PP u-turn to offer Catalonia a new fiscal pact – what now?

It looks likely that next week will see Mariano Rajoy offer Catalonia a new fiscal settlement in an effort to deflate growing support for independence. This would represent a huge policy shift for the PP, which until now has refused to discuss any possibility of changes to how much tax revenue Catalonia receives from central government.

The aim behind this offer is obvious and it underlines the serious strategic mistake the Spanish government has made in dealing with Catalonia. Refusal to negotiate since 2012's September 11th demonstration has fostered significant unity and growth in the pro-independence camp. The PP effectively killed off any chance of returning to the days of 'la puta i la ramoneta' – the traditional model that CiU has used to get more cash from Madrid by pretending to be pro-independence. This shift aims to reintroduce a 'third way', with the intention of undermining Unió support for Artur Mas pressing on with plans for an unlikely referendum this November.

The question is, how successful will this manoeuvre turn out to be? Independentists will insist that Mas takes 'ni un pas enrere'. Popular support for a referendum is around 80%. Can the PP really deflate this to acceptably low proportions? The fairest way to judge this would be to include any such offer as a third way in a consultative referendum which includes independence as an option. But the offer will almost certainly be linked to dropping plans for the 'consulta'.

I'm not certain but I get the feeling that the PP has left it too long to change its mind. Artur Mas's constituency has shifted significantly and he knows it. I say this because I don't see Mas as the evil genius mastermind behind the independence movement which seems to be an indispensable position for anyone who seriously doubts the level of popular support for independence here. I think he's an opportunist who has hitched his wagon to the estelada. The Spanish government is clearly hoping that Mas will see sense and unhitch that wagon. Or at the very least, that Mas won't be able to swan around complaining that Madrid won't talk.

As in any political decision, of key importance here is the personal ambition of those involved. I find it difficult to believe that Mas will back down now. And populist that he is, he'll be thinking hard about his changed constituency and his legacy.

Suarez and Son

It's sad when anyone is on their last lap. A deeply personal time which families normally spend together.

Which makes Adolfo hijo's announcement of his dad's impending demise feel more than a little weird to me.

But hey, I've never quite understood the praise for Suarez either. That he was 'important' is obvious: he was the first elected PM since the 1930s. Anyone in that position would have been 'important'. But as with Juanca, I feel he gets a bit too much praise for doing what he had to do. Had he failed to promote the democratic transition, something else would have happened. He was a weak leader and his weakness helped trigger the 1981 coup attempt / reality TV show (depending whether you could be bothered to watch the end of Salvados the other day). In a way, he is the template for poor leadership that Spain has been hobbled with ever since.

Could the PP's luck be changing?

Some days you wake up to a glimmer of good news in the murk of crisis-hit Spain.

The investigating judge on the Bárcenas case sent police into the PP's headquarters on calle Genova in Madrid last night. It looks as though the bill for renovating the party HQ a few years ago matches an amount in Barcenas's 'double accounting', which would strongly suggest that the PP paid for this major construction project in cash. Cash it received in illegal and undocumented donations.

Now, I've lived here long enough to learn that a glimmer of hope can often turn into an oncoming train in the blink of an eye. But I'm also integrated enough to be able to take whatever pleasure I can from small moments such as this.

We're doing Christmas at home this year for the first time ever. I plan to do some non-political stuff over at the other place. Unless the king abdicates, I might not be back on here until the new year. Bon nadal, merry Christmas and Nadolig llawen to all!

Catalonia independence referendum: date, questions and Spanish response

As you'll have heard by now. A referendum on Catalan independence "will be held" on November 9 2014. It will consist of two questions: "Should Catalonia be a state? And if so, should it be an independent state?". CiU, ERC, ICV-EUiA and CUP agreed these terms. This represents a plurality of the parties in the Catalan parliament. The agreement came days before the potential collapse of the CiU government over a budget vote due next week.

The response from Rajoy was immediate: "It's not negotiable. It won't happen".

Jordi Cañas of C's (such a fitting name) maybe hinted at the unionist approach on TV3 just now: "There won't be a referendum in November next year" he said, "there will be elections". And as suggested here before, this is the most likely strategy of Spanish opposition to Catalan independence: deny the right to a referendum and thereby encourage the 'other path to independence' – elections followed by a unilateral declaration of independence. This would put Madrid in a much better position in terms of international support and negotiating power. It is, I reckon, the preferred outcome in Madrid because of how easy it would be to paint the Catalans as thoroughly antidemocratic, as well as sowing disagreement between the pro-referendum parties (Iniciativa won't agree to a UDI as an election pledge, I shouldn't think).

So, in short: this time next year, we'll still be talking about what might happen.

Where is Catalonia's Rubicon on the road to independence?

So the gradual creep towards independence continues in Catalonia. A referendum remains highly unlikely as the only remote possibility of one being held is it being approved in the Congreso in Madrid, which won't happen because the PP has an absolute majority (and anyway, the PSOE is in total disarray, and so can't be relied on, except to be unreliable). Duran i Lleida – 'king troll' – warns frequently of the risks and possibilities of a unilateral declaration of independence. CiU is trying to slow the process, probably at least partly so it can carry on privatising everything in Catalonia, and ERC is chomping at the bit.

Legal consequences

All of this has me thinking: if we know, more or less, that a referendum cannot be legally held (the Catalan parliament will pass a law allowing it but this is understood to not be within an autonomous region's capacities), then maybe we start to see the Spanish strategy. They want to force Catalonia into acting illegally if they want to proceed towards independence. The question is: is Artur Mas really willing to take this step? And if he is, when will it come?

For Mas, I imagine it must be tempting. If everything went according to plan, he'd be remembered by Catalans for taking a stand, not for corruption and the destruction of Catalonia's social services. He'd be like a new Jordi Pujol! On the other hand, if there's an expert at saving his own skin, it's Artur Mas. We can be sure that some of the time he spends drumming up contracts on foreign visits is dedicated to establishing Artur Mas as a Reasonable Man in the eyes of foreign officials.

Where is the Rubicon?

In the end, Catalonia's Rubicon has two potential locations: an illegal referendum or a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). If Catalonia attempts to hold a referendum without Spain's permission, the vote will not be accepted as legal by the Spanish government. This would probably damage the potential turnout, currently reckoned to be really large. I can't see Madrid suddenly agreeing to a referendum. But would it act to prevent one? It's difficult to say. Spain's already pretty unpopular in the EU, and preventing a referendum from being held, even though it would be an internal, legal issue, wouldn't look good. But that probably wouldn't be enough to stop Spain from intervening.

Unilateral declaration of independence

I expect that if Catalonia says it will hold a referendum, the Spanish authorities will warn that to proceed would lead to grave legal consequences. I also suspect that if Catalonia insisted, Madrid would find itself under enormous pressure to intervene. In the end, I'm not sure that a referendum will ever be held. I think it's much more likely that fresh elections will be held with a UDI as the deciding factor. If this happens, expect ERC to win, CiU to drop, C's to rise, ICV to remain more or less in place, and the CUP to see a rise. The PSC and PPC will both decline even further.

But a UDI is also illegal and far more so than a referendum. Surely Spain would have to act against a UDI, but how? Suspending Catalonia's autonomy? Arresting the president and govern?

I've always been against UDIs because while I agree that sovereignty resides in the people, not in the Spanish crown, I feel that international support will be difficult to obtain without a clear, free and fair referendum. If Spain blocks a referendum, then, it is of prime importance for Catalonia to make clear that it has exhausted the legal possibilities open to it.

International opinion will be vital and, while not exactly popular, Spain has far more clout in that area than Catalonia does. 2014 might still be an interesting year.

Latest poll data shows 50-point lead for independence in Catalonia

A follow-up from my recent post taking a quick and dirty look at polling numbers. As per usual, these polls are certainly not 100% reliable.

In this case, the poll [PDF] was carried out by GAPS for the pro-independence AMI. What that means is hard to say but they certainly don't appear to have asked respondents about a possible '3rd way' of increased self-government for Catalonia. This option, were it made available to voters, would reduce the weight of the independence vote. This is pointed out by another poll carried out by pro-federal newspaper El Periódico. Their poll suggests equal support for increased autonomy and independence, but confirms 80% support for some change in the relationship between Catalonia and Spain.

The other potentially misleading change in the GAPS poll is that it includes 16 and 17 year-olds and non-Spanish citizens. That is to say, everyone aged 16 up and registered legally with a town hall in Catalonia. This is not the same as other polls that have used the same electorate as vote in elections to the Catalan parliament, which is limited to Spanish citizens of 18 years and over registered with a Catalan town hall.

It's difficult to say how much of a difference this would make: 16 and 17 year olds in, say, Olot are probably a lot (heh) more likely to vote yes to independence. But there aren't that many of them. There are plenty more people of South American origin of all ages in BCN metro who are less likely to vote Yes.

All that said, this newest poll results in a 50% point lead for the Yes vote. Even an enormous margin of error would still leave a significant majority voting in favor of independence. Here are the numbers:

1% = 54138,50
5413850 electorate*

YES 3167102 (58.5%)
NO 1044873 (19.3%)

Remove undecided and abstentions.

Total: 4211975 (1% = 42119.75)

Yes: 75%
No: 24%

*NB – I have just used the same number for the electorate as before because it would take me too long to work out the adjusted number. It doesn't affect the percentages anyway.

My opinion: if a referendum were ever held (which doesn't seem likely), it would naturally come down to the question. If a 3rd option of increased autonomy were included, this would successfully split the pro-independence vote. If it was a simple Yes/No question, the Yes response would win a massive victory.

I feel that this makes the likelihood of a referendum being held seriously unlikely. Spain will find it much easier to avoid negotiating with Catalonia if it prevents a vote from happening. Currently, the situation probably favored in Madrid is that Catalonia doesn't hold a referendum but rather issues a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). This would seriously limit vital international support and enable Madrid to depict the Catalan government as acting undemocratically.

Maybe that's why Ara doesn't investigate the big corruption stories

I like the newspaper Ara. It's a bit neo-liberal in its politics but it has some good writers. Ara has also been fairly clearly pro-independence since its inception, though with less of an obvious party affiliation than, say, El Punt Avui. It has provided a lot of interesting coverage of various campaigns and events that have occurred in the two years since I subscribed to it.

But there are a couple of things that irritate me about Ara. There are times when its neo-liberal approach unquestioningly supports ideas like wholesale reduction of the civil service or privatization of health services, and I'd like to see more contrasting opinions presented by the editorial board on these topics. It is clear from reader comments on the newspaper's website that many other readers agree with me. The vast majority, in fact.

The second thing is that stories dealing with political corruption cases in Catalonia seem to get less coverage than they deserve. This is par for the course with the Catalan press, of course. In fact, most newspapers everywhere are pretty loyal to the state or their party allegiances, so this perhaps shouldn't be such a surprise. But it's disappointing to see from a new media outlet which one might have hoped was more immune to party influence.

Then I noticed something funny. In the footer of the newspaper's website, a logo for the Catalan government's dept. of the presidency has appeared. It wasn't there this time last year. And it wasn't there in April 2013 either. But sometime in the summer, when Ara updated its portal, the Generalitat's emblem was added to its footer.

What does this mean? Why does Ara have it? I think it's to indicate that the paper receives funds from the government in exchange for promoting Catalan. Fair enough. Not sure the state should be funding the independent press like this, though. Could look bad.

Then I spotted something else: an Ara.cat user called Cuca Val noticed that comments mentioning certain people's names are automatically withheld for moderation by the website. Cuca Val tested this filter a few times and declared victory: one name not allowed through the moderation filter is none other than that of Ferran Rodés (Cuca Val spelled it R-O-D-É-S to avoid the filter), founder and president of Ara. All of Cuca Val's comments were deleted about an hour after this.

Why would Ara block all comments which mention its own president and founder? After all, it's no secret that he's the boss. Maybe it's because people have been leaving cruel messages about him in the comments section? Happens all the time. Maybe he's thin skinned

Or maybe it's because he's a Catalan oligarch with connections to some of the corruption cases Ara has a duty to report on. As anyone can find on Wikipedia, Ferran Rodés i Vilà is president of the Catalan government's 'Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia' (CADS) – which spends part of its time giving the Catalan government advice on how to privatize its natural resources. He's also VP at Havas Media, a large advertising concern, and he's on the board of Acciona, the major Spanish infrastructures conglomerate. The same one which was awarded management of Barcelona's water systems for the next 50 years. When he was part of the decision-making team for this privatization process (which should never have been allowed in the first place). Oh, and he lives in Switzerland. Like all good oligarchs.

So maybe, just maybe, Ara feels that with its hard-won state funding and its possibly-corrupt president and founder, it would be best to pay as little attention to the massive corruption cases which are ongoing here.

"Bárcenas is OK, but don't you dare report this Cafè amb Llet story until they're pulled into court", I can almost imagine the boss shouting accross the cowed, pathetic newsroom of the Diari Ara.

A while back, I decided to ask Candide to stop commenting on this blog because I considered most of his comments to consist of trolls and the dissemination of FUD.

6 months ago, a correspondent argued that I should drop this ban. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Candide did the same via Twitter. Since then, I've thought about it and concluded that while I can do whatever I want on this blog, it was quite petty and ultimately rather pointless to persist in preventing Candie from commenting.

So I'm sorry. I've revised my comments guidelines and will be happy to see comments from Candide, should he ever choose to grace us with his presence again.


UPDATE: A mail server issue has also been resolved. This was preventing notifications about new comments being sent.

Catalan independence: Some quick thoughts on numbers

These are just some notes I scribbled down the other day. I'm not a statistician (as will become clear very soon*) but I did want to dig into the opinion poll results a little more and try to work out how they could translate to an actual referendum.

NB – I base everything on the idea that the same electorate would vote as in elections to the Catalan parliament. It's not clear if this would actually be the case. E.g. if legal foreign residents or 16 & 17 year-olds were allowed to vote, that could well skew things significantly. I'm not sure of the chances of either of those happening but they have been hinted at previously.

*If anyone better qualified than me can find critical errors or malpractice in my shaky workings, please let me know: I'd like to be better at this sort of thing.


1% = 54138,50
5413850 electorate

YES 55.6 3010100
NO 23.4 1266840
ABS 15.3 828319

Election results ONLY ever count those who vote.
Which means, of those who would vote (4276940) 1% = 42769.4

YES 70%

NO 30%
Which is a major victory for the YES vote.

But that's based on CEO numbers from May which might not be accurate anymore.

I should apply the same standard to these: http://www.cadenaser.com/csermedia/cadenaser/media/201309/11/espana/20130911csrcsrnac_1_Pes_PDF.pdf

In this case, I assume the same electorate to make things easier. However, it remains unclear just how many people would be allowed to vote.

1% = 54138,50
5413850 electorate

YES 52.3 2831443.55
NO 24.1 1304737.85
DK 13 703800.5
ABS 7.7 416866.45

We discount the Abstentions.

Sum all votes (Yes, No, Don't know): 4839981 (1% = 48399.819)

Of which

Yes: 58.5%
No: 26.9%
DK: 14.5%

Even if ALL Don't Knows voted No, the No vote would only have 41.4% of the vote, compared to 58.5 (a 17.1 % point lead to the Yes vote). If only half voted No, and half voted Yes, the balance would be:

Yes: 65.75

No: 34.15

This is a 31.6 % point lead to the Yes vote.

Accordingly, it appears that the Yes vote would win a referendum on Catalan independence by something between 17 to 40 percentage points, the lowest lead representing a situation in which every voter who responded 'Don't Know' ended up voting No, which strikes me as unlikely.

Who are the fascists? #viacatalana

So who are the fascists? The hundreds of thousands of citizens who turned out today to peacefully call for Catalan independence, or the Falange and Democracia Nacional supporters who interrupted an event in Madrid?

This is, at least partly, the fruit of the PP's campaign against social coherence in Catalonia. A mendacious call for unity while sowing division is the PP's strategy, backed up by their mates in C's.

Latest allegations in the Bárcenas case: Rajoy stays put

The most recent allegations made in the PP corruption case, first over last weekend in El Mundo and today in court, have been explosive. Luís Bárcenas, having denied that he wrote the alleged 'B accounting' books of the PP, today admitted that they were his work. He deposited digital copies of – apparently – all the documents related to the case with the judge. He went on to claim that Rajoy and party secretary Maria Dolores de Cospedal did receive cash payments from his slush fund in  2008, 2009 and 2010, totalling €90,000.

Rajoy, in a dodgy press conference tactic, took a question from the friendly ABC newspaper instead of from El Mundo, and read a prepared statement. He won't resign. Of course he won't. And nobody was expecting that he would. But the PSOE has again called for his immediate resignation. They're also trying to get enough cross-party support for a censure motion against Rajoy in parliament. I can't see how this would achieve anything but a symbolic defeat because the PP has an absolute majority.

If Rajoy has one political instinct, it is to ignore everything and carry on regardless. While often seen as burying his head in the sand, El Jueves had a better metaphor for the man today.

 El Jueves - Rajoy no dimite

But stepping back from the excitement of what seem to be such clear grounds for Rajoy's resignation, we're faced with two problems. The first is the source of all this information: Luís Bárcenas. The problem with him is that he's clearly – evidently – a very dishonest man. So why should we trust him now when half of what he denied previously he now admits? The same goes for El Mundo and its crusading editor, Pedro J. Ramírez. El Mundo has a decent reputation for exposing some big corruption cases. But Pedro J.R. is a PP sectarian who loathes Rajoy. He also pushed bizarre conspiracy theories about the 11M bombings for years, and backed them up with some alleged documentary evidence.

So should we trust Bárcenas and El Mundo this time? Well, the question is whether we trust the documentary evidence that Bárcenas has apparently submitted to the court today. He now says it is a full secondary accounting system which he maintained (why? self preservation?) as he handed over millions of Euros in unregistered donations to party officials over 20 years. Trusting this evidence is key. So why do I?

Well, because two PP officials have already admitted to receiving these 'extra payments'. Eugenio Nasarre and Pío García Escudero both made this admission in May. To now say that the documents that Bárcenas has produced are false would suggest a conspiracy at a much higher level, including various PP officials in an incredibly elaborate anti-Rajoy plot. No, the more believable version is that Bárcenas, realising he has no protection whatsoever from the party he gave so many years to, has  decided to sink them all.

And this leads us to the second problem. Assuming we do trust the ledger books, what other corroborating evidence is there? It will be easy for Rajoy, Cospedal et al to insist that whatever the court says, the documents are false. They could string this case out for decades. So we need some evidence other than the ledgers and it's still not clear that Bárcenas has this. The PP has talked about releasing tax statements for all its MPs to prove their immaculate record. This, naturally, is insulting. If they want us to believe that their tax records prove that they didn't get envelopes full of cash, they're sorely mistaken.

So this is where we are: what seems to be clear incrimination for the head of Spain's government, and no solution in sight. We can only hope that Bárcenas has something else hidden under his blanket.

Mas making love to France

Artur Mas has been on an official visit to France. He celebrated that Spain has permitted Catalonia its own sub-representation at UNESCO in Paris. He also took the opportunity to suggest that the concession for Rodalies commuter trains in Barcelona might be sold to SNCF when Renfe's license expires in 2015.

Similar noises were made a while back when it was suggested that France be the defender of Catalan independence and territory, rather than Spain or Catalonia itself. A proposed meeting with the French minister of defence was cancelled – allegedly after pressure from Spain.

So it's privatisation of public infrastructure, but done in a clever way that in theory could help get the French on-side when it comes to independence (and thus make us forget that we're talking about basic state services). Going further down that road could be risky: an independent state with no infrastructure to call its own isn't much of a state.

[I'd like to add that I raised the France question a while back on this blog, and had a lot of comments from Catalans who thought France's position was utterly irrelevant. Rather short-sighted of them, in my opinion. I assume they'll be writing to Vilaweb to complain, now that the pro-independence website has published an editorial entitled 'France is key for Catalonia's diplomatic recognition'.]