While the eyes of the world turn to the heightening tensions between North Korea and the United States – which acts as guarantor for the peace and security of South Korea and Japan, it’s all kicking off in Spain.
The regional government of Catalonia – Spain’s most prosperous economic area – is intent on holding a referendum on independence on October 1. Only there’s a problem – if held, any such vote will be illegal, for the Catalonian assembly has no legal right to hold such a vote.
While Spain has strong regional identities, such as the Basque Country, Catalonia and Andalusia, that have been formed into Autonomous Communities with large degrees of self government, it remains, like the United Kingdom, a unitary state. It has been likened to a federation without federalism. This system was confirmed by a national referendum held on December 6, 1978, as Spain came out of the authoritarian rule of General Franco, who had died in 1975.
The vote was overwhelmingly in favour across the whole country with an impressive 91.81 per cent approval on a turnout of 67.11 per cent of the electorate – but Catalonia actually returned the highest mainland support, at 95.15 per cent.
Obviously, public sentiment has changed considerably over the last 39 years to the extent that support for Catalonia – with its large and prosperous city of Barcelona as its capital – now has a regional government that wants to break away from Spain, just like our SNP Scottish government wanted Scotland to break away from the UK.
Unfortunately for the Catalan political leaders, it does not have the constitutional authority and has not been granted the consent of the national government in Madrid.
By comparison, David Cameron’s UK government, not bound by a written constitution but governed by statute – in other words by laws set by parliament – was willing to agree to a Scottish referendum on independence. This led to an Order in Council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act being passed by the Privy Council and given the assent of the Queen on 12 February 2013 – thus granting authority to the Scottish Parliament to pass a Bill that would provide for a referendum to be held.
What happened in the UK had international legitimacy and recognition as the legal processes had been followed. If the Scottish people had voted Yes to leaving the UK it would have happened and it would have been recognised by all the international institutions such as the United Nations. If Catalonia goes ahead with its unconstitutional and therefore illegal referendum it cannot have any legitimacy and any attempt to form an independent state will not receive the recognition of other countries.
Claims being made by Scottish nationalists – and now the regional Scottish Government – that the people of Catalonia have the right to self-determination are meaningless because they have no such right. Any such claim was given away when Catalonia voted (massively) for the Spanish constitution.
That is why the United Nations has made it clear that it cannot and will not recognise any referendum; Article 1 of the UN applies to the self-determination of colonies so that they can gain their independence but does not allow for national integrity to be broken by people choosing to do so against the laws of their country.
In choosing to support the Catalan government’s choice to hold an illegal referendum, the SNP is playing a highly dangerous game – for it suggests it would also support an illegal approach being taken in the UK.
This sort of flag-waving jingoism encourages the rule of the mob and, ultimately, bloody revolution. It is also a double-edged sword – if people from one particular area can choose to leave the UK, they can also choose to leave Scotland – meaning a second referendum could lead to the break up of Scotland, not its independence.