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opinion

Right to decide

Few venture to say aloud that they think that the right to vote on Catalan independence is a load of meringue whipped up by the nationalists

It may be that what we have been seeing lately in Catalonia is a "soft" totalitarianism; or, to use the historian Pierre Vilar's term, a sort of "unanimism" - the illusion of unanimity caused by the fear of expressing dissidence. The instrument of it is not violence, but the so-called "right to decide." This means Catalonia's right to hold an (unconstitutional) referendum among its own inhabitants - in disregard of what the Spanish government may say - on whether they want independence from Spain. If you are in favor of the right to decide, you are a good Catalan; if not, you are something else. Needless to say, few venture to say aloud that they think the right to decide is a load of meringue whipped up by the Catalan nationalists. In other words: nowadays the real problem in Catalonia is not a hypothetical independence, but the right to decide.

Let me explain. In a democracy there is no indiscriminate right to decide on what you want. I have no right to decide if I want to stop at a red light, or not. Democracy is a question of deciding within the law - a concept that is not a joke, but the only defense of the weak against the strong, the guarantee that an advantaged minority will not impose its will on a disadvantaged majority. The Constitution says that sovereignty resides in the Spanish people as a whole, so that under it, we Catalans have no right to decide by ourselves on whether we want independence. Indeed, no Constitution - except, as far as I know, that of the extinct Soviet Union - recognizes such a right.

Does this mean we have no such right under (to give it a name) natural law? No, of course not. If a really clear majority of Catalans want independence, it seems more sensible to grant it than not, owing to the difficulties of forcing someone to be where they don't want to be.

In a democracy there is no indiscriminate right to decide on what you want

But does this majority exist? The partisans of the right to decide maintain it is indispensable to hold a referendum to find out (in such a matter, opinion polls mean little, as we found out in the latest Catalan elections). But, before using this exceptional and unpredictable instrument, any honest, prudent politician will use the instrument offered by the law: elections. What I mean here are elections in which all the parties clearly declare their stand on independence. In the last elections, the unequivocally secessionist parties (ERC and CUP) obtained 24 seats in the Catalan parliament, out of 135: only about 17 percent. How many seats would the secessionist parties get if the rest of the Catalan parties took a clear stand on the issue of independence? This is what we ought to know, before setting out on the hazardous road toward a referendum: if the parties that favor independence obtain an actual majority of seats, then a referendum will have to be held; if not, then it won't.

It is very doubtful that we are going to get an answer to the foregoing question, because Convergència i Unió (CiU), the coalition long prevalent in Catalan politics, knows that if it takes a clear stand for independence in an electoral campaign, it will lose the elections. And before that happens, it will have split in two: we don't yet know if Convergència (center-right-liberal) is secessionist, but we do know that Unió (center-right Christians) is not. So CiU will go on waffling to its voters.

As for the left, everything suggests that it will remain trapped in the ideological spider web woven for it by CiU - hence it accepts the right to decide - digging its own grave and undermining democracy. I don't see any other way to say it: you can believe in democracy and favor independence, but you can't believe in democracy and favor the right to decide, because the right to decide is no more than a conceptual sophistry - a swindle operated by a minority to impose its will on a majority.