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What Next for Catalonia?

Participation in the November 9 “participatory process” in Catalonia exceeded my expectations. According to reports, 2.3 million people participated in a nonbinding vote organized by volunteers, a figure that would amount to over 40% of the electorate. (No electoral roll was used for this election because of Spanish Constitutional Court rulings prohibiting the support of the Catalan government; voters had to show identification in order to vote.)

Of those who voted, 81% supported “Yes-Yes” (yes to Catalan statehood, yes to Catalan independence), 10% went “Yes-No,” and 4.5% voted “No.” Gràfic dades 3Many voters who would have otherwise voted “No” boycotted the process entirely. Still, in the last Catalan election, 3.6 million votes were cast. We could take that number to be a rough estimate of those who would actually turn out to vote in a binding referendum. Since over 1.8 million voters went for Yes-Yes in a purely nonbinding show of support, we can confidently predict that a binding referendum would yield a clear majority in favor of independence.

Another data point in favor of this conclusion is that just under 1.9 million voters voted in favor of Catalonia’s proposed new statute of autonomy in 2006, which was 73% of those voting. A binding referendum on independence would surely attract higher negative turnout, but there is no way around the conclusion that support for independence could well reach 55 or even 60% in such a vote.

What next? Catalan President Artur Mas said in a speech after the vote results were announced that he would pursue negotiations over a legally binding referendum with the Spanish state. But what will happen when the Spanish state refuses to negotiate with him, as it will assuredly do? Mas seems to be leaving the door open to a prolonged period of stasis, which is exactly what the Spanish government wants, thinking as they apparently do that the Catalans will eventually “return to sanity” if they simply wait long enough. On the other hand, he could simply be giving the Spanish government one last chance to negotiate, and if that fails, to go ahead with an extraconstitutional plan, such as the “plebiscitary election” favored by the Catalan Republican Left.

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While Republicans nationally enjoyed a wave election, Republican federal candidates in New Hampshire underperformed relative to other states. Scott Brown lost very narrowly to incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, dogged throughout the campaign with the “carpetbagger” label. The highly conservative, hawkish Marilinda Garcia also lost in the second congressional district, my district and the more left-leaning one in the state. The governor’s race was close, but first-term incumbent Maggie Hassan pulled it out. That result was not surprising, since first-term governors in New Hampshire rarely lose (a term is just two years), and her opponent Walt Havenstein had low name recognition and also faced carpetbagging accusations, having just moved back to New Hampshire from Maryland.

At the state legislative level, however, the GOP did much better. They took over the executive council and state house and extended their lead in the senate. Lacking veto-proof majorities, however, they will need to work with Governor Hassan to accomplish anything.

Libertarians did rather well in this election as well. Of the 116 New Hampshire Liberty Alliance-endorsed candidates in this election, 86 won. Not all of those 86 are real libertarians. The NHLA has a mechanistic scoring system for endorsements: as long as you vote 80% pro-liberty on the roll-call votes they track (or for challengers, are 80% pro-liberty in your questionnaire answers), you are endorsed. Since most roll-call votes are economic liberty issues rather than personal liberty issues, traditional conservatives often do extremely well on NHLA ratings. Still, a very sizeable chunk of the next state house – around 20% – will be quite liberty-friendly.

Unfortunately, four very solid libertarian incumbents lost: three by extremely narrow margins and one by a wide margin because of a Republican wave in his district (he is a Democrat). One metric some people are interested in is the number of Free State Project early movers who won races. I can say that the number is more than half of those who made it past their primaries, and a new record. I can also say that this list is both wrong and too short (warning: click link only if you have a strong stomach for paranoia and/or enjoy schadenfreude).

Other interesting stories from the election… There is a rather unhinged (and I don’t use that term lightly) Free Stater hater in Bedford, a wealthy restauranteur and sometime Republican bigshot, who did everything he could to defeat a Republican incumbent state senator, Andy Sanborn, because he was friendly with Free Staters. In the end, Sanborn defeated his opponent by a far wider margin than he had in 2012 (the 2014 was a rematch of the two).

The Dems sent out last-minute mailers to just about every competitive house district (judging from reports), accusing all the Republican candidates of supporting the “ultra-extreme Free State Project.” That didn’t work out too well for them: the GOP has at least 235 seats in the new state house (out of 400), with three ties (yes, ties) still to be resolved.

In a slightly Republican-leaning state senate district that had gone to a Democrat in ’12, an insurgent candidate, Kevin Avard, who spent only about $6000 on the race, upended the incumbent. Avard is a libertarianish conservative, which will make for about three of that breed now in the senate (plus Sanborn and John Reagan).

So what can we expect from the next legislature? The (more…)

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Last week I was in Barcelona for two days, giving a talk at an event on “the right to decide,” sponsored by the Centre Maurits Coppieters (nonprofit arm of the European Free Alliance, the European Parliament group for ideologically mainstream minority nationalist parties) and by the Fundació Josep Irla (nonprofit arm of the Catalan Republican Left [ERC], largest pro-independence party in Catalonia). I also did some media interviews. You can see some excerpts of my interview with Catalonia’s TV3 evening news here (in Catalan).

I was interested in going to find out more about Catalonia’s independence movement and its prospects. For background on the Catalan movement, see my post here on Pileus from September 24, 2012, two weeks after the massive Catalan National Day demonstrations that kicked off the current process. (That post, including its forecasts, has held up pretty well, I’d say.)

Now that the Spanish Constitutional Court has invalidated the consulta (consultative plebiscite) that the Catalan Government had authorized with the support of over two-thirds of Catalan MP’s and three-quarters of the Catalan electorate, the way forward is murky. An official consultation will not now happen. Instead, tens of thousands of volunteer poll workers are signing up to help with an unofficial poll that will involve ballots and ballot boxes and occur on November 9.

It remains to be seen how successful the November 9 consultation will be. The pro-independence parties and civil society organizations are trying hard to mobilize voters and volunteers for the event. The anti-independence parties are boycotting the vote, as indeed are some far-left types who hate Artur Mas, such as the leader of the ex-communist, ecosocialist party ICV-EUiA, which otherwise supports the “right to decide” and remains agnostic on independence.

If the November 9 consultation is successful, then the pro-independence parties will try to negotiate a “unitary party list” for early elections to the Catalan Parliament. They will treat this election as a plebiscite-by-proxy, and if an absolute majority of seats and votes go to the pro-independence list, Artur Mas will take it as a mandate for independence.

However, several difficulties remain. The more radically independentist party, ERC, wants to declare independence right away after a successful “plebiscitary election.” Artur Mas’ party, Convergence and Union (CiU), is divided between independentists and those favoring a solution like confederation. (Technically, the party is a long-standing alliance between two separate parties, the now-independentist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia and the autonomist Democratic Union of Catalonia.) Generally, the last few days have seen more division and acrimony among secessionist leaders than the previous two years, and if it continues, that division will alienate voters. Civil society groups continue to call for unity among the pro-independence leaders.

Another difficulty is that while a majority of Catalans with an opinion on the matter favor independence (a recent El Mundo poll had the anti-independence side ahead within the margin of error, but their polls have always been biased in an anti-independence direction), polls suggest the pro-independence parties would not together gain a majority in early elections. The reason for this is that many independentists are not in the secessionist parties. For a successful result, the “unitary list” will need to contain important leaders from civil society and non-secessionist parties.

If the Catalan process stumbles now, it will be a shame, because it will show the Spanish government that they can face down demands for more autonomy simply by standing pat and threatening to arrest politicians. Spanish autonomous communities like Catalonia enjoy far less autonomy than American states (they are not allowed, for instance, to vary the overall tax burden from a central standard).

The most likely outcome of the process now seems to be (more…)

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On Friday the 17th of October I will be speaking at the annual conference of the Josep Irla Foundation in Barcelona, Catalonia. The theme of the conference is “Catalonia’s right to decide.” I will be in town Thursday and Friday and would enjoy meeting with any Pileus readers while I am there. Please contact me at jason.p.sorens AT dartmouth.edu. If you are interested in coming to the talk, here is a program in English, and here are the details:

When: Friday 17th October 2014

Where: Barcelona – The Mirador, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona

Address: Montalegre, 5 – 08001 Barcelona

Interpretation: English

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Ten days ago, the Washington Post published an op-ed of mine on whether the United States will ever see a strong secession movement like that in Scotland. I took the “yes” position and also took the opportunity to boost the Free State Project, while also making clear that it does not support secession. While it’s easy to think that current political equilibrium is stable, there are several considerations that make me think the U.S. will eventually (50 years from now, more or less) see a strong secession movement, most of which I mentioned in the piece but some of which I did not, for reasons of space: (more…)

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A few takeaways from the 55-45% victory for No in the Scottish independence referendum:

  1. The polls overestimated support for independence, just as in the 1995 Quebec referendum. Secession from a well-established democracy is extremely difficult due to voters’ risk-aversion and status quo bias.
  2. Scotland’s right to decide elicited salutary promises of decentralization from the British government. My book found that countries with legal secession saw more decentralization than countries without, and countries with legal secession never recentralized power in the post-World War 2 era, according to the measure of regional autonomy I used.
  3. While Westminster is likely to follow through on some additional powers for Scotland, they are not likely to approach anything like “devolution max.” For one thing, the Barnett formula will continue, suggesting the Scottish government’s budget will remain heavily dependent on transfers. For another, significant powers for Scotland will require wholesale constitutional reform, particularly to deal with the West Lothian Question, and there are many obstacles to a solution to that problem. Finally, the scale of No’s victory will reduce the urgency for British leaders to get something done. I will be very much surprised if a bill is produced to give Scotland autonomy equivalent to that enjoyed by, say, New Hampshire, let alone the Isle of Man.
  4. There’s going to be a lot of ignorant commentary about what this means for Catalonia. It means very little. Catalonia will proceed toward its own vote on independence. Secessionism isn’t contagious across borders, nor is declining secessionism. If anything, the No camp’s victory might persuade the Spanish government to allow a Catalan vote — but I wouldn’t count on it.

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To favor creating a new state somewhere is to be a dirty nationalist. To favor keeping all existing national states precisely as they are is very progressive and enlightened and not nationalist at all.

How do these people believe this stuff? Even though independence would be bad for Scotland in the short to medium run, part of me hopes that they vote Yes today just to give the Westminster, Transatlantic, and Eurocratic establishments a good, hard kicking.

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