independent

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Spain's crackdown on Catalonia vote was a major own goal for Madrid

Editorial Comment

events in Catalonia have led to a renewed focus on the importance of democracy and a peoples' right to have a say in how they are ruled and who rules them.

The Spanish Government's decision to forcibly prevent an independence referendum in Catalonia has been condemned by various Irish civil liberty groups and political parties including Sinn Féin, Labour, the SDLP and the Socialist Party.

A unifying theme among many of those who have condemned the violent crackdown by Spanish authorities is that the government in Madrid should have allowed the referendum take place to recognise the democratic will of the people.

The current crisis is one of the biggest faced by Spain since the death of Franco and restoration of democracy in 1976.

Rather than launching a violent police crackdown - which has only served to inflame the situation - the Spanish Government should have taken part and argued its case.

The Government might even have won and resolved the Catalan Independence question, at least in the short term.

That might sound preposterous but a closer look at opinion polls in the lead up to the Catalan referendum tells a very different story to the one dominating global headlines.

In the wake of the referendum on Sunday, Catalonia's regional government said that 90 per cent of the voters who came out on Sunday had opted for independence from Spain.

It sound's like an overwhelming majority - akin to those seen in North Korea or Iraq under Hussein - but a few other factors have to be considered.

First - probably due to the threat of violence and the police action that shut half of the polling stations in the region - turnout was remarkably low, with just 42 per cent of Catalonia's 5.3 million voters actually casting a ballot.

It is logical to assume that the most motivated voters - those most willing to defy the police and risk violent reprisals - were on the pro-independence side and presumably they came out in far greater numbers than those who wish to remain part of Spain.

Indeed, pre-referendum polls suggest the remain and leave sides in Catalonia are far closer than the referendum result implies.

While an overwhelming 85 per cent of voters in Catalonia - on both sides - wanted a referendum on independence, the pro-independence movement only had a six per cent lead over the pro-Madrid 'remainers'.

An average of 53 opinion polls taken in Catalonia since September 2010 has the pro-independence movement on 44 per cent compared to 38 per cent for the pro-Madrid said.

These polls also showed that 14 per cent of Catalan voters were undecided and - if a full lawful referendum had been allowed to proceed - it is these people who would have decided the issue.

Both Brexit and the last General Election in the UK proved how crucial undecided voters can be. In the wake of the weekend's violence one imagines many of those undecided Catalonian voters are now firmly in the pro-independence ranks.

Spain's Government has thrown away a huge opportunity and handed a major propaganda coup to their Catalan opponents.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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