Javier Zarzalejos is director of FAES
In his growing misdirection facing the secessionist challenge in Catalonia, the President has taken a further step. He has gone to Quebec to take it and while he asked for "empathy" towards Catalan secessionism - regarding the declarations in which the delegate of the Government in Catalonia advocated the pardon for the coup perpetrators - he unreservedly praised the way in which the Quebec case had demonstrated that "politics can give solutions to a secessionist crisis". That supposed solution was the referendum of secession that was held in the Canadian province in 1995, in accordance with the provisions of the so-called 'Law of Clarity' and the prior ruling of the Federal Supreme Court on the conditions under which the secession of a territory of the Federation would be admissible.
Pedro Sánchez cannot claim that his words have been taken out of context. Moreover, if they are placed in context - which included the recognition as a referendum of the votes of October 1st of last year - the praise of the President of the Government for what ended up being a referendum for secession is even more disturbing. But disturbance is not incompatible with Pedro Sánchez's admiration for the happily failed secession process in Canada resulting in a political episode of desolate confusion, at best. The 'Law of Clarity' was an outstanding achievement for Canadian federalists and has affirmed the authority of the Federation to establish the conditions under which it would be possible to contemplate the secession of a territory. Among these conditions, a consultation that would be favorable to secession would not imply an immediate separation from the territory, but only the duty of the federal government to negotiate the terms on which such separation might eventually occur. Nevertheless, the provisions of the 'Law of Clarity' are established for a state - Canada - that is recognized as divisible. And due to this substantial difference Stéphane Dion, creator of this law and political architect of the process, is the one who has denied time and again that it was applicable to Spain.
As Dion has visited our country several times, he has unequivocally proved that he understands much better than the President of the Government himself what the national unity of Spain and the constitutional bases of our democratic state mean. When interviewed by El País on July 22, 2017, a little more than a year ago, Dion stated categorically that "if Canada´s Constitution had something like Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution - which declares the indissoluble unity of the Nation -, we would have argued that the Constitution would have to be respected. And if you want to change the Constitution, there's a whole process to do it”. On a previous occasion (El Mundo, March 10, 2014), Dion had already warned against false analogies: "No international norm says that Article 2 - of the Spanish Constitution - is invalid. Most countries are considered indivisible: United States, France, Italy (...). Canada is divisible, but Canada is the exception. There is no international obligation for other countries to do the same as Canada or the United Kingdom.
Dion, who is a Quebecer, is also a convinced federalist, a defender of Canadian unity who, in addition to the constitutional arguments – even if they were few or minor - explained the central question posed by secession from a civic point of view: "We never posed the question as a confrontation between Canada and Quebec. We said that we were all Canadians and that we could not deprive a quarter of Canada's population of their right to remain Canadian. We Quebecers are as Canadian as those from Ontario or Manitoba. We all have the right to be Canadian and we will always protect that right.
Finally, when asked about federalism as a useful model to channel separatist movements, Dion replied: "It can be a remedy in some countries, but there is little to do when facing nationalist separatist movements. There is no point in offering them 10, because then they want 20, and then 50, and then 100. What they want is their own flag, their own seat at the United Nations. It's not about the lack of powers or universities, it is a matter of identity.
The first referendum for secession was held in Quebec in 1980 and the federalists won by a narrow margin. Since the secessionists lost, they soon demanded another referendum that was held in 1995, which they also lost. The separatist nationalism, declining in Quebec, returns to ask for another referendum that only asks for when the numbers are favorable to them, although they have warned about their refusal to celebrate it under the prescriptions of the "Law of Clarity". Therefore, the President of the Government loses a lot in his reasoning and in his negligent translation of the Québec case. Of course, politics can provide solutions, but all of them go through law and none of them is outside of it.