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

diadaPhoto credit to Diario de Navarra.

If you thought that the Scottish independence referendum was a  divisive matter, just wait another three weeks.Spain_Flag_Iconcatalonia

Even though Catalunya’s regional president Artur Mas officially cancelled a scheduled referendum on Catalan independence originally scheduled for November 9, diffusing a constitutional crisis with the national Spanish government, Mas announced that Catalans will instead have the option to participate in a non-binding ‘consultation.’

From referendum to ‘consultation’

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In substance, the informal ‘consultation’ isn’t incredibly different than the formal vote that Mas (pictured above) and the Catalan regional parliament initially scheduled, given that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy denounced the vote and questioned the ability of Mas or a majority of the Catalan parliament to call a referendum legally. Spain’s constitutional court ruled the referendum unconstitutional at the end of September, and Mas originally declared that the vote would go forward.

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Juan Carlos did for democracy?

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Mas’s admission this week that the vote will be informal and non-binding reduces many of the tensions with Madrid, though the original vote wasn’t entirely binding, either. But his announcement may dampen his credibility with pro-independence Catalans (critics took to Twitter to declare it was ‘game over’ for Mas) and force the third regional election in four years.

Nevertheless, the referendum will still ask Catalan voters the same two questions as before:

Do you want Catalonia to be a state?

If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?

No matter what happened on November 9, no one believed that the issue of Catalan sovereignty would be definitively settled anytime soon.  Continue reading Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

Why England needs a series of regional parliaments

St George's Day - NottinghamPhoto credit to PA.

Following the historic vote on Scottish independence, British prime minister David Cameron emerged early Friday morning to deliver remarks praising Scottish voters for keeping the United Kingdom (‘our country of four nations’) together.United Kingdom Flag Icon england_640

He promised to keep a pledge to enact rapid legislation devolving further powers to the Scottish parliament (‘devo-max’), but he simultaneously promised to propose reforms addressing the role of Scottish MPs on matters that are exclusively English in nature, responding to loud grumbling from English Tories that Scottish MPs shouldn’t have a vote on English matters and who have long cried, ‘English votes for English laws.’

In tying the issue of the promised Scottish devolution to the West Lothian question, Cameron was hoping to calm his own backbenchers, who, even before voters cast ballots in the September 18 referendum, briefing against the unfairness of the ‘Barnett formula,’ whereby Scottish residents receive greater per-capita government subsidy than English residents.

But that left Downing Street scrambling after both the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) and the pro-union, center-left Labour Party attacked Cameron for trying to tie the two issues together. Alex Salmond, who announced plans on Friday to step down as first minister after losing the referendum by a 10% margin, alleged that Cameron was already backing away from his promise to the Scottish people:

Salmond said that no voters in the referendum would feel they had been “misled”, “gulled” and “tricked”. The first minister told the Sunday Politics on BBC1: “I am actually not surprised they are cavilling and reneging on commitments; I am only surprised by the speed at which they are doing it. They seem to be totally shameless in these matters. The prime minister wants to link change in Scotland to change in England. He wants to do that because he has difficulty in carrying his backbenchers on this and they are under pressure from Ukip.

“The Labour leadership of course are frightened of any changes in England which leave them without a majority in the House of Commons on English matters. I think the vow was something cooked up in desperation for the last few days of the campaign and I think everyone in Scotland now realises that.”

Cameron strongly hinted that his approach would limit the ability of Scottish (or Welsh or Northern Irish) MPs to vote on matters that apply solely to English legislation. That echoes calls from other high-profile Conservative leaders like chief whip Michael Gove.

But it would be politically controversial for at least two reasons. Continue reading Why England needs a series of regional parliaments

Scottish referendum results: winners and losers

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The results are in, and Scotland did not vote yesterday to become a sovereign, independent country.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Scottish residents — and all British citizens — will wake up today to find that, however narrowly, the United Kingdom will remain as united today as it was yesterday, from a formal standpoint.

With all 32 local councils reporting, the ‘Yes’ camp has won 1.618 million votes (44.7% of the vote) against 2.002 million votes (55.3% of the vote) in favor of remaining within the British union, capping a 19-month campaign that resulted in a staggering 84.6% turnout in Thursday’s vote.

Moreover, ‘Yes’ won four councils, including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city:

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But the close call has shaken the fundamental constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s vote will now dominate the political agenda in the final eight months before the entire country votes in a general election next May, for better or worse.

So who comes out of the referendum’s marathon campaign looking better? Who comes out of the campaign bruised? Here’s Suffragio‘s tally of the winners and losers, following what must be one of the most historic elections of the 2010s in one of the world’s oldest democracies.

The Winners

1. Scottish nationalism 

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The nationalists lost Thursday’s referendum. So why are they still ‘winners’ in a political sense? Continue reading Scottish referendum results: winners and losers

Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?

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Today, residents of Scotland, a region of 5.3 million people, will vote in referendum that’s been scheduled for 19 months, and that will ask one simple question:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Should Scotland be an independent country?

The answer could change the economic, social and cultural outcomes of the lives of both English and Scottish residents for generations to come.

With polls set to open shortly, Suffragio looks at ten policy (and other) issues that Scots are considering as they cast their ballots, either to become an independent state or to remain part of the United Kingdom. Continue reading Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?