The Euro zone

Going nuclear

The battle for Catalonian independence between Madrid and Barcelona is now being fought on two fronts. First there is the economic front, on which both sides are armed with figures apparently showing that secession would be a disaster for Catalonia, or that it would be the making of the north-easterly region (depending on who you believe). Yet just in case their fiscal arguments don’t have enough persuasive force, each side in this toxic argument has also settled on another approach: go nuclear.

One of the Spanish government’s latest attempts to discourage Catalans voting for independence on October 1st was to hit them with some unwelcome statistics. In a radio interview earlier this week, Spain’s economy minister Luis de Guindos said that Catalonia’s GDP would fall between 25 and 30% because of secession and that the region’s unemployment could double.

Catalonia’s response to Madrid’s economic doom-mongering is to say that, far from being ruined by secession, it will be much better off as a free state. Pro-independence politicians say that the region pays 16 billion euros more to Madrid every year - around 8% of its GDP - than it gets back for investment in public infrastructure.

Yet the fight for Catalonian secession is no longer being fought with economics alone. Pro-independence Catalan president Carles Puigdemont says his party is fighting for democracy and for the right to self-expression, in turn portraying Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government as quasi-Fascist in its opposition to the plebiscite. Indeed, a recent poster campaign has been driving this message home across the region: it features an image of Franco, who appears to be telling the observer “Don’t vote on October 1st. No to the Republic”.

Welcome to the nuclear front. In a TV interview in New York this week, Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said that the Franco posters were “Nazi”-like tactics, adding that other posters - of anti-secession Catalonian mayors - encourage harassment of the referendum’s opponents. “That’s something you don’t see in a democracy,” said Dastis.

Something else you tend not to see in a democracy are police raids on governmental offices and the confiscation of pamphlets and posters supporting a course of action that the government opposes. Yet Rajoy’s administration made sure both things happened this week, with the arrest of Catalonia’s junior economics minister in a Wednesday morning raid on the regional economy ministry and the seizure of about 1.5 million pro-secession leaflets and posters since last Friday.

So: the Catalans are deliberately violating their country’s constitution to secure a result that, according to the last poll, only 41% of their people actually want; and the Spanish government is confiscating posters that send out a message it doesn’t like and arresting pro-independence politicians.

It’s difficult to tell, sometimes, which side of the Catalonian independence debate cares more about democracy. Or should that be “less”?