Michael Reid is a journalist and author who has written about Latin America and Spain at The Economist for over 25 years.
"Dear Burnet News Club, thanks for sending me these questions. I think you should be praised for the enthusiasm and curiosity you have shown in relation to the Catalan question. I think I detect in some of your comments a commendable sympathy for what you see as the underdog. But it's more complicated than that. Now, my answers to the questions."
Do you think Spain can still call itself a democratic nation if it stops voters in one of its regions from voicing their opinions?
From: NellieBly@the2nd | Graveney School
Nellie, Spain does not stop Catalans from voicing their opinions. They can do so freely. In December there was an election for the Catalan regional parliament. This was the fourth election like this in seven years. It showed that Catalans are split down the middle about independence. Those who want to leave Spain won 47.6% of the vote--just short of a majority. Many Catalans passionately want to remain part of Spain. They think of themselves as both Catalans and Spaniards. Democracy is not just holding referendums. Respecting the law is important too, otherwise it would be a free-for-all. And the constitution says that all Spaniards have the right to vote about whether or not a region breaks away to become independent. That is different from the situation in the UK, where we don't have a written constitution. And by the way, Catalan public television, which is paid for by taxpayers, is pro-independence..
Was there an event that started the Catalan independence movement?
From: JaydenRavenyuki | Ravenscroft Primary School
JaydenRavenyuki, you ask a very good question. In 1978 Spain's constitution, which gives Catalonia wide powers of self-government but not independence, got the support of more than 90% of voters in Catalonia. Two things increased support for independence from 2010 onwards.
The first and most important was the government spending cuts that followed Spain's economic crisis. When people in Catalonia protested about these cuts, the Catalonian government began blaming Madrid for the cuts. The Catalonian government switched to supporting independence and demanding more money from Madrid.
The second thing was that in 2006 Spain decided to give the Catalonian government a few more powers and Catalonia a bit more symbolic recognition as a nation within Spain (as Scotland or Wales are nations within the UK). This was approved in a referendum in Catalonia. But the political party who now form the Spanish government objected, and appealed to the highest court in the country. In 2010 the court rejected a few of the new rules that gave Catalonia more powers. At the time this didn't cause much of a fuss but later it became a big thing that annoyed people.
"I think the main reason that the Spanish government doesn't want Catalonia to leave is that it is an important and integral part of the country, and more than half of Catalans don't want to leave."
Michael Reid, The Economist
Will the Catalonia vote affect England in any way?
From: YellowPikmin | Streatham Wells Primary School
Yellow Pimkin, If Brexit happens, which it seems like it will, I don't think Catalan independence would have much effect on the UK. But Catalan independence would have an effect on the European Union. It sets an example to other regions around Europe, which might be tempted to become independent. And managing the EU is already difficult enough with 28 or 27 members.
Firstly; the Spanish Government didn’t want Catalonia to leave because they get most of the money from there. Do you think there are any other reasons why the Spanish government doesn’t want Catalonia to leave? Secondly; do you think the people who voted for independence deserved to be hit, injured and arrested?
From: -iiMythicalRavenX| Ravenscroft Primary School
Mythical Raven, the Catalan government claims that "Spain robs us". That claim demands scepticism. Although it is not technically a country with lots of different states, like Germany or the United States, in practice Spain is like them. That does help Catalonia, because Spaniards in the poorer parts buy Catalan products. Maybe Catalonia should get a bit more money but so should other regions in Spain (such as Valencia). But only a bit if you are going to have a fair system. Where the Catalan government does have a case is that the region should probably get a bit more investment in things like roads, railways etc.
I think the main reason that the Spanish government doesn't want Catalonia to leave is that it is an important and integral part of the country, and more than half of Catalans don't want to leave. In this it's not like Scotland: sadly, in my opinion, most English people don't care whether or not Scotland leaves. In Spain it's very different. Catalonia is one of the richer regions and it helps to pay for poorer parts of Spain.
Lastly, you are right that of course nobody deserves to be hit or injured. It was wrong and stupid of the Spanish government to use the police to try and stop the unofficial referendum, even though it was against the law. As for being arrested, if you are going to have a law, there has to be some sort of penalty for breaking the rules. In my view, not being allowed to stand as a politician for a time would be enough of a punishment, not prison. But most Spaniards would disagree. They see the people who want independence as being unreasonable people who say things that will make them popular, rather than give good reasons for their arguments.
How do you think Catalonia will cope if they ever become independent? Looking back at their history, they have never fully been independent.
From: Parkourninja | Woodhill Primary School
Parkourninja, you are right, Catalonia has never been an independent country. I'm impressed by your scepticism at the nationalists' claim that it was. When they say that it has been independent, they are guilty of rewriting history to suit their purposes. That said, Catalonia would do OK: it's a rich place, and it has a strong economy and exports a lot. But all the evidence is that it's much better off inside Spain. If it became independent, it would have to leave the European Union, at least for a while. Many companies would leave so that they could stay in the EU (in fact, many companies have already moved their legal address out of Catalonia, just in case). Some Catalans may not think so, but they benefit from being part of Spain. We all live in a difficult and dangerous world. Breaking up into small countries doesn't help.