(Title Image: The Independent)
On October 1st, Catalonia held an independence referendum that was outside the bounds of the Spanish Constitution.
The Spanish Government, in turn, sent the national police (Guardia Civil) to intervene, seizing electoral materials/ballot boxes and suppressing the turnout. Despite this, those who took part overwhelming voted in favour of independence – though that result hasn’t been internationally-recognised and remains disputed.
As said on State of Wales, the Catalan Government aren’t blameless, but the actions of the Guardia Civil in the days around the referendum have been unbecoming of a western democracy, with independence supporters arrested, imprisoned or sent into self-imposed exile.
The Spanish Government also forced a new election to the Catalan Parliament, set for 21st December.
It’s worth pointing out two things.
Firstly, the motion carries no weight. Foreign policy is the responsibility of the UK Government, who are in turn supporting the Spanish Government.
Secondly, the motion is neutral on the issue of Catalan independence; it neither backs the October referendum or the result – only acknowledging that it took place.
- Notes the strong links between Wales and Catalonia dating back to the Spanish Civil War.
- Notes the vote of the Catalan Parliament to hold an independence referendum.
- Regrets the heavy-handed response by the Spanish Government and resulting imprisonment of elected Catalan representatives.
- Supports the right of parliaments in the EU to make decisions for the future of their citizens.
Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr)
For (the motion): Support a universal right to self-determination.
- He was in Catalonia at the time of the referendum and it was a “horrific and inspiring experience by equal measure”; the Catalan people displayed a quiet dignity.
- As a small nation, Wales should never allow the “illegal usurpation of power” by a central state against its duly-elected parliament.
- There are echoes of what happened this year with the Spanish Civil War – short-lived independence, Catalan leaders forced into exile.
Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli)
For: It’s a matter of democracy.
- It’s not just a matter for nationalists – he doesn’t support Catalan independence – but democrats; a principle of consent is central to any democracy.
- To the UK Government’s credit, it respected the desires of the Scottish people to hold a referendum on secession – though that’s not the same everywhere.
- He was “disgusted” by the European Union, which stood silent while a constituent nation was trampled over.
David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)
Against: The Catalan Government aren’t blameless; secession isn’t justified.
- The Catalan Government failed to create an environment where those who oppose independence could express their views.
- Secession referendums in the UK only proceed when both sides agree; that didn’t happen.
- He believes the charges of sedition tabled at independence supporters are “foolish”.
- Very few political philosophers accept the principle of secession; it seems unjustified as long as a multi-national state is democratic.
Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales)
For: The Spanish Constitution isn’t fit for purpose.
- “A nation is a nation that feels it’s a nation”; the right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter and that includes Wales.
- The ghost of General Franco still hovers over the Spanish political system; the constitution needs to change.
Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd)
For: The rule of law is paramount.
- While he commemorated the International Brigades in Cardiff, people in Spain were making fascist salutes and singing Franco-era songs.
- This isn’t about Catalan independence but rule of law and a constitution that represents the will of the people.
- Disappointed the UK Government adopted a hypocritical position where they’ve previously supported the right of self-determination in the Falklands, Gibraltar and elsewhere, but not this.
Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)
For: Remember those still in prison.
- Invited David Melding to return to William & Mary College (as an alumnus) and say the same things to Americans who dared to declare independence from the UK.
- Four Catalans are still in prison at the time of the debate – two of them are government ministers who’ve been denied a chance to see their children, the other two are civilian leaders of the Catalan equivalent of Yes Cymru.
Welsh Government Response
Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)
- It’s not the Welsh Government’s position to express a view on internal matters in Catalonia or Spain – but it is legitimate for AMs to express opinions on democratic principles.
- Spain deserves credit for being a model for transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy in a relatively short space of time – but nothing that’s happened in Catalonia stays true to that.
The Welsh Government abstained – because the Leader of the House said they didn’t want to be seen to be interfering in the affairs of another state – but gave backbench Labour AMs a free vote.