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.