March 23, 2017
Slow-motion train crash in Catalonia
The slow motion train crash continues in Catalonia. Yesterday the Spanish supreme court barred a sitting Catalan MP from holding public office for 13 months for his role in organising a mock Catalan independence referendum in the autumn of 2014. Also yesterday, the Catalan parliament passed a budget for 2017 including a line item for the funding of another referendum attempt, despite an opinion of the parliament's legal counsel that this would be unconstitutional.
Francesc Homs, a national MP for Catalan liberal party PDeCat (formerly Convergència, the party that dominated Catalan politics for 35 years), was the legal counsel of the Catalan regional government when it attempted to organise a vote on independence. The Spanish constitutional court issued an injunction to stop the vote, which went ahead all the same after the regional government handed off the running of the consultation to grass-roots organisations. As Homs is a sitting MP, he was tried before the supreme court, which found him guilty of noncompliance with the constitutional court, and sentenced him to a 13 month ban from holding public office. A charge of misuse of public funds was thrown out. Supreme court sentences come into force immediately, and in this case it means Homs will have to leave his seat in the Spanish parliament. It remains to be seen how that will play out, but it we expect it to make good TV.
The Supreme court could not have chosen a better day to issue this sentence than the day when the Catalan parliament passed a budget including a line item to hold another unilateral referendum. The session was tumultuous as it was preceded by a letter from the regional parliament's legal counsel warning that the referendum line item was in contradiction with a constitutional court injunction from February. This led CSQP (the Podemos-aligned group in the Catalan parliament) to withdraw its support for the budget, as they favour a referendum provided it is agreed with Spain's national government. The budget passed finally with the votes of the JxS coalition holding the regional government, and the radical left separatist CUP which provides outside support on condition that the independence process moves forward.
The Spanish government's strategy is to leave it to the constitutional court to remove Catalan politicians from office who disobey the law, while the Catalan separatists are all too happy to be removed from office as they think this demonstrates the undemocratic nature of the Spanish state. We would expect the speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, to be next in line. We have no doubt the Catalan government will escalate further by actually attempting to organise the referendum by September as they have promised.