BY JAMES KNIGHT
The first of October 2017 catapulted a small region on to a global stage. The independence referendum which led Catalonia to tremendous civil unrest (the question of whether the ‘will of the people’ should be respected) and put Catalonia on a global stage is riddled with misinformation. From an outsider perspective, the Catalan people demand independence – an outlook spun by pro-independence voters and ex-Catalan officials, who seek to break up the Spanish nation during a time of significant national economic depression. In reality, recent rallies have shown the desires of the Catalan people lie elsewhere. With figures of Catalan anti-independence protesters being registered somewhere between 350,000 to 930,000, the anti-independence sentiment of the region cannot be ignored.
The independence referendum was, at its very core, unrepresentative. Only 43% of eligible Catalan voters turned out for the referendum. Normally, a low turnout would be expected, however, with regards to a decision with implications as large as these, voter turnout would be expected to spike. Of the 43% of the electorate who voted in the Catalan independence referendum, 92% voted pro-independence, with only 8% voting against. As polls consistently conducted by the autonomous Catalan government show, the majority of Catalonia’s citizens (approximately 40% up to 2017) felt “equally Spanish and Catalan”. This statistic cannot be ignored, marring the seemingly gargantuan pro-independence sentiment in the region.
So, why the low anti-independence voter turnout? This statistic can be brought down to one underpinning factor: the Spanish military suppression of the region during and following the illegal referendum. The suppression of pro-independence voters and activists by the Spanish military is an argument many of the suppressed peoples as well as misinformed conversationalists draw to. The argument against Catalan independence does not tend to debate on this factor for one specific reason: you would have to be naïve to not see the the issues of a police state in which citizens, including emergency service workers, are beaten for attempting to express their democratically entitled voice. However, military suppression is the crucial factor in silencing anti-independence voices, thus only accounting for 8% of the vote. I pose a question: If you knew you would likely be beaten if you went out to vote (in what was in your eyes an illegal referendum) for voting in line with the body presiding over those administering the beating, what reason is there to even leave your home?
The issue at play here is far greater than the state suppression of minority voices. The future of a region, and as a result, Spain as a whole is at stake. When the voices of the majority get conflated with and silenced by a vocal minority, are we not harming the democratic principles we seek to protect? We must uphold the will of the Catalan people if we seek to flaunt democratic principles, but the will of the majority must first be adequately represented.