surinenglish

A precedented situation

Almost one year after a divisive referendum on Catalan independence, Catalans are once again calling for a split from Spain. On Tuesday, around a million people filled the streets of Barcelona to celebrate "La Diada", the region's commemorative day; bearing Catalan flags and banners bearing slogans such as "Let's build the Republic", they used the occasion to pump new life into the secessionist drive.

As was the case in the run-up to the chaotic vote of 1 October 2017 (1-0), uncertainty about the economic impact of Catalan secession is surfacing again. But unlike last autumn, there's no need to rely on theorising about the consequences. We now have precedents - and they don't tell a happy story about the cost to Catalonia of breaking from Spain.

Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of Spanish GDP, has been hit hard by its separatists' efforts to divorce the motherland. Since last autumn's vote, more than 3,000 companies have moved their headquarters from the region, led by bosses fearing the possible economic shockwaves of secession.

Leading the exodus were Catalonian banking giants Caixabank and Sabadell, whose share values plummeted 6.8% and 6.3% respectively in 1-O's immediate aftermath (in the days after 1-O, the Ibex 35 - Spain's benchmark Index - also fell, to below 10,000 points for the first time since 2015). Whether Catalonia can support such a substantial capital outflow, or how it would fare if another 3,000 companies fled Barcelona, are questions up for debate; but even posing them casts doubt on the secessionists' claim that an independent Catalonia would be economically stronger than it is now.

Tourism in Catalonia, the most visited and wealthiest region of Spain, has also taken a hit since last autumn. Just a month after 1-O, industry lobbying group Exceltur reported that bookings in the region were down 20%. In the same period, the amount of property on sale in some beach resort towns south of Barcelona increased by 50%. A Catalan hotel trade group has said that the region's hotels saw revenue drop by 14% this summer.

The precedents suggest, then, that if another independence referendum were to be held in Catalonia, there would be an instant and negative economic impact on the north-easterly region. But secessionists have either forgotten about what's happened since last October, or they're more confident now because Constitution-wielding Mariano Rajoy is no longer their "negotiating" partner.

New Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez has stated that he's open to "dialogue" with the secessionists, but only a dialogue that results in Catalonia remaining part of Spain (he's every bit as committed to the Spanish Constitution as Rajoy). In fact, the secessionists face a government just as opposed to their project as the one that was in office last autumn - one reason why few Spaniards will relish the prospect of a renewed battle between Madrid and Barcelona.