There is no Serb ethnic cleansing in Catalonia, no British Empire slaughtering the natives in Tarragona, no slavery problem in the Ebro Delta, as in the Antebellum South prior to the American Civil War, and no new collapse of the Soviet Union. There is no great injustice or human suffering that might justify support for the Catalan independence movement outside of the law.
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that the European position was that the law and constitution of member states' must be respected. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that fundamental laws must be fully respected before the result of any legal referendum is then too respected. A new Catalan republic would not only be considered a third country but would only be able to use the euro in a de facto manner, like Montenegro and Kosovo.
The FT published an editorial on Catalonia on September 17. That newspaper, insofar as it serves as a bellwether for international investor opinion, does not believe it is a good idea to try to secede from Spain in the current manner. They noted the separatist challenge to the Constitutional Court "the ultimate authority on these issues" as well as the “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. The Catalan independence movement does not fulfil the democratic standards for a historic change of this calibre. Rather than political legitimacy, any such declaration of independence would be "an empty rhetorical gesture".
Spanish domestic experts are no less learned when it comes to the importance of the law. Spain's leading business association, the CEOE, issued a statement on September 13 supporting "strict" compliance with all ordinary, constitutional, European and international laws, as "the best guarantees of legal certainty" companies need. All four judges associations in Spain issued a joint statement describing the current Catalan separatist contempt for the "legal rules that protect dissidence" as a "totalitarian" act, not a heroic one. More than 200 Spanish lecturers and professors of constitutional law have signed a manifesto asking the Catalan First Minister, Carles Puigdemont, to not ignore the Constitution, European law and international law in order to avoid "a grave institutional crisis".
On Monday, the Finance Ministry confirmed to The Spain Report that all Catalan public accounts have been under the full control of the central government since Friday. Banks must treat possible referendum transfers as they do money laundering, Catalonia cannot issue its own debt, and Spanish newspapers reported Catalan leaders' credit card use was being controlled.
On Friday, the three opposition parties in the region that left the chamber when the votes were called for the referendum and secession bills in the Catalan parliament—the Popular Party in Catalonia, the Socialist Party in Catalonia and Ciudadanos—all told The Spain Report they were not going to take part in any kind of a campaign for an illegal referendum.
All three also confirmed that they had not received any invitations to campaign debates, either from Catalan public television, TV3, or the separatist parties. There is no referendum campaign, as we normally understand that term. The pro-independence parties are holding a campaign for themselves.
The Spanish Constitution does contain provisions for making amendments to it. The reform of most of the articles requires a three-fifths vote (60% approval) in both houses of parliament or, alternatively, an overall majority in the Senate and a two-thirds vote (66%) in Congress, followed in either case by a referendum.
Some articles, however—among them the “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”—require a more stringent process before they can be changed. A two-thirds (66%) vote is needed in both existing chambers, then parliament is dissolved and new elections are called; then both new chambers must also vote two-thirds in favour of the reform; and then the question is also put to the Spanish people in a national referendum. So if Catalan separatists could convince political parties and Spaniards across the country that allowing Spanish regions to hold their own votes on secession was a good idea, and if they did enough political work to get their reform through all of those stages, a legal referendum could be held.
That path, though, is not the one chosen by Catalan separatists.
The Deputy First Minister, Oriol Junqueras, lies about what Mr. Juncker said, or what the Supreme Court has done, and fumbles his way through TV interviews that press him on which body of law is currently applicable in Catalonia, even before the "referendum". The First Minister, Carles Puigdemont, mocks the courts by tweeting out instructions on how to use proxies to get around websites that judges have ordered shut down. Joan Tardà, who has been an Esquerra MP in Congress for 13 years, participated in a TV debate over the weekend and appeared not to know the difference between freedom of the press and a judge's order.
Separatist leaders have discovered over the past two weeks that they can laugh in the face of the law with no immediate consequences. If you have just passed a bill of secession, who cares about flouting a judicial order on Twitter?
"We will vote! We will vote!" is still the cry at rallies and speeches, and Mr. Puigdemont claims legitimacy in the suspended referendum and secession bills, which also describe precisely how they plan on interpreting the results and implementing the next step. If the 'yes' vote is declared to have beaten the 'no' vote by a single ballot paper—and what polls there are suggest the 'yes' vote will indeed "win" given there is no real campaign and no electoral guarantees—Catalan separatists will declare independence from Spain within 48 hours, or by October 4. That is 15 days away.
Given the learned, authoritative opinion of so many actors outside Catalonia, in Spain and abroad, and political, diplomatic, legal, economic and military reality, this is indeed a foolish, reckless path.
Faced with such a scenario, and recognising that Mr. Rajoy's political sloth has contributed to bringing Spain to this point over the last five years, the Prime Minister has run out of time. Never mind a declaration of independence, his publicly stated goal this time is to stop the vote from taking place at all. This explains the flurry of legal and policing actions over the past 10 days. Both sides, in that sense, are acting in coherence with their long-stated, long-held, immutable positions.
Mr. Rajoy is off to Washington next week to meet President Trump at the White House. Given the comments made by legal and business experts and European leaders, the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to suspend home rule for a while in Catalonia—beyond the open-ended financial controls that have existed since Friday—would likely be interpreted as a defence of democracy. It would also likely receive a positive response from Spanish voters in the rest of the country. He should not therefore fear such a choice, or the wrath of the radical-left separatist party that supports the Catalan government, the CUP.
Perhaps they would try to stage a "Catalan Maidan" or a "Catalan Tahrir Sqaure" for a few weeks in Barcelona but, given the lack of genuine human injustice underlying their cause, the real world would not pay attention to the tents and banners for very long.