Ben Lowry: It is hard to see a mechanism by which Catalonia can leave Spain

People rise hands as they gather in front of the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, after Catalonia's regional parliament passed a motion with which they say they are establishing an independent Catalan Republic, on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
People rise hands as they gather in front of the Palau Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain, after Catalonia's regional parliament passed a motion with which they say they are establishing an independent Catalan Republic, on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

When tensions spilled over in Catalonia after the disputed independence referendum at the start of the month, I wrote (see link below) that this was probably the beginning of the end for the region in Spain.

The huge escalation in tensions yesterday, when Madrid seized back full political control and Catalonia declared independence, only confirms me in that view.

Anti-independence supporters shout slogans and wave Spanish flags as they march against the unilateral declaration of independence approved earlier by the Catalan parliament in downtown Barcelona Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.  Catalan Republic.(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Anti-independence supporters shout slogans and wave Spanish flags as they march against the unilateral declaration of independence approved earlier by the Catalan parliament in downtown Barcelona Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Catalan Republic.(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

There are two caveats, however.

Recent global events have shown that it is incredibly hard to make predictions about the future.

If we could somehow be propelled 50 years forward, to 2067, it would be no surprise to me if I was to learn that the European Union was finished. But nor would it surprise me to learn that it was intact, and thriving.

Some things that look obvious at the time do not come to pass. I thought Quebec would leave Canada after the 1995 referendum, in which support for independence came tantalisingly close to victory, at 49.4%of the vote.

Under the ‘one more push’ theory, you might expect energised Quebecois would have agitated for further referendums so that they could get over the line (as Nicola Sturgeon is doing in Scotland).

Instead, independence went off the radar and has stayed off.

It is hard to see the separatist desire to break away subsiding in Catalonia now, such is the sense of grievance at being denied a vote.

That brings me to the other caveat to my prediction that Spain will splinter.

While support for independence has presumably risen from the level it was estimated to be at before the disputed referendum (around 40%), it is hard to see a mechanism by which Catalonia can leave.

Madrid cannot grant a formal vote now, because unionists would lose after which Spain be urged to concede independence. They do not think this is a matter only for the region, but for the country.

In the absence of such a vote, separatist support will likely rise.

One prediction we can make: this will be messy,

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

Ben Lowry: Irish neutrality towards Hitler was logical but not admirable

Ben Lowry: Make no mistake – this Catalonia crisis could have implications for Ulster