A Homage to Catalonia: The Political Turn
It is possible to see the recent history as an interplay between Politics and Economics, and 2016 as some kind of inflection point that made politics interesting again.
Allowing for a broad generalisation, my point is that the narrative of harmonised economic interest keeping the status quo, which effectively meant a professional political class indulging in risk-free politics, is no longer the only story in town after 2016. The broad consensus that kept emotions out and interests predominant in public affairs has taken a serious beating in Brexit, Trump and myriad other political changes around the world. This includes the failed bids too, as Marine Le Pen reaching second round or AfD entering Parliament make politics something that all intelligent people should be engaged into.
And, yet, if the 2016 was only the beginning, the events in Catalonia yesterday mark a political turn that all the preceding events pointed to. Whether or not this really leads to a Catalan secession, this opened up questions about globalisation and democracy that need to be answered. Indeed, this has become a bigger story than it necessarily was at the start by the arrogance of the Spanish government, which failed the first principle of democracy - that it is not just a License for rule of the majority but a system of governance by consensus and accommodation - and unleashed a Chinese-style repression on its own citizens in full view of the world. But this is still a big story, as the muted reactions in European capitals prove: Despite the obvious problems of double standards, the British Prime Minister will be thinking of Scotland and Northern Ireland, for example, before calling stupid actions by the Spanish government 'stupid'.
All over Europe they know, the referendum genie is out of the bottle.
True, the Scots lost their bid, and the Catalan one would have been a non-event if the Spanish Government had imagination. But there is a reason why the Spanish government did what it did: In a few months of 2016, the world has indeed changed. The fears of roiling the financial markets may have swayed Scots in 2015, but since then, the Rubicon was crossed by British voters and then the Americans. In this brave new world, the voters have woken up to the illusions of democracy and started demanding greater transparency and accountability. After many decades of keeping busy with economic lives, they have now discovered that they have been left out, and the political decision making have become at once too important and too distant. They are no longer ready to let the bureaucrats and bankers lord over their lives from the safe distance of Washington, Brusells, London or Madrid.
The narrative of Brexit - and of Trump, and others - has so far been interpreted as old Nationalism rearing its ugly head. And, surely, Le Pen, Geert Wilders and AfD very much fits into that narrative. However, I think the Catalan moment in world politics should underscore a different possibility: That of a Liberal, Globalist localism. This was very much the story of Scottish referendum, when Scotland wanted to be part of Europe but not of the London-dominated UK, and this is also the key story behind Trump's victory or the Corbyn surge. And, further, this may indeed constitute a viable motive for people voting for Le Pen, Wilders or AfD: Not xenophobia, but a desire to have more control over one's life, and a more engaged politics of community.
The Liberal outrage about the reprehensible (for them) outcomes clouded their view that many Liberal-minded people were voting for these candidates or causes. Liberal voters in Netherlands, for example, voted for Wilders to protect what they saw as Liberal values, which they thought, and rightly I think, are being undermined by the immigrants who are importing their authoritarian and conservative values with them. The Catalan vote, I hope, gives the Liberals something to sympathise with, and that understanding may just afford them opportunities what has really gone wrong: People are tired of smooth-talking politicians lording over their lives with high-sounding platitudes and spreadsheets and policy papers, and want to 'take back control'. And, with this, they could possibly understand how Brexiteers won the day, why Trump still marches on and why Corbyn's politics still makes sense.