ANALYSIS: Catalonia closes ranks against Spain in referendum row

Spain's conservative government has dealt a serious blow to Catalonia's plans to hold an independence referendum but it faces growing indignation in the region, which is closing ranks on Madrid.

ANALYSIS: Catalonia closes ranks against Spain in referendum row
Protestors in Barcelona on Wednesday hold up carnations in anger at strong-arm tactics from Madrid. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said that after enforcing the law by blocking the referendum he is ready for dialogue with Catalonia, but his margin of manoeuvre is slim since party hardliners and other Spanish regions are hostile to Catalan demands.   

Following the arrest of 14 Catalan government officials and the seizure of nearly 10 million ballots, Catalonia's vice president Oriol Junqueras acknowledged Thursday that the referendum slated for October 1stst was compromised.

But the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, which is deeply divided on the question of secession, is more than ever united against Madrid. Thousands of people protested in Barcelona for the second day in a row against the referendum crackdown.

“Social indignation has spilled beyond the independence movement and spread to unions, university rectors, professional associations and emblematic institutions like FC Barcelona,” wrote Catalan daily El Periodico de Catalunya, which is opposed to independence, in an editorial.

READ MORE: Catalans rally into the night after major escalations of tensions with Madrid

Rival Catalan daily La Vanguardia agreed, writing that “many citizens without any ties to the sovereignty movement are deeply disgusted.”    

“The logistics of the October 1st referendum are practically dismantled but the discontent of citizens is enormous,” it added.

'Not give an inch'

The situation would be different if the measures taken to block the referendum had been “accompanied by a sincere proposal for political dialogue,” added La Vanguardia, which also opposes independence.

But since Rajoy came to power in December 2011 there has been no dialogue with Catalonia.

With an absolute majority in parliament he did not have to make concessions, unlike his predecessors, to Catalan lawmakers to get their votes.    

He concentrated instead on measures to get Spain out of a deep economic crisis and was not willing to discuss Catalonia's demands for greater fiscal autonomy.

Rajoy now says he is willing to discuss everything including a reform of how Spain's regions are financed. But he has to take into account the position of the hardliners in his Popular Party.

INTERVIEW: 'Politicians are acting like children with a box of matches'

“I think there is a faction of the PP which would be willing to accept some reform but the hardline faction is not willing to give an inch,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Rajoy and his party were mistaken about the nature of the independence movement, which has surged since Spain's Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down part of a 2016 autonomy statute in response to an appeal by the PP, he added.

The autonomy statute, which granted more powers to Catalonia and recognised it as a nation, had been approved by the Spanish parliament. 

'Lose voters'

The PP always compared the rise in separatism to a souffle that could collapse, said Bartomeus.

“They believed that (the independence movement) was organised by a nationalist elite to remain in power but in fact 80 percent of the Catalan population felt 'I can't take it anymore',” he said.

Catalans want a new constitution to replace the one adopted in 1978 following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco and a statute like the one in place in the northern Basque Country which collects its own taxes and contributes little to Spain's central coffers, Bartomeus said.

Juan Montades, a political scientist at the University of Granada, said that if the rules are changed, Andalusia, Spain's most populous region which benefits from the redistribution of wealth from Catalonia, has warned that it would “be in the front line to defend its interests.”

Spain's two main parties, the conservative PP and the Socialist Party (PSOE), “have always been acutely conscious of the fact that if they give a better deal to Catalonia they are going to lose voters in other parts of
Spain,” said Caroline Gray, an expert on Spanish independence movements at Britain's Aston University.

But “they can't solve the Catalan crisis by playing to voters in other parts of Spain,” she added.

By Patrick Rahir / AFP

READ ALSO: Nine key pitfalls of Catalonia's independence referendum


For members


14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain