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Do the economic and political facts really support the oft-repeated claim that Catalans are an oppressed people? Catalonia has its own government and parliament which exercise full control over education and healthcare and it possesses its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. Coverage of the ongoing crisis in the international media has tended to overlook that it receives 50 per cent of personal income tax and of VAT returns and 100 per cent of inheritance tax, and can spend this money as it chooses. The separatist-minded administrations that have run the region in recent times, however, have had little incentive to govern prudently or to make a success of the present constitutional arrangements, which they say have failed and would like replaced. When direct rule was imposed at the end of last year the Generalitat was in debt to the tune of 77 billion euros, representing 35 per cent of GDP, 20 billion of which is owed to Madrid, despite having the highest tax rate in Spain.

Cultural oppression is indeed a different matter, but if it is happening at all it is those immigrants from Andalusia and Extremadura who have not yet mastered the Catalan language who appear to be the ones who are suffering. After the Franco years, during which teaching of Catalan was forbidden by law, the Catalans are understandably keen to preserve their native tongue and have been hugely successful in doing so. It is not only the language of the school and lecture room — where Spanish is offered as a subject on a par with English or French — but also of the restaurant, bar and plaza. Fluency is a requirement for jobs in some private firms as well as the public sector. Ninety per cent of the population speak the language while seven TV stations and four public radio stations broadcast in Catalan, and receive 300 million euros a year in public funds for doing so. Most, if not all, seem highly sympathetic to the goal of independence and are regarded as propaganda tools for the separatist parties by many of those opposed to secession, who, it should be pointed out, account for around half the Catalan population.

If Catalonia cannot be said to be oppressed in any recognisable sense of the term, can its people at least be confident that independence would bring an end to corruption? Rajoy’s party has been dogged by allegations that its funding has been illegal, and has admitted wrongdoing. But the crimes committed by the now defunct Convergencia Democrática de Cataluña (CDC), which dominated Catalan politics for more than a decade, are at least as serious. Following an investigation lasting more than eight years a Catalan court found that the party had taken kickbacks on public sector contracts from 1999 to 2009. The party has responded by reinventing itself, changing its name to the Catalan Democratic Party (PDeCat) and choosing Carlos Puigdemont as its new leader. If the Spanish Supreme Court upholds the decision of the Catalan court it will be required to pay a fine of 6.6 million euros. Most Spaniards seem to take for granted that politicians are corrupt; the response of most Catalans to the case has been that it is better to be robbed by local rascals than by those in Madrid.
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