Plan B for Catalonia

By Josep Colomer.

The outcome of the referendum for independence called by the Government of Catalonia on October 1, against the means of the Spanish government, is the “Plan B” of the two players. The Catalan government’s first preference was to hold the referendum without Spanish intervention. The Spanish government’s first preference was the suspension of the referendum without the need to intervene. Of course, these two outcomes were incompatible. For the Catalan government, to go ahead with the referendum was a dominant strategy, even if there was going to face repression from the State, which would produce its second best outcome. For the Spanish government, repression was not a dominant strategy, but it was the least bad outcome if the referendum went ahead.
This is the actual outcome: referendum with repression, which was the second best outcome for the two players.Yet the interaction is asymmetric, as the Catalan government takes the initiative (the “dominant strategy”) and can continue along the same path, which would lead it to approach its objective and declare independence. Instead, the Spanish Government acts in response and could only try to deepen the defeat and humiliation of Catalonia and dissolve the regional Government, which would not necessarily mean a Spanish victory in itself.

One conceivable compromise would be, of course, an agreed referendum, more or less as it was done in Scotland. It would be a very welcome Plan B for many Catalans and, let’s hope it, also for many other Spaniards. For any Spanish government, it would be a risky bet, no doubt, because, honestly speaking, the result would be very uncertain. On the one hand, it is possible to think that there would be many Catalans with reasons to vote ‘yes’. Compared to Scotland, Catalonia has a more marked profile: Scotland is subsidized by England, while Catalonia is a net contributor to the rest of Spain; Scottish Gaelic is a very minority language with low social prestige, in contrast to Catalan. And, if some readers allow me, for quite a few people the alternative, at least before Brexit, of being British is more attractive than being Spanish.
On the other hand, if a Spanish government accepted such an agreement, many Catalans might think that it would not be the same Spain that they have seen in recent years, but a much more agreeable country, and, reviving the spirit of the 1980s and 1990s, they may think again that, after all, they can continue living together. In fact, the best chance for a Spanish government to win a referendum in Catalonia would be with a question like this: “Do you want to be a citizen of a country, Spain, which recognizes the right to self-determination of Catalonia?” Then the ‘yes’ (to Spain) could win! Will someone dare?

Longer version in Spanish in the daily El PaisCLICK

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