It is time to have a look at the referendum in Catalonia. So, assuming the main concern of the parties was the sovereignty over the territory, in our case the sovereignty over Catalonia and all that it meant in terms of territory−e.g. natural resources−, people, government, and law; what options should be considered for referendum?
The referendum today has only one question. In what is important here it reads:
“Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic? Yes/No."
Let us consider two critical points:
Firstly, the referendum’s “value.” It is indeed important we are going to have a referendum as expression of democratic values and basic liberties. It is also a way to start breaking the status quo Catalonia has had for so long.
Secondly, the importance of the actual question. Because of the way the question is written and current international and local scenario, there could be but one answer. So, we all can foresee its result. That does not mean that the actual referendum is of no value. As stated before, it is a crucial moment−as it was the Falklands/Malvinas’s referendum in 2013 and in Scotland in 2014. More importantly, it ratifies the fact that Catalans can make use of their right to self-determination at any time and propose any other referendum and solution.
Why does the question have problems?
The answer is simple. Because although it may seem as if the question offered a choice, it does not in reality. If the Catalans answered NO, and they decided to remain part of the Spanish state, they would still be considered as Spanish territory and hence would know what to expect. That is to say, they would continue living the way they live with the government and the law they know and all that this implies. However, if they answered YES, and Catalans decided to be an independent state, the consequence is but one: uncertainty. Many questions would be asked: do Catalans automatically remain part of the European Union? Would they need to apply to join the EU as a newly formed state? What currency would they use? They do not have an independent central bank, there is no independent Supreme or High Court in Catalonia, the issue of natural resources, education system, healthcare, and so many other unanswered queries. Result: who is going to choose uncertainty over something already known? Human beings are by nature conservative and between an uncertain situation and one that they already know; most go for what is within their knowledge, their experience (I am not saying that is wrong; I am only stating a fact that has been proven several times by surveys, research and actual previous referendums in other sovereignty disputes).
There are ways to address the indeterminacy in referendums and offer a clearer, more informed, better constructed question. That is, if the parties calling for a referendum actually aim to use the referendum as a democratic tool for self-determination rather than a tool for validation of predetermined and foreseeable decisions.