Making the numbers add up in the Catalonia poll | Letters

We can’t know what Catalans really want until a legally binding referendum is held, says Oliver Urs Lenz. Peter Emerson cites previous plebiscites that received EU support. Plus letters from Dominic Keown, Joseph Palley, Miroslav Baros, John Hall and Sasha Simic

You uncritically adopt the claim that a “silent majority” of Catalans oppose independence (Puigdemont speech gives no clarity on Catalan independence, 11 October). The figures do not support this. In most opinion polls held prior to recent events, both proponents and opponents of independence formed a minority, with the difference being made up by those who did not know.

During the last regional elections, only 39% voted for explicitly unionist parties, 47% voted for pro-independence parties, while 13% voted for parties who were equivocal on independence. It is correct that the official turnout in the referendum of 1 October was below 50%, but that fails to take into account the closure of polling stations and confiscation of votes by the police. In fact, the number of votes in favour that were counted would have been enough to secure a majority at the record-high turnout level of the last regional election. On 8 October, hundreds of thousands of people protested in Barcelona against independence. A show of strength, yes, but no majority, and somewhat undercut by the fact that some of the attendants had come from outside Catalonia.

The reality is that we can’t know what Catalans want until a legally binding referendum is held. As the Scottish independence and Brexit referendums have shown, opinion polls can be wrong and people will change sides – in both directions – due to the dynamics of a real election campaign. The strategy of the Spanish government seems to be above all to obstruct such a real test of opinions, and my worry is that your newspaper is falling for this.
Oliver Urs Lenz
Ghent, Belgium

• Let’s stop reducing complex problems like the constitutional status of Catalonia, or our own relationship with the EU, to a blunt choice of just two supposedly mutually exclusive opposites. We could start by reading the works of Ramón Llull, the Majorcan who, 700 years ago, suggested a better voting procedure would be multi-optional and preferential. Let us further remember that the EU has made some terrible mistakes, as for example when the Badinter commission insisted on a plebiscite in Bosnia, or when in Kiev it promoted majority rule up until the very day Viktor Yanukovych fled into exile. In fact, of course, “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum” (Oslobodjenje, 7 February 1999), and the same is now true of the conflict in Ukraine.
Peter Emerson
Director, the de Borda Institute

• Giles Tremlett reveals that in the Catalonia v Spain impasse: “At stake are five centuries of coexistence with the rest of Spain.” Indeed: not dissimilar to the centuries of coexistence between Ireland and England that inspired the Easter Rising of 1916.
Dominic Keown

• Simon Doubleday rightly criticises the Francoist ideal of unity (Opinion, 10 October). This holds that no region of Spain should have the right to separate under any circumstances. But he goes on to propose a two-thirds “super-majority” for Catalan independence in any future constitutional referendum, which effectively rules out independence. Imagine requiring this absurd margin for Scottish independence.

A simple majority of votes cast was an appropriate criterion for the Scottish referendum. As it was, despite my pro-remain view, for Brexit too, because Brits do not have the same redistributive obligations to poorer European countries as to poorer parts of Britain. Catalonia is morally different because it is the richest part of Spain after Madrid and the Basque country. So the bar might be raised to, say, 55% to deter other rich European regions such as northern Italy from separating.
Joseph Palley
Richmond upon Thames, Surrey

• The essence of the Catalans’ claim is the so-called “right to self-determination”, which is “the right of peoples to determine their own political status and to be free of alien domination, including formation of their own independent state”. Ironically, on 24 March 1999, a Spanish aircraft from the Nato alliance was among the first Nato planes to bomb Belgrade for denying the right to self-determination to the Albanian Kosovans. The action was also supported by the Catalans. But it came to haunt them both: the Spanish government for enthusiastically supporting the Kosovans’ claim, and the Catalans for naively believing that they would be rewarded for their staunch support.

The only constant and unfortunate feature that emerges from those episodes is that the application of the “right” is dependent, not even on politics but on ideology; that the “right” can only be exercised by units that live in the countries that are deemed “undemocratic” or enemies of the west. This is also an inevitable conclusion from the UK foreign secretary’s statement that the Catalan referendum was “illegal” because Spain is a close ally and a good friend. This echoed Margaritis Schinas of the European commission, who, asked to explain the difference between the Kosovo and Catalonia episodes, said: “Comparisons between Spain and Serbia could not be drawn because Spain is a member state.”

Dear Catalans: you will have to give up on your claim because you live in a democracy! In fact, if I am allowed to predict, it seems that the Catalans will settle with a financial deal in this episode in the same way as the Basque people managed in 2011.
Dr Miroslav Baros
Sheffield Hallam University

• The Guardian appears to have moved to using a barely qualified description of the illegal Catalan referendum as one “in which 90% of participants voted in favour of splitting”, without the reminder that over half of possible voters boycotted the vote (Catalan government suspends declaration of independence, 11 October). If a short form is needed then “in which 55% of Catalans showed that they did not want a referendum, never mind independence” would be more accurate, providing a much better reflection of the state of opinion in Catalonia. It is time the Guardian reconsidered its automatic support for any group that disturbs the peace on supposed national or ethnic grounds.
John Hall

• “I am still going to declare independence from Spain, but I am giving them some time, a window.” With these words, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont betrayed the hopes of his brave people’s dream of independence from Spain – because the people of Catalonia did not brave the clubs and gas of the Spanish police in order to vote for a “window”.

Puigdemont’s cowardice has not appeased the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, who has refused to acknowledge the prospect of an independent Catalonia and has shown the brutal methods he is prepared to use to preserve the Spanish state. Puigdemont simply does not have the luxury of “some time”. He must declare full independence while he can. He should recall the warning of Louis Antoine de Saint-Just: “Those who make revolutions halfway only dig their own graves.”
Sasha Simic

• Join the debate – email

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Guardian view on Spain’s crisis: damage to Catalonia | Editorial
Editorial: Barcelona’s vote for independence, and Madrid’s decision to take control of the region, will not solve this dispute but make matters worse


27, Oct, 2017 @6:05 PM

Article image
A dangerous time for Catalonia, Spain and the rest of Europe | Letters
Letters: Manuel Ostos on the mistakes made by both sides; Green MEP Molly Scott Cato on the EU’s failure to intervene; academic philosophers on a proposed way forward; Richard Bourne on the potential for an Anglo-Scottish mission; Michael Pravica on secessionist movements since Kosovo


08, Oct, 2017 @5:59 PM

Article image
Opinion divided by the Catalan referendum | Letters
Letters: Readers respond after Sunday’s referendum descended into violence


02, Oct, 2017 @6:12 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Catalonia: step back from the brink | Editorial
Editorial: Madrid has badly mishandled a deliberately provocative referendum


21, Sep, 2017 @6:53 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on the Catalonia election: the challenge of compromise | Editorial
Editorial: Campaigning begins this week in an election that will shape Spain and affect the whole of Europe. First, the region’s imprisoned political leaders should be freed to campaign


03, Dec, 2017 @8:12 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Catalonia’s referendum: the Spanish state has lost | Editorial
Editorial: Police brutality has ignited the political crisis. Can Madrid and the pro-independence movement find a way forward?


01, Oct, 2017 @7:00 PM

Article image
Catalonia and the rich breaking away from the poor | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to Catalonia’s declaration of independence


29, Oct, 2017 @7:52 PM

Article image
Spanish PM vows to end Catalonia standoff and force region to obey law
Mariano Rajoy to hold emergency talks to decide exact nature of Spain’s intervention in Catalonia as crisis reaches ‘critical point’

Sam Jones in Madrid and agencies

20, Oct, 2017 @2:55 PM

Article image
As Catalonia crisis escalates, EU is nowhere to be seen
Argument that Brussels has no standing in independence dispute is legally contentious and politically unsustainable

Simon Tisdall

04, Oct, 2017 @11:42 AM

Article image
What next for Spain and Catalonia? | Letters
Letters: Alex Orr says Mariano Rajoy’s gamble has spectacularly backfired; while John Payne wonders whether Madrid will now take the path of dialogue rather than confrontation


22, Dec, 2017 @5:46 PM