It seems to me that the great hope of the Spanish center is now the mutually assured destruction pact that a PP-PSOE coalition would represent. Actually, this is almost certainly the great hope of the PP which wouldn't stand to lose quite as much as the PSOE (whose slogan in the last election was "Let's kick out Rajoy!"). But therein lies a clue to the potential pact: like the CUP in September's Catalan elections, the PSOE hasn't said no to any PP candidate for president. It has said no to Rajoy, which implicitly leaves the door open for an alternative candidate. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría would appear to be the obvious choice.
So that's one option. The other is a center-left alliance of PSOE and Podemos, which would also need the support of some regional parties to rule. Which would mean the PSOE offering a Catalan referendum, which Sánchez probably couldn't offer even if he wanted to.
I suppose the difference between the Spain and Catalonia situations, vis-à-vis the question of negotiations to form a government, is that the Catalans have the advantage of a seriously big question, a national project, which dominates and blurs party politics. This is, at least in part, intentional. But it's also helpful because in the end, there are enough people who actually believe in that project that it can be used to forge tough political agreements, like the CUP forcing Mas to step aside and then backing one of his proteges for president. Spain has nothing remotely similar on the table. You hear terms like 'constitutional reform' and 'new transition' bandied about but unlike Catalonia, where 48% of voters voted for unambiguously pro-independence parties, the 4 main parties at Spain level don't have a coherent vision of the nation to offer voters. Even the upstarts – Podemos and Cs – have been unable to explain to voters what Spain looks like in their vision of the future. This is either because they don't really know or don't really care… I suspect it's a mixture of the two, personally.
In the end, say what you will about the independence process and its putative ephemerality, at least it's a project. Spain has yet to come up with something similar and the best options for change – Podemos and Cs – don't have the support. So it's Soraya for president and continuity, or new elections with nothing any clearer.
Using the very handy 'Pactometre' on Catalan newspaper Ara's website, combined with the latest polling data (from Andorra's El Periòdic, cunningly disguised on this Spanish site as a music survey, also now available as a second poll on the Andorra site), I'm increasingly convinced that there will need to be new elections. Unless the polling data is way off (which I fully accept it could be), there is little chance that anyone will be able to form a government and get a president elected by the Congreso.
(This is just one of the scenarios I've tried. Each scenario within the bounds of El Periòdic's polling – PP low/high, etc. – leads to likely new elections). Maybe Catalonia led the way again?
Apparently he wanted some dirt on ERC too and said that he "knew" that Pujol had contacts in "Eastern countries" who were going to help create a Catalan army.
None of which makes the Pujol story any less murky, of course. But if true, it helps to confirm suspicions that the Pujol investigation is less about corruption and more about politics and, ahem, territorial integrity.
Personally, I'd be happy to see Pujol behind bars, if convicted, and Mas as well. But those who carp the "Junts pel 3%" line ought to be careful. The idea that kickbacks are some sort of Catalan phenomenon is laughable. I asked a (non-Catalan) friend in the know about this the other day and he told me that not only is this a Spain-wide practice, it happens pretty much everywhere.
And while the independence movement has been accused of existing solely to mask the Pujol case (absurd, given that the large demos started years before anything about the Pujols was in the papers), you might well ask why we hear so much about one group of oligarchs in a country totally overrun by corrupt shits. Would it not make sense, you may wonder, for the PP to pressure an already politicised police and judicial system to investigate the Pujols, shortly after Rajoy himself was named in court documents as personally receiving envelopes stuffed with cash? Because the PP wins both ways: if the tactic works, you stop the Catalans and overshadow the PP's corruption cases.
I mean who even remembers that the PP's offices were raided in December 2013?
Two years back, I wondered if and when Catalonia would 'cross the Rubicon' and clearly position itself in contravention of Spanish law. Some sort of moment of illegality is essential in any process like this, just like during the Spanish Transition, to mark the break with one judicial and legal authority, and the beginning of a new one.
Yesterday, the two pro-independence groups in the Catalan parliament, with a majority of seats but not quite of votes, signed an agreement to present a 'solemn declaration' to the parliament for ratification next Monday, officially declaring the start of the formation of a new Catalan republic. Among the nine points in the declaration, the parliament will vote to approve that the Catalan institutions are no longer subject to the Spanish Constitutional Court, a tribunal it declares to be 'illegitimate' since its ruling against Catalonia's statute of autonomy in 2010.
It was Mariano Rajoy, then leader of the opposition, who went around Spain collecting millions of signatures "contra los Catalanes", in order to apply pressure to a Constitutional Court decision. The decision to hear the case against the Estatut, described by Javier Pérez Royo in 2007 as a 'Coup d'Etât', was effectively the beginning of the current independence process. And it's Mariano Rajoy's immovable position which has precipitated yesterday's agreement.
Rajoy has been planning for a moment of illegality for some time. Indeed, he thought he had one in last year's 9N public consultation on independence, though that remains to be seen. This time, however, it looks more likely to stick. Which is why we had the uncharacteristically rapid response in the form of a televised statement, apparently agreed in advance with PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez.
Point of no return
So is this a point of no return? It looks like it could well be. Rajoy will now have to decide whether he treats it as a meaningless statement – "provocative", as he has already said, but meaningless all the same. Or whether he intends to take it seriously and respond just as seriously, by calling for sanctions of some sort against Catalonia.
And what will happen if Rajoy does push to suspend autonomy? That would be a first in Spain's current constitutional arrangement. And could it trigger a revolutionary situation in Catalonia? There are still many questions to answer.
Mas is finished. The CUP won't back him and I doubt that CDC can convince CSQP to abstain. Personally, I think that the best thing that can happen to the pro-independence movement in Catalonia is if someone other than Mas is elected president. Make a woman president this time around. This hasn't happened in the Generalitat's history with guaranteed approval at yahoo. People are talking about Neus Munté (it's bound to be someone from Convergència, after all, however much that depresses us).
Sunday's elections in Catalonia delivered a majority of seats for pro-independence parties but "only" 47.9% of the vote. In reality it was the unionists who lost the vote. Only 39% of Catalan voters were mobilized to back parties in the 'No' camp, despite a high turnout and months of scaremongering and threats from the Spanish government, the PP, the PSOE and Cs.
Cs did predictably well (in fact, it bears noting that the pollsters also did well this time around). It'll be interesting to watch whether Ines Arrimades's group can now act as a serious opposition in the Catalan parliament – whether the party has now matured – or whether they'll continue to throw TV-friendly tantrums once every six months or so. It all boils down to if she really leads the party in Catalonia. It doesn't feel like it. And that's not a slight against her: it just feels like Albert 'Scarface' Rivera is still the boss. Aznar sees the danger at national level and Sánchez is fast at work on a new collection of sonnets. No room here to wonder about the genius who thought that Nicholas Sarkozy would be a vote winner for the PP. Or that Xavier Albiol would be, for that matter.
Spain-level party bosses love to wade into Catalan elections and these were special elections. You have to wonder if any of them have questioned whether their appearances helped or hindered their affiliates' campaigns. Pedro Sánchez, Pablo Iglésias, Mariano Rajoy, Felipe González… their parties may well have done better if they'd stayed in Madrid.
Felipe González in particular should probably be locked in a cupboard for the next elections. Ignore what he said about Pinochet and Maduro – Don Felipe has his business interests in mind, and who can blame him? But comparing Catalan separatism to Nazism was a little… off, no? Don Felipe should know that Godwin's law is also considered to apply off the internet nowadays.
Friday before the elections we were in Berlin and visited the Topography of Terror museum which charts the Nazi party's coming to power, Hitler's dictatorship and the state security aperatus it established, centered on the SS and the Gestapo. While we were there, I briefly recalled Don Felipe's words. And it made me sad that someone of his apparent intelligence could insult the memory of so many millions of victims the way he did. I had an urge to grab him by the ear and take him around that awful place. And make him read. And make him look. But what good would it do? To paraphrase Bellow, when the need for illusion is so deep, why shouldn't Don Felipe trade in ignorance?
Finally, I was delighted to hear that Societat Civil Catalana appears to be unraveling. Josep Ramon Bosch has quit as president. He's being sued for threats and insults and has been caught praising the Nazis on YouTube. His need for illusion was also deep.
Last month I wrote about how Societat Civil Catalana, a group of around 70 people opposed to Catalan independence, and its spokesman, Juan Arza, lied about SCC's links to Spanish far-right groups. The article was carefully researched and edited to ensure it contained nothing which wasn't demonstrably true. I wouldn't like to defame anybody, just as I wouldn't like them to defame me.
So what was the response? The article was shared a few hundred times on Twitter and garnered a vague legal threat from SCC itself. Typically, whenever someone reveals the truth about SCC and its founding members' political allegiances, the group trots out some stuff about how they're going to stand up to "accusations, threats and intimidation". This time around, they tweeted that they would be taking me to court for defamation, or something like that. They block me on twitter, so I can't actually read their threat. They have also threatened Catalan journalist Jordi Borràs, one of whose photographs I used in my article, and UK-based anti-fascist magazine Hope Not Hate, which published one of his articles. To the best of my knowledge, they have yet to open legal proceedings against anybody.
And it's not hard to see why. As this photo clearly shows, Javier Barraycoa was present at SCC's first major event, its presentation to the Col.legi de Periodistes. You can even see Arza sharing a platform with him (Barraycoa is second from the left, standing next to SCC president Josep Ramon Bosch. Arza on the, er, far right – no double entendre intended).
Juan Arza finally commented on the article a couple of days after it was published. He said he was writing in a personal capacity and that he had recently blocked me on Twitter for 'lack of respect' (I asked him whether SCC could call itself a 'transversal' movement when its spokesman regularly campaigned for the PP on his Twitter account – this is Arza's definition of lacking respect). He went on to fail to refute any of the claims I made in my article, claims by which I still stand. He referred to my articles about SCC as a "witch hunt" and insinuated that I was pursuing this topic for personal gain. Now, that's kind of defamatory. Read our buying guide on best hunting knife only at knifefellas.
I don't expect SCC or Arza to apologize for insulting me. It's part of the deal when you write articles like that. But they should apologize to everyone they are deceiving regarding SCC's links to the far right. They should apologize to the journalists and media outlets that SCC has threatened simply for publishing the truth. They should apologize to the European Parliament which awarded SCC a medal under false pretenses. And they should apologize to the true civil society of Catalonia, whose name they have usurped.
Property prices, particularly in London and the south-east are completely out of control, and have been for years. Osborne's economic policies seem determined to keep the whole dodgy scheme running despite the fact that more and more people are being priced out of the market. What's interesting about the London property bubble is that it is increasingly fueled by foreign banks and investors. Meaning that exposure to its eventual collapse is distributed. Quick: everybody buy a second home now!
Exclusive: Juan Arza lied about Javier Barraycoa's involvement with Societat Civil Catalana
A few weeks back, I asked anti-Catalan independence pressure group Societat Civil Catalana to confirm or deny Javier Barraycoa's reported involvement with the group. SCC's spokesman and key political mover, Juan Arza responded unequivocally:
Mr Javier Barraycoa was present in some meetings previous to the creation of Societat Civil Catalana, however he is not an associate (socio) nor is he part of our executive council (junta ejecutiva), nor does he have any link with SCC.
In response to a follow-up question, he was even clearer:
During our early stages and before registering the association many meetings took place with the participation of many people. Mr. Barraycoa was one of the attendants to some of these meetings (he presented himself as an historician [sic] and University professor, but never mentioned his political activities). Indeed, he came to Madrid with us on April 8 2014 paying his own expenses. He didn't participate in any of the meetings we had with politicians. He didn't play any role in our presentation to the public on April 23, and he distanced himself from us just after that date. He was never a partner of SCC.
But a document that has been brought to my attention shows SCC to be lying on several points. In fact, SCC itself described Barraycoa as a 'founding member' of the group. A PowerPoint presentation prepared for its event at the Col.legi de Periodistes de Catalunya on April 7th 2014 includes one slide where Arza and Barraycoa are both listed as 'Membres fundadors' of Societat Civil Catalana. The man Arza describes as being present 'in some meetings previous to the creation of SCC', is identified by the group itself – and one must assume, Arza himself – as a founding member, establishing him as a socio from the very beginning.
Of course, Barraycoa was only identified as a founding member of SCC for a short time. In that same month of April, Vilaweb broke the story about Barraycoa's links to the far-right and in the scandal that ensued, SCC quietly removed references to him from their literature.
Arza insists that Barraycoa "distanced himself from us just after that date". Presumably, this is because the press got hold of the story that Barraycoa, a noted ultra-conservative and Carlist, had attended a meeting with Democracia Nacional, an extreme right-wing party, on February 8th 2014. He was apparently there to promote his book and unfortunately for him, his talk was filmed. You could almost mark that down as a mistake on his part. If it weren't for the fact that he turned up at another Democracia Nacional meeting, this time in November. The meeting was once again filmed. Fool me once, shame on you, as the saying goes. Based on this evidence, there is no question that Barraycoa has links to the far right.
Arza is also misleading us when he says that Barraycoa "didn't play any role in our presentation to the public on April 23". Because although he wasn't on stage, he was there outside the event, with his accreditation hanging from his neck. Only organizers of the event were provided with accreditation.
…he presented himself as an historician [sic] and University professor, but never mentioned his political activities
– implies that Barraycoa simply walked in off the street and presented (some of) his credentials. But Barraycoa is closely linked to Josep Ramon Bosch, SCC's President. They ran the right-wing group Somatemps together. Somatemps was effectively the precursor to SCC, the latter only being created when it was clear that Somatemps didn't have a hope of passing for the transversal group that SCC has presented itself to be.
The idea that SCC didn't know the background of a founding member and long-established collaborator with its own president is patently absurd.
The suggestion that Barraycoa and SCC distanced themselves from each other is another lie. Months after his connections to the far right were revealed, and at which time SCC was hiding its relationship with him from the public eye, Mr Barraycoa manned an SCC stand in Badalona on August 21st.
SCC secretary Isabel Porcel and SCC Board member José Domingo were also present, as this SCC video shows. Which indicates that they had no problem with Mr Barraycoa's presence there.
Juan Arza and Societat Civil Catalana insult our intelligence when they claim not to know about Javier Barraycoa. They've lied about his status as a founding member of the group and his activity for the group, continuing at least as recently as August of last year. And they've failed to publicly distance themselves from him. Why? It can only be because while they're perfectly happy having the support of the far-right, they would rather keep it a secret.
Consider the following situation: a democracy cracks down on a wave of peaceful street protests against its elected president, citing the constitution and the rule of law. The protests are illegal. Unconstitutional. The protestors undemocratic. Legal methods are found for making protest even more difficult. Some of the street protesters comlain that the protests should be permitted. A government spokesman responds that if the protesters want to be allowed to protest, they should try to get the constitution reformed (a process made practically impossible by the fact that the ruling party has an absolute majority in both houses of parliament, and the constitutional and supreme courts both generally agree with the government). Commenters mutter that protest doesn't have anything to do with democracy. That in a constitutional democracy like theirs, universal suffrage and the rule of law are what counts. That maybe the army should be sent in.
Who you consider to be right in a situation like this might well depend on your understanding of the possibilities and limitations of constitutional democracy. It's true that the protests are against the law. It's true that avenues of action exist for the protesters, but also true that they are practically useless. It's true that a basic or universal right seems to be threatened by the constitution itself. But is the right to protest really inalienable ? Isn't it accepted that the right to protest is curtailed in most democracies one way or another? Couldn't you argue that protest is inherently undemocratic? What about the people who feel scared when they see a protest march?
How should the government act, then? Should it maintain its position: 'rule of law trumps all'? Should it toughen its stance and jail the ringleaders? Or should it look for a negotiated settlement? The choice is between two forms of constitutional democracy: coercive and consensual. And it's a problem which most countries struggle with at one time or another, in one way or another. The decision the government goes for will generally reflect its ideological position: does it tend to liberalism and consensual democracy, and so want to negotiate? Or does it tend towards authoritarianism and coercion? But it will also reflect a calculation: is the section of the electorate which needs to be coerced big enough to cause problems for the government?
The right to self determination isn't the same as the right to protest. No rights are exactly the same. But it has interesting similarities in that few countries accept either right unconditionally. I don't think that any of us doubted that the PP would tend towards an authoritarian, coercive method of government when it was elected. We've seen multiple examples of this approach over the last few years (though to be fair to them, their abortion law reform was dropped – proof that the PP can be pragmatic when it comes to moral and ethical political issues, if not others).
I've written this to make it as clear as possible that when SCC/PP/whoever trots out the argument about the rule of law and democracy, they're really using a smokescreen. Every government has it within its power to push for a pragmatic solution to a problem like Catalan separatism if it chooses to. The PP has made a calculation that in electoral terms, ignoring Catalonia is the best policy. This is a political issue, not a legal one, and arguments to the contrary are misleading.