My answer to the question is no. Eventually I think it will, but not soon. Here’s why:
Catalonia, Portugal and Spain: Selective Historiography
Independentist claims from Catalonia are centuries old, although with differing levels of intensity, depending on central repression and economic wealth. I like to throw around a story that the reason Portugal is independent and Catalonia isn’t is that when both were part of Spain and revolted (1640), Portugal was at the edge of the continent while Catalonia was a doorway to Europe. The thesis goes on to say that while Spain wanted to keep both, it allocated more resources to reclaiming Catalonia. While both revolts shared a common cause, the centralisation attempts of post 30 Year War (1618–1648) Spain, this is a very unuanced argument. The Portuguese War of Restauration (1640-1668) headed by a claimant to the throne was better organised and funded than the Segadores peasant revolt in Catalonia (1640-1659). Portugal, while not at the heart of Europe was a global empire with desirable colonies in 4 continents, and thus likely to actually be more appealing. It also ignores that both revolts took place at the end of the exhausting 3o Years War. Finally, I have never actually seen the figures of how much money Madrid spent on both fronts, and doubt that they might actually exist. However, this is an important period in the history of Spain, Catalonia and indeed Portugal.
The origin of this recent quarrel
The interesting thing about that discussion is that it allows me to introduce the Segadores revolt (1640-1659), a symbol of Catalan nationalism. The celebration of this revolt provided the background for a 1.5million strong march of Catalan nationalists in the beginning of September, on the eve of the publication of the results of a survey that showed the rise of an unprecedented level of support for Catalan independence. Emboldened by this support and armed with the economic claim that Catalonia is a net contributor to Spain’s budget and might have different views on redistribution, Artur Mas, President of the Regional Government requested that Madrid consent to his, traditionally non-nationalist government’s, acquiring new powers of taxation. It was the refusal of this request that triggered the present mess.
This denial pushed Artur Mas over the edge and led him to call snap elections, now scheduled for November 25th. Presuming a victory, he claimed that
Aware that the next step would be a unilateral declaration of independence the Spanish government responded in no uncertain terms, via the deputy prime minister, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, who responded saying that
The European Context of an Independent Catalonia
There is no foreseeable future for Catalonia outside of the European Union, as it would be left isolated economically if it were unable to join the single market. This is problematic because Spain, if it survives in a smaller version, can veto the new, likely unilaterally declared, independent nation state’s access to European markets. But this is not the end of the line.
Fiscal Conditions and Creditors Outlook for Catalan Independence
If Catalonia leaves and Spain survives as a political entity, I would presume the each would keep the debts issued in its name. However, while this would leave Catalonia unburdened of its positive net contribution to the Spanish national budget, it would also leave the Spanish budget poorer. As a result, while Catalonia might be more sustainable, Spain will suffer the opposite fate.
Why does this matter?
If you are Spain you are looking for international support, a commodity clearly also sought after by Catalonia and in limited supply through Europe. The discussion in the previous paragraph would support the view that Catalonia might face, not just Spanish opposition to its independentist claims. I would expect France and Germany, and indeed any other creditor of Spain who would suddenly be exposed to a higher risk of non-performance on the Spanish debt it holds, to have a very good incentive to oppose any independentist Catalonian claims.
So what will happen then?
Ridiculous as it might seem, I believe that Catalonia may settle for its original request: a reform that endows it with the right to set, levy and keep its own taxes. Why would Spain accept that? Because its better than break up, as it would allow it to continue to extract some of Catalonia’s resources, and because Spain and creditors don’t want those 1.5million people out on the streets for much longer.
Of course this is only the compromise scenario. It is possible that creditors completely back Madrid and isolate Catalonia or that Catalans just go out onto the streets and make independence irreversible following a stubborn referendum.
However, if the compromise scenario materialises, I would conclude that if all this does take place, then the ground is set for a future left-wing government to allow Catalonia out in the context of an orderly and mutually agreed process.