Resolved: Spain should grant Catalonia its independence

This essay is from the January 2017 PF topic.


The January Public Forum resolution asks the question of whether or not Spain should grant Catalonia it independence.
In this essay, I will review the key terms in the resolution, provide important background information, and discuss both Pro and Con arguments.

The Resolution

The resolution is very straightforward and I think there are only two potential controversies related to the wording.
Spain. Spain simply refers to a well-known country in Europe.

Catalonia. Catalonia is a region in the Northeast corner of Spain that has a degree of autonomy within the Spanish Constitution but is also part of Spain. On October 1, 2017, Catalonia voted in a referendum to declare its independence. This will be discussed in more detail in the background section.

Independence. The term “independence” could arguably have a couple different meanings – more “independence” from the central government of Spain without becoming an independent country and complete independence – establishing its own country.

The latter interpretation is more common and since that is what Catalonia voted to do in the referendum, I think it makes the most sense to define it this way for your debates. The only point that I think is worth making here, however, is that there is a lot of strong evidence that claims Catalonia would be better off with more regional autonomy instead of full independence. There is even evidence that says this is what a majority of Catalonians support. As long as the Con wins that independence has to refer to forming a brand new country, and the Con can get away with suggesting an alternative, this will be a strong Con argument.
Grant. The term “grant” means to “give or allow” (Google Definitions) . The choice of this word in the resolution is interesting because the literature related to Catalonian independence is about whether or not Catalonia should declare its independence. There aren’t articles that debate the question of whether or not Spain should grant Catalonia its independence because Spain would never even remotely consider doing such a thing.

But, if Spain, grants Catalonia its independence that really changes the context of the arguments because it would obviously less strife is Spain agreed to grant this independence.

Some coaches think that the resolution will not get debated as it is written, which is possible They think that debaters will simply argue whether or not it is good for Catalonia to declare its independence. This may happen. What is important to understand, however, is that these are not identical questions, though some of the issues obviously overlap.


As just noted, on October 1, 2017, Catalonia held a referendum in which it voted to secede from Spain – to create its own country.

Why did Catalonia vote to secede?

There are three basic explanations as to why Spain voted to secede.

First, Spain was ruled by a fascist — Francisco Franko — from 1939 to 1975 and the King largely oppressed the region. Although Catalonians do have their own language, the King suppressed the teaching of the language, even physically punishing students who spoke it in schools. Although these policies were reversed with a new Constitution in 1976, there is a lot of historical animosity in Catalonia toward the Spanish government.

And more recently (2006) Spain entered into an autonomy agreement with Catalonia that allowed Catalonia to function as a “nation within a nation,” but the agreement hasn’t been followed by the central government (the Spain Supreme Court said it has no constitutional basis) increasing animosity.

Second, the Catalonia region constitutes 29% of Spain’s GDP , but Catalonia doesn’t receive anywhere close to one third of economic support from the central Spanish government. .So, Catalonians fear that their region is supporting all of Spain but they are receiving little in return.

Third, Catalonia has not completely recovered from the global economic downturn of 2008/9. This, combined with the idea that Catalonia feels it is disproportionately supporting Spain means that they think they would be better off on their own. According to The Atlantic,Using government data from 2005 to 2016, we found a very high correlation between support for independence and unemployment in Catalonia

These issues led to the creation of a pro-independence coalition 2015.

What happened as a result of the vote?

So far, nothing good for Catalonia has come as a result of the vote.
The leader of the vote — Charles Puigemont — is now in exile in Belgium and the central government “sacked” the Catalonian parliament. Other individuals who pushed the referendum are in jail.
Spain has asserted its authority to sack the parliament and assert authority under Article 155 of its Constitution.

The central government has also called for a new parliamentary election for December 21st. The outcome of this election could have a big impact on the topic.

What’s up with the upcoming election?

There are three independence parties running for election (in addition to other parties).

  • > PdeCat had been governing in a coalition with the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and with the support of the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP). All three parties remain committed to independence, but they will be running separately in this election, offering different paths to that goal. PdeCat and the ERC, which is leading opinion polls among pro-independence parties, now both hope to rally the separatist vote by proposing a less strident approach to creating a Catalan republic, while the CUP remains intent on unilateral secession.

There is a debate within the current events literature as to whether or not these parties will be able to obtain majorities (between the three of them), with most of the literature saying it is too close to call.

If the independence parties prevail there will be more pressure for secession and if the central government institutes harsh measures then there could be considerable violence. A decision by Spain to grant independence could take the pressure off of this violence.

If the independence parties do not capture a majority, or at least if they do not make significant gains, the case for Spain granting independence is arguably a little weaker. If the Spanish people don’t want independence, what is the argument for it?
It is worth nothing that while 90% of those who voted in the October 1st referendum voted for independence, that only 40% of Catalonians voted. Most observers do not think that a majority of people in Catalonia support independence. Perhaps they want more autonomy, but it is unlikely that they want complete independence.

How has the international community reacted?

The international community as backed the Spanish governments efforts to resist Catalonia’s independence. This includes all major actors such as the European Union (EU), the United States, Russia, and China.

The Pro

This discussion of the resolution and the background in mind, let’s review the Pro arguments.

Defusing conflict/potential terrorism. As just noted, if there is significance gains by the independence parties in the December 21st elections, there will be more pressure for secession. If the central government responds with a crack-down, there could very well be violence. If instead, Spain responds by granting independence, this could diffuse that conflict.
Of course, this depends on the Pro winning that the resolution should be interpreted based on what it says and what the literature is about. If the Con wins that the debate under the resolution is really about whether or not Catalonia should declare its independence, then the violence arguments will become Con arguments.

Economy. There is some evidence that says Catalonia would be better of independent because they could retain all of the benefits of their economic activity. Pro teams should be careful about making this argument, however, because, as is noted in the discussion of the Con, there are many , many reasons that independence would hurt Catalonia’s economy. Most of the evidence about the impact of secession on Catalonia’s economy is Con.

Democracy. This argument says that there is no foundation for government other than the will of the people and that the “sovereign” (the government) has no authority without the support of the people So, in order to protect democracy, we must let people secede and form their own governments if they wish.
This democracy argument may be coupled with arguments related to inherent rights to freedom.
Self-determination. Some claim that self-determination is a human right under international law.

Cultural. There is some good evidence that regional and historical culture should be protected. Spain’s centralization is arguably not doing this.

Global self-determination. Supporting global self-determination is arguably desirable and could diffuse conflicts within states.

Spain’s Constitution. Granting secession would force Spain to rewrite its Constitution and such rewriting may be desirable as it could lead to other issues being addressed.

The Con

There are a number of very strong Con arguments.

Spain’s economy. Since Catalonia represents 29% of Spain’s GDP, it’s secession would have a devastating impact on Spain’s economy. There is good evidence that an economic downturn in Spain could significantly increase unemployment and result in widespread poverty.

Catalonia’s economy. There are a number of reasons that Catalonia’s economy would be undermined.
One, Spain would stop trading with Catalonia. While this argument is a good argument against Catalonian succession, it is arguably a weaker argument against Spain granting Catalonia its independence. After all, if Spain were to grant Catalonia its independence, why would it stop trading with it?

Two, many businesses would withdraw from Catalonia because they do not think that Catalonia can function properly as a nation state. In fact, some large banks have already started reducing their operations in Columbia.

Three, it is unlikely that Catalonia would be admitted to the European Union? Why? Because the EU opposes independence, Spain opposes independence, and it is not likely that Catalonia would have a strong enough and/or large enough economy to meet EU entrance requirements. OF course, Spain’s opposition would probably not exist if independence was granted, but the EU would still be opposed (though Spain may support Catalonia joining the EU if Spain granted Catalonia independence). But even if these arguments are true, it would still be very difficult for Catalonia to meet the EU’s entrance requirements, and even if they did, it would take years for them to be admitted.

Without being admitted to the EU, it would be more difficult for Catalonia to trade, it means the can’t use the Euro as its currency, and it would be difficult for them to access many of the benefits of membership.

Security. Catalonia doesn’t have its own military and it does not have an advanced security infrastructure. Although its neighbors, Portugal and Spain, are unlikely to invade it, without a security structure and a military Catalonia would not be able to control immigration and it could be vulnerable to terrorists and other unsavory actors entering the country, especially by sea (its Eastern borders adjusts the sea).

Self-determination bad. Catalonian self-determination may encourage other similarly situated entities in Europe to secede, undermining the European Union and the prospects for continued peace in Europe. Instability in Europe could tempt Russian aggression and undermine the global economy. At the very least, it would undermine Europe’s economy.

Secession in and around China. China is strongly opposed to Catalonian independence because it fears this could strengthen secessionist forces in Tibet and Taiwan. The link to these arguments could be enhanced by Spain granting independence and getting other countries to support it. If Spain and other Western powers supported independence, then Tibet and Taiwan may start to think that their own efforts will be supported by other powers, making it more likely.
A drive for independence by Tibet would likely results in reactionary oppression by China in the region. A drive for independence by Taiwan would likely result in in a China attacking Taiwan, likely drawing in the United States

The Global order. The “global liberal order” refers to the global order constructed by the United States after World War II in order to reduce the likelihood of another devastating world war. To data, this architecture has helped sustain the peace, but it is centered around a order of stable states. Secessionism would undermine this stable system.

White nationalism. The Catalonian independence movement has become infected with at least a bit of white nationalist support. There is evidence that further secessionism will increase white nationalism.
So far I have discussed reasons the secession is bad. In the next part of the essay I want to briefly address the self-determination/freedom/obligation to protect culture argument that will be common by the Pro

While Pro teams will definetly play up (I say “overplay”) this argument, there are a number of problems with it.

First, while the majority of those who voted in the referendum supported independence, it is hard to find evidence that says the majority of Catalonians actually want to secede from Spain. It is likely in the December 21st election that the majority will not support secession, even if they support more autonomy vis-à-vis the central government.

Second, under the Spanish Constitution there is no right to secession. People in Catalonia have agreed to be part of Spain.

Third, moral claims related to the need for self-determination are based on the idea that there is widespread oppression (maybe even genocide) of existing groups. Although there is evidence that Catalonians have been oppressed in the past, there is no evidence that such oppression still exists today. And the Catalonian economy is doing well, meaning that Catalonians have plenty of access to resources they need to survive. They are not even close to needing secession to avoid “genocide.”

Fourth, a stable international order depends on a functioning state system. If new countries simply formed every time a majority simply expressed a desire to live independently, there would be significant instability in the international system. Simply wanting to secede does not create a right to secede.

General Thoughts

First, I think the Policy debate about the merits of secession is a bit lopsided, with most the arguments and literature claiming that it is bad. I think the better arguments in favor of succession are more philosophical and ethics-oriented. If this ends up being how the arguments are constructed on both sides, each side should also introduce framework arguments that make claims about why the philosophical ideas trump the policy consequences or vice versa.

Second, sometimes we have topics where the arguments are a bit lopsided, but I don’t think it ends up mattering that much because the total speech time is very limited and each side only gets to advance a few arguments. As long as that is the case, it doesn’t matter much that the arguments are lopsided.

Third, given the weakness of the idea of Catalonian secession, Pro teams will need to be very creative with arguments, particularly those that are policy-focused. Con teams should realize that these arguments are quite creative and maybe lacking in evidentiary support, especially at the internal link level.

Fourth, it is obviously very important to pay attention to what happens in the December 21st election. This not only impacts the debate about the current state of secession, but on December 21-24 there will probably be an awful lot written on this issue.

Fifth, historically, teams that are able to control the current state of the uniqueness debate on the question of secession have been able to win a lot of debates. If secession is inevitable, it certainly makes sense to grant independence. If it isn’t inevitable, then the case for it seems a bit weaker.