Tag Archives: Catalan independence

Resignation and good humor: Vilaweb's interview with de Carreras

What with all the movement of the last few weeks in the Catalan independence process, there are a hell of a lot of articles being published which are worth reading. And there's a lot to think about. Like: was what happened with Santi Vila a colossal fuck up, or a cunningly executed maneuver? Or a bit of both?

One of the better things I've read recently is Vilaweb's interview with one of the founding members of Ciutadans, Francesc de Carreras. The scion of one of those families that did very well during the dictatorship, he's a former left-winger who has drifted into the political space that was his birthright. And that's not necessarily a criticism… Spain and Catalonia are full of people who joined the PSOE, the PCE, the PSUC essentially in protest against the dictatorship. Most of them were never convinced by left wing ideology and were more properly English-style liberals looking for an outlet.

But I digress. The interview makes for good reading because de Carreras is typically pretty candid and can be quite amusing. He talks about his wives, and his father, and his political career. He maintains that the referendum should have been held in 2012 and readily admits that the reason one can't be held now is that Spain would lose. But he also says that a referendum won't be held: that the state will use all the force it has in law to prevent it from happening.

And here he touches on the key topic of the day: what can the Spanish state do to prevent a referendum and/or Catalan independence? They talk about closing schools to stop a referendum from taking place, but what if elections are called the same day? There's talk of intervening in Catalonia's autonomy, replacing the president. But how will an imposed viceroy hope to govern? De Carreras mentions a state of emergency or 'siege', which could see troops on the streets. But how could that not trigger a revolution? He has faith that the Catalans will simply obey like the Basques did when Batasuna was made illegal. But the situations are fundamentally different: one involved the banning of a party most people accepted was linked to an armed separatist group, the other involves deposing a democratically elected president and government peacefully carrying out their election manifesto.

Meanwhile, in Barcelona, on this peaceful and warm March afternoon, preparations continue for the progress through parliament of the Llei de transitorietat jurídica.

El País – from liberal leader to voice of the establishment

If El País is "co-author of the transición", what does the state of this newspaper tell us about the state of Spanish democracy? That is has retreated into an increasingly authoritarian, illiberal and limiting structure no longer aimed at liberating a nation but at preserving the status quo, above all else.

When I first moved to Barcelona nearly 15 years ago, El País was still read in progressive Catalan households. Even though it had practically always been close to the sort of 'Socialismo' represented by Felipe Gonzalez, El País seemed to stand up to the conservative, even post-Francoist caspa of the Aznar government. Throughout that era, as its readership shared in the boom of the 2000's, El País seemed to represent a progressive, hopeful agenda for Spain. After 2004's 11M bombings, El País offered clear analysis and avoided the unforgivable conspiracy theories of El Mundo and other parts of Spain's conservative press. Zapatero, the most progressive Spanish prime minister to date, helped encapsulate a sense that a certain 'can do' Spanish liberalism was dominating, and despite the launch of Público, El País was still there as the leading liberal voice.

The dawning of the crisis meant bad times for Spain, and bad times for El País and its proprietor Grupo Prisa. Despite layoffs, the newspaper struggled with huge debts, many with the banks it was supposed to be investigating. The ones that helped trigger the crisis itself. Now the government proposed critical labor reforms and I, in retrospect late to the game, saw that El País wasn't in the business of opposing central economic policy. As unions planned first one and then a second general strike, El País published hatchet jobs on their leaders and did its best to undermine turnout. When the Socialist government used Franco-era measures to forcibly militarize all air traffic controllers in the country, El País published lie after lie about the industrial dispute they were involved in. And as Catalonia, without its promised Estatut – which the newspaper had backed, started to look towards self-determination, El País retreated into the sort of dogmatic legalism which still informs its position today.

Grupo Prisa's CEO, Juan Luis Cebrián, was interviewed the other day in El Mundo by Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo y Peralta-Ramos, the 13th marquise of Casa Fuerte and hotshot at José Maria Aznar's right-wing Spanish nationalist FAES think tank (she who allegedly broke the law the other day at the trial of Mas et al, but who will doubtless face no penalty). Asked about the Catalan question, Cebrián laid out his position frankly and clearly: "If the king's brother in law can go to jail, why can't Artur Mas?" [a curious comparison, given that Iñaki Urdangarin, has been jailed for corruption and embezzlement, while Artur Mas is on trial for permitting a non-binding popular consultation to be held] and "Someone mentions sending in the Guardia Civil. People say 'no, not the Guardia Civil', but I say: yes, why not? That's what the Guardia Civil is for" and "[The government should act so that] the debate isn't about when they get their independence, but about when they get their autonomy back".

The interview is fascinating because it helps to explain the decline of El País as a leading liberal voice, the decline of the PSOE as the party of reform, and the end of the Transition Pact, the end of nearly 40 years during which the Catalan bourgeoisie represented by Convergència i Unió could be relied on to maintain the governability of Spain as a whole. The new pact which has replaced the old one is opposed to constitutional reform, which is why it maneuvered to prevent a PSOE-Podemos coalition in the last two elections, and preferred to gift Rajoy reelection than see Pedro Sánchez in charge.

The new pact can be defined by 4 particular policy lines on which its members agree: opposition to reform other than further liberalization of the labor market; the reduction of the concept of democracy to "the rule of law" and not much more; a strict and un-nuanced reading of the constitution; the rejection of the right to self-determination.

Regarding this last point, last month Alfred de Zayas, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, wrote to the Spanish government to raise concerns about its treatment of the Catalan question – the so-called 'Operación Cataluña', which involves criminal trials for elected officials, along with other, even murkier tactics. He reminded Spain about the right to self-determination. And he noted that a referendum is a very good way of resolving questions like that currently concerning Catalonia.

El País, once the leading liberal voice in the Spanish language, chose not to report this letter.

2017: the key year for Catalan indpendence

Happy new year, everybody!

Based on an analysis of recent polls by pro-independence Vilaweb, there would likely be a 63% turnout in a unilateral independence referendum (i.e. one held without the Spanish government's permission). The result from such a referendum would be 79% in support of independence.

That would clearly be enough to justify a declaration of independence, to be followed by a process to agree a new constitution for the Catalan republic, and fresh elections. While many Catalans may not have noticed, detailed and serious plans for future independence have been underway for some time. Among other things, the Catalan government has been quietly creating a diplomatic corps from within its staff. Unofficially, the hobbyists working on things like a Catalan constitution, and the changes needed for independence to happen, are being taken much more seriously. I've attended some interesting debates.

Meanwhile, while we have seen the Spanish state using some of the tools at its disposal to try to derail the independence process (constitutional court rulings, probably funding groups like SCC*, the Pujol accusations, banning judges, diplomatic pressure, criminal cases brought against elected officials, and now formal accusations of incitement to sedition), we have yet to see the state bring out its big guns. Those include: banning political parties (Anna Gabriel thinks there's a chance of this happening to the CUP); jailing elected officials (Mas/Forcadell); and intervening directly in Catalonia's autonomy (appointing Josep Enric Millo as caretaker president).

I think it's fair to say that things must come to a head in 2017. Failing to at least announce a referendum this year (and really, it needs to be held this year), will cause confidence in the process to decline. So all eyes are now on the llei de transitorietat jurídica, the law which will establish legal and judicial continuity should Catalans vote to become independent. This law is, in essence, a de facto declaration of independence and the moment it is approved by the Catalan parliament will likely be the 'train crash' moment we've been predicting for the last few years.

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* Is it just me, or is Societat Civil Catalana on its last legs? They've changed leader, again, and their former supporters are now involved in a competing gravy train think tank. If I'm right, we'll see SCC lose this year's court case and wind up its activities sometime next year.

The referendum conundrum

A few months ago, the Assemblea held a vote for its members to decide whether or not to press the pro-independence parties to support a binding referendum on Catalan independence. The idea seems to have come from the CUP and is now embraced by all three pro-independence parties, as well as the Assemblea and other grassroots groups.

[This is an interesting move in my dance with the ANC because 18 months ago or so, I had an argument with ANC people in the street in Cerdanyola who at the time were calling for a unilateral declaration of independence, which I insisted would never be recognized internationally – I said that we needed a binding referendum; now, I'm a member of the ANC and opposed to the referendum. One of us is out of step, almost certainly me].

Catalan government spokesperson Neus Munté today outlined the importance of a referendum being "binding and meeting international standards" in order for it to be recognized in other countries. She also said that people on both sides of the debate must turn out and vote [i.e., 'remain' supporters can't be seen to stay at home like they did on #9N], and that in order to achieve this, the referendum must have concrete "legal and political consequences".

In case you hadn't noticed, these are exactly the arguments used by those of us unsure about the workability of the new plan. It's obvious that a binding referendum with a high turnout would be the best and most democratic way to deliver independence, were that the result. But simply saying that a referendum needs to be binding, and have a large turnout, and have legal and political consequences, is almost totally useless. We need to know how they're going to make this happen.

In Spain's current political climate, the chances of the next government (my money is on a minority PP government) agreeing to a binding referendum are minimal. So all the PSC, Cs and PP need to do to make this proposed referendum another #9N is convince their supporters not to bother voting. Apart from the problem with drawing up an electoral register, there is the issue of ensuring legal consequences from a referendum the Spanish government will certainly declare to be illegal.

It might be that I'm not seeing the plan. It might be that Munté et al have a plan and they're just preparing the ground. Maybe they're hoping for a repeat of #27S, when they called the elections a plebiscite and the PP eventually agreed. But for the moment, this binding referendum is a conundrum: no one opposed will vote unless the referendum is taken seriously, and the referendum won't be taken seriously unless the opposition votes.

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:

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.