What Canada Can Teach Spain About Secessionists

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Or the ebb may have been due to Spain’s gradual recovery from the economic crisis of 2010. Catalonia, with only 16 percent of the population but 19 percent of the economy, has long chafed at seeing its tax payments redirected to poorer regions. But Spain grew 3.2 percent in 2016, one of the fastest expansions in the whole eurozone. What looked for half a decade like a bad bargain had regained some of its prior attractiveness.

Until Sunday. It’s too early to assess the effect on Catalan opinion of the Spanish government’s heavy-handed response to the independence vote. Some protesters acted provocatively: The notorious firing of rubber bullets occurred as protesters sought to impede police movements. On the other hand, the police were moving to snatch ballot boxes away from polling stations, behavior that was provocative in its own right.

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National examples are difficult to emulate across borders, but Spain may have something here to learn from the Canadian precedent of 1980-1995. Over those 15 years, Canada faced two secession referendums in Quebec. Unlike Catalonia, Quebec is poorer than the rest of its country; nor has Quebec experienced anything like Catalonia’s level of cultural suppression. (Over 150 years of confederation, a Quebecker has held Canada’s prime ministership for 67 years all told, the first time as long ago as 1896.) On the other hand, Quebec is a bigger piece of real estate and generally a more plausible candidate for independent statehood.