Xavier Sala-i-Martín: ‘If they don’t let us vote, they will be backing the fastest path to independence’

  • Interview with the Professor of Economics of the Columbia University

Pere Cardús
17.05.2017 - 13:45
Actualització: 17.05.2017 - 13:51

Xavier Sala i Martín (Cabrera de Mar, 1962) makes no electoral calculations and relies on the interests of no party, so he can talk unbiasedly and speak his mind. He remembers that the 27-S plebiscite was won and that the Spanish government must bear in mind that, if it prevents the referendum by force, the present independentist majority will immediately declare independence, without waiting any longer. Apart from explaining why, in this interview he talks about the effect Trump might have on independence, what Jefferson teaches us in the US Independence Declaration and how he believes the Catalan constitution should be.

Is the strongest argument for legitimising independence the democratic principle
—The right to vote. ‘If those people do not want to belong to Spain, they have to have the right to leave.’ Here in the United States they haven’t come up against this yet, but I have no doubt that the federal government would allow any state proposing an independence vote to hold one. Now it is very easy to say that it wouldn’t allow it because no proposal has been made, but it is true that democratic feeling is very strongly rooted here. Historically, the only way to define borders was with wars or sex between kings. Now it makes no sense for Serbia and Croatia to be accepted as new countries as a result of a war and not to accept a country created from the ballot boxes; those swimming against the tide of the people, like Rajoy, who only accept independences if they are achieved with violence.

But beyond the principles, there are the interests
—If we vote to decide who has to take decisions in a democratic country, why can’t we vote to take a very important decision like independence? Why are frontiers a taboo subject? It doesn’t make sense and there are many places where it is not understood. The Spanish approach is an antiquity which will clearly disappear. In a few years it will seem amazing that anyone could have opposed a vote to take a decision. Now it seems like madness that women cannot vote; in the United States, women started to vote in 1918, now it doesn’t seem true. This happened just a hundred years ago, and racial segregation lasted until the sixties. Luther King and company are from the fifties. The law on non-discrimination was approved in the sixties. Now you look back and you think it was incredible, it’s hard to believe. So I try to look at our situation with eyes from the future and I think exactly the same thing will happen.

—Will Donald Trump’s election affect independentism in any way?
—I am not sure. Trump is a very irrational character, he is more concerned with his image on Twitter than with his own country. He might get up one day and say that the Catalans have to vote and be independent, and if anyone asks him why, he might answer that he has dreamt it or has met a Catalan, or that a Jew told him … This spontaneous and unexpected factor can affect us. Some are already trying to connect us with him in some way; they want to build this story according to which Catalan independentism is a populist and irrational movement. The Spanish try to associate us with Brexit, Le Pen, Trump… But we obviously have nothing to do with them, in fact the others have more to do with them, the people of Ciutadans, for instance. This demagogy of easy solutions comes from them.

Under what conditions might the referendum not be held? Why have you talked about making a declaration of independence in reply to the impossibility of doing so?—If the Spanish state sends the police to the polling stations to prevent them from opening, or applies one of those laws that allows them to take control of the regional police and they order them to prevent access to the voting places, voting will not be possible.

—In a situation like this, does the referendum have to be suspended?
—It will simply be impossible, it cannot be approved. Will you go to the international community saying that six hundred people have voted in four little villages the police failed to reach? That result is useless. The Spanish have to know that if they send the police to prevent the voting, we will go straight for independence.

And would an action of this kind from the state legitimise the declaration of independence?
—I start from the conviction that the only referendum held up to now was won, and that was the plebiscitary election of 27-S. These elections were already won by independentism. Almost everyone fell into the trap of believing that the plebiscite had been lost, and I believe it was Antonio Baños, who came out saying that the plebiscite had been lost. I’m sorry, but in a plebiscite it is the votes in favour and the votes against that are counted. No blank votes can be counted, they are like null votes. The votes for Catalunya Sí que es Pot and Unió were like those papers on which someone had drawn a bum. They don’t count. They never said yes or no, they cannot count in either sense. The result was 55% in favour of independence and 45% against.

And how is that useful?
—With this, we have to go to Spain and say, ‘Gentleman, we have taken a vote with a clear result. Now we want a proper referendum, and we will hold one. If you don’t let us do it, the last result will count, which is that of the 27-S, with 55% of votes in favour of independence.’ The problem is that before we do that, we have to believe it. We have to stop accepting the story the Spanish state imposes on us. We cannot accept their game rules because they are designed and conceived to prevent us doing anything. The day after 27-S, we were fed a story that we swallowed like asses. But we won.

And this is a position of force.
—We won the referendum we held. If we want, we can hold another, but we’ve already won one. Nobody can tell me that the no beat the yes, because it is a lie. It is not true that we only have 48% of the votes. Blank votes do not count, they have never counted and will never count. With this position of force, we can go to the world to say that they didn’t allow us to hold a referendum, they have imprisoned the president of the Parliament, they have expelled those who organised a useless survey … But we have a legitimate, legal and democratic vote that was won by 55 to 45. If they do not let us vote again, that is the vote that counts. And if they don’t like it they can stuff it. They have to know that if they don’t let us vote, and do something stupid like sending the police or some other kind of brutality, we will never go back to being an autonomic region. If they do this, they will have had enough of us. If they want us to go back to being an autonomic region, the have to let us hold a referendum and the no vote has to win. Make no mistake, if they don’t let us vote, they will be backing the fastest path to independence.

Sometimes you have mentioned the principles that Jefferson left written in the North American Declaration of Independence. Why?
—If you read it, you will see that people have undeniable rights, which include the right to freedom and to seek happiness. And it also says that governments which submit citizens sometimes prevent people from developing these rights. And he goes on to say that citizens have the right, and the obligation, to change this situation. Jefferson says that England prevents them from achieving the rights to freedom, life and happiness and they therefore have the right and obligation to obtain independence. This is how the independence of the United States was justified, and we have to do exactly the same. The Spanish constitution can say anything it likes. The British legal texts surely didn’t allow the independence of the United States either, I am sure they also believed they had the right to conquer. But now the North Americans have the right and obligation to change the rules when they fail to serve their rights.

Today’s large states are frightened that if it comes down to simple free will, there will be a wave of independences.
—This argument that then everyone will want it … So what? So what? What would happen if there were hundred states in Europe instead of twenty-eight? What exactly is the problem? ‘That every country and every region will want to be independent …’ Yes, so what? Someone tell me what the problem is. At the end of the First World War, there were fifty states and now there are two hundred. What problem has there been? What disaster? Instead of the Soviet Union, now we have sixteen republics. Instead of Yugoslavia, there are now six republics. Fine … So what? What has happened? What is the problem? If we find the way to cooperate in trade, in security policy, in the fight against pollution and climate change … If we can achieve cooperation between countries, why the hell do we all have to live submitted to another country? What do we gain? In the world there are four hundred countries … So what?


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