Catalonia's proposed independence referendum on October 1 threatens to mire Spain in a constitutional crisis, and could give added momentum to the wave of ethno-nationalism and nativism sweeping Europe and North America. Spain's next move could decide the fate of its own democratic system, as well as others across the Western world.
MADRID – Nothing brings concerned friends out of the woodwork like a crisis. That has certainly been the case with the current situation in Spain, where Catalonia has called a referendum on independence for October 1. Among the many messages of support I have received in recent weeks, there have been more than a few inquiries as to why Spain does not simply allow the referendum to play out. But that is not an option.
The idea that Catalonia should be able to hold its referendum, under the principle of the “right to decide” (derecho a decidir), has been raised in the international press, and even gained traction among some segments within Spain. Many have cited former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to allow Scotland’s independence referendum to take place in 2014.
But such a process is illegal under the Spanish constitution of 1978. That constitution marked the country’s passage from dictatorship to democracy and provides the framework for Spain’s rule-of-law system. And, as it explicitly states, it is “based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation,” with sovereignty belonging “to the Spanish people.”