Sanchez, constitutional referendum and the risk of legalising Catalan secession

London 9 May – 2018 Not just one, but two constitutional referendum: the first to complete the Spanish federal system and introduce the right to self determination; the second for a new regional constitution in Catalonia”. That’s the recipe the secretary general of the Spanish Socialist Party, PSOE, Pedro Sanchez introduced in a lecture-style event at LSE.

The NAB is packed: all young, mainly students, some academics and some invicti Catalan secessionists: the ones who definitely disliked the prospect of a new plebiscite which next time, after Puigdemont arrest and trial, could reinforce centralist policies.

“It’s not I did not want a referendum in Catalonia, but that I did not accept an illegal referendum in Catalonia”, said Sanchez referring to the slideshow on the screen on his back titled “Falsification of secessionism”, and explaining why the former government of Catalonia unilaterally broke the constitution.


A part from the unconstitutional legal aspect of the secessionist plebiscitum, it was the low turnout of 42.3 per cent of 5.34 million Catalans with the right to vote the issue which raised the international concern about what is generally perceived as an illegal takeover from right wing populist/secessionists. This, one might say, is an internal issue of Spanish constitutional democracy; but instead this alerted the EU Commission because in times of widespread right wing lead populism, the secessionist trend could go viral within the ‘bloc’.

Why then Pedro Sanchez’ PSOE, opposing Puigdemont, Podemos, Rajoy’s Popular Party and Ciudadanos, today preaches for referendums which is the mean to deliver populism?

He explained this himself to the LSE’s audience:

“Before 2015 elections in Spain, when Rajoy hold the absolute majority, I tried to open the commission in the Congress for the Constitutional reform, but the Popular Party opposed this. At that time Psoe did not have the political strength to open the constitutional debate. We have that strength now because Popular Party lost the absolute majority in the Congress. Over the next semester, from October, we are going to open a commission to evaluate our territorial model with the goal to open a commission for the Constitutional reform”.

A clear message from the Socialists to the electorate: a clear role as ‘national reconciliation party’ supporting Spanish regional autonomies as well as the national unity without neglecting the Catalan independentists frustrated by Rajoy’s repressive measures and EU condemnation.

The hope to have their say through a referendum reassures people regardless of their beliefs. Referenda in the era of populism are citizens’ right to vote ‘granted’ in change of political support; these can be also the way smaller parties can gain power and challenge strict bipolar or two-party systems. Many understood this, the good and the bad: that’s why are risky.

Emy Muzzi