Homage to Democracy
Carles Puigdemont, President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, in 2016. Photograph by Generalitat de Catalunya.
The secessionist parties’ reaction has been to use their small majority in the Catalan parliament to pass a law that makes the constitution null and void. This is not an exaggeration; it is there in the legislative language. Courts immediately blocked the legislation; Catalan authorities have continued to implement it; the Spanish government has enforced the court mandate; protests have ensued.
Behind all this noise, however, is the fact that this is not really a fight between Spain and Catalonia, or a dispute between their governments. At its core, the Catalan conflict is about deep divisions within Catalonia, with both sides divided along somewhat familiar political fault lines.
Favouring secession is far from a majority opinion in Catalonia. Polls have consistently placed support for secession close but under the 50% mark. Voters that favour a clean break with Spain tend to live in rural areas, outside the dominant Barcelona metro area where more than half of Catalans live. These are areas with low immigration from outside Catalonia (either from the rest of Spain or beyond), where the Catalan language is far more prevalent than Spanish. Pro-secession voters, however, are not those left behind by globalisation; they tend to be more educated and have higher incomes than average. Unionists, meanwhile, tend to be more urban, live in more diverse communities, speak Spanish at home instead of Catalan, and have less education, as well as lower incomes.
Although voters are evenly divided, the Catalan institutions are not. A combination of gerrymandering, effective political organisation, exclusionary policies, and mobilisation has meant that civic life and politics in Catalonia has come to be dominated by nationalist parties.