Spanish Unity Demonstration Against Sanchez’s talks with Catalan separatists
On Sunday last week in Madrid’s Colon Square, approximately 45,000 supporters of Spanish unity held a demonstration protesting against Prime Minister Sanchez’s plans to hold further talks with Catalan separatists but this time with an intermediary to help the stalling talks. The centre right and centrists parties of Popular Party (PP) and the Ciudadanos (Citizens) vehemently oppose these plans by the ruling Socialists as they claim it to be alike to committing treason. The Catalan separatists also are not particularly happy with the offer of just talks as their aim is for a full legally binding vote without reproach or criminal ramifications, as was the case with the vote in November 2014 or October 2017.
With many of the protestors calling on the government to bring elections forward from the proposed 2020 date, and the separatists wanting a referendum vote that can be legally binding in the event of a vote by the people of Catalonia for them to become an independent state, Sanchez’s minority government is fighting a hard battle. Popular Party leader Pablo Casado made clear his opposition to Prime Minister Sanchez’s policy by stating they were "Socialist surrender" and "deals under the table". The matter of Spanish unity and sovereignty evokes strong opinions even from students. “Spain's sovereignty isn't a negotiation," Marcos Villalobos, a student at Madrid's Complutense University, told Al Jazeera at the protest. "We are one country." This demonstration and protest against the talks that are going further also comes at a time where the trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders is about to start where they could face up to 25 years in prison for their part in the October 2017 attempt to secede Catalonia from Spain.
Things are made even more complicated by the fact the Catalan separatists main demand and request for a referendum is deemed as unacceptable to the Sanchez led government, but again they are in a difficult situation as with the minority government they lead they rely on Catalan separatists support in Parliament. Catalonia stresses its importance to Spain with it having 16% of Spain’s total population but accounting for 25% of its exports, 19% of its GDP and 20.7% of its foreign investment.
With the votes on independence in 2014 and 2017, the Catalan separatists feel a huge wave of momentum and overall support on their side among the Catalan population. Historically, Catalonia has always had its own distinct and discernible culture and history. Support and calls to be independent of the rest of Spain have always held sway but have grown in the past decade or so with government austerity and economic hardship from the European and worldwide financial crisis. Catalonians see the Madrid based government as infringing on its rights and not allowing democracy in the shape of a referendum to take place. On the other hand, the Spanish unity parties who don’t want to allow Catalonia to hold a referendum nor become independent cite the constitution and the benefits for both sides in being part of the same country.
We await to see what will come in the near future with Spain as Prime Minister Sanchez and his government face a crucial vote on the Budget soon in Parliament and with growing pressure from both people who want Spain to be fully united and those who want Catalonian independence apply political pressure to achieve their aims, we could see another snap general election in Spain’s ever-changing political climate.