Independence referendums. Catalonia in perspective (DOI: 10.2436/20.3000.02.44)


  • Ferran Requejo Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  • Marc Sanjaume-Calvet Universitat Pompeu Fabra


Is the political independence of a territory in a liberal democracy legitimate? Where does the referendum held in Catalonia on 1 October 2017 stand in relation to the comparative politics of cases of independence referendums around the world? We have analysed the first question, which is regulatory, political and moral in nature, in previous studies based on the responses provided by the range of current theories on democracy. We primarily stressed the fact that the responses on legitimacy provided decades ago are insufficient today for both regulatory and institutional reasons. Characteristics of the institutional situation of the case, and more importantly its specific context, must also be included in the analysis. Thus, we should avoid providing simple, general responses to demands for secession. A secession may be legitimate, or more legitimate in some cases than in others. The analyses must be performed on a case-by-case basis – using the most appropriate conceptions in each specific case – while trying to avoid overly simplistic, generic conclusions. In this brief article, we shall analyse the second question above. We will review the history and current status of independence referendums in the world and then analyse the referendum held in Catalonia on 1 October 2017 in light of the data provided by comparative politics, in both democratic and non-democratic settings. We shall further distinguish between consensual and unilateral referendums and consider the conditions of actual access to statehood (effectiveness and recognition).

Key words: referendums, comparative politics, liberal democracy, Catalonia.

Original source: Revista de Catalunya, 308: 77-101 (2019)


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