Tag Archives: Politics of Catalonia

The difference between Spain and Catalonia: a project

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.

Catalonia’s ‘solemn declaration’ – has the Rubicon been crossed?

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.

Coup d’Etât

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.

I’m voting ERC for a change in Cerdanyola

Since I first moved here 13 years ago, Cerdanyola has been governed by ICV and the PSC. Under Cristina Real (PSC) until 2003 and especially Toni Morral (ICV) until 2011, Cerdanyola has changed a lot. In lots of ways for the best (I’m thinking about the improvements to Carrer Sant Ramon, Plaça Sant Ramon and Plaça Abat Oliba in particular). But there has also been inertia and the wrong sort of development. The toxic waste dumps between the main town and Bellaterra have been left to fester. The Riu Sec is a total mess. The Altis sports center was mismanaged into bankruptcy, only to see €8M spent on turning it into a library. Money has been spent on padel courts while nurseries are shutting down. Plans surfaced for the Centre Direccional – 4,000 new houses to be built on green field land. And a huge shopping center is planned, with the approval of the PSC and ICV. Most recently, the proposed construction of a crematorium, a few hundred metres from people’s homes, hidden by the PSC and ICV as a simple ‘remodeling’ of the existing cemetery.

Until late last year, I was a member of the local branch of Iniciativa. My reasons for leaving were mostly down to the party’s national leadership. But they weren’t helped by what I feel is the complicit attitude on the part of Cerdanyola’s branch. Jordi Miró should, in my opinion, defend sustainable development and green policies but he shrugged and told me that dealing with the toxic waste dumps – where they want to build these 4,000 homes – was “too expensive”. A party that refused to rule out the construction of a large shopping centre on the edge of town (Cerdanyola’s residents have access to good value locally owned shops in the town centre, as well as shopping malls at Baricentro, Sant Cugat, La Maquinista, Terrassa, etc – there is, simply, no need for another large out-of-town centre). I think that Jordi is a good guy on a personal level – I voted for him in last year’s primaries – but I don’t think he or his party can deliver change in Cerdanyola.

Meanwhile, Carme Carmona, the appointed PSC mayor of Cerdanyola seems to have done nothing. She and her party celebrate every pot hole filled as if it’s a minor miracle. But ask them why they’ve cut down dozens of trees in the last few months and they’re silent. They’ve acted as if doing the bare minimum is something to be celebrated. I don’t care that much about the cynical way they’ve suddenly started repairing streets in the last few weeks, in time for the elections. “It’s what everyone does”, after all. I do care that almost every project she and her town hall seem to be proud of has been completed within a couple of months of the elections. And I cared when Carmona complained on Twitter about ‘Latin barbecues’, as if immigrants were the only ones capable of making a mess in the park. I don’t know if there’s any truth in the rumour that she has recently bought a house in Sant Cugat but it wouldn’t surprise me.

During the last 4 years, Helena Solà and her ERC colleagues have formed a genuine opposition to the PSC-ICV ajuntament. Questioning the town hall’s spending, the vanity projects, the public funds for a football pitch and padel courts that the vast majority won’t use, the senseless tree-cutting campaign (allegedly to save money), the secret plans for a shopping center, the secret agreement to build a crematorium, the abject failure to resolve a hundred other problems. ERC’s program for Cerdanyola is ambitious but not unrealistic. A bit like how I’d describe their chances of winning (they won the most votes in the Euro elections this year). Having spoken to her a few times over the last year or so, I believe that she’s genuinely determined to improve Cerdanyola and to deliver change from the left.

So this year, I’ll vote for ERC and Helena Solà in Cerdanyola. They haven’t held the town hall since the 2nd republic: I’d say it’s time to give them another chance.

From the left towards Catalan independence

Fellow traveler Kate Shea Baird sums it all up quite well. I feel it’s important for those of us on the left who support Catalan independence to remember that we want independence in order to deliver a better country. Not just any country. An independent Catalonia, sí o sí, is not the aim and never should be. I don’t consider Catalans to be living under a repressive regime (unless you mean the Mossos) and so I don’t buy the liberation trope. And while I wouldn’t like to see Artur Mas behind bars for organizing the consulta, I’d crack the cava open if he and the rest of his party were sent down for corruption.

The pro-independence left (mainly the CUP and elements of Iniciativa and a handful of people at ERC) must maintain its focus through all the twists and turns in this process. We must, above all, fight for our values as the keystone of our support for independence: we want a better country. We want a country that helps the poorest, defends labor, looks after its citizens’ health, educates its young people, invests in the arts and culture, promotes sustainable living and tourism, and rejects CiU’s corruption and the neo-liberal model. And because we’re on the left, we must want all these things for Spain as well.

That’s the Catalan republic that I defend.

Catalans, that Polònia joke wasn’t funny or clever

If there was one way pro-independence Catalans could bring discredit on themselves, it was to stoop to the level of their opponents. For years, independentists have had to put up with regular accusations of being selfish, greedy, insane, stupid, terrorists, ETA, 18th century throwbacks, fascists, Nazis, Hitler.

So when last week’s ‘Polònia’ on TV3 ran a sketch comparing Mariano Rajoy to Hitler in the famous bunker scene from Downfall, I turned to Gemma and said “That’s not good”. Since then, the PP has threatened legal action and my fellow independentists have gone into overdrive defending the sketch and mocking the Spanish right’s “sense of humor failure”. Here’s why they’re wrong.

The Meme – not great comedy

The sketch was yet another version of a meme based on 2004’s German film, Downfall. It’s a great film and in context, a powerful scene. Hitler berates his generals for their failures, all the while refusing to accept the truth: that it’s all over. That the noise and the rumbling all around them is Soviet artillery already in Berlin.

The meme is first recorded in 2006, with Hitler re-dubbed in German complaining about Microsoft writing off its popular Flight Simulator game. Since then, around a thousand more parodies have been made, generally dubbing the original footage but sometimes simply imitating it.

I’ve written poorly about comedy here in the past. I watch a lot of comedy, read about comedy, listen to podcasts about comedy, read comedy scripts, think about comedy: it’s something I love and an important part of my life. And in my opinion, the Hitler Bunker Meme got pretty tired pretty quickly. Around about the time that guy used it to complain about Microsoft Flight Simulator. A thousand versions later and it’s one of the worst jokes I can think of. Dull, trite, derivative, unimaginative, OLD. Let’s face it: if you’re writing comedy in 2014 and you think the Bunker meme is right for this week’s main sketch, you need to catch up. That joke is 8 years old (and wasn’t that funny at the time).

Polònia’s Downfall

Which brings me onto Polònia itself. Since 2006 (yeah), it has been one of the best comedy shows on Spanish TV. It brought a kind of satirical irreverence which people across Catalonia (and Spain – Dan Hancox records in Ghosts of Spain that anarchists in Andalusia enjoy watching it) just drank up. Its treatment of the royal family and the main political actors in Spain and Catalonia became legendary and made it the most popular show of the week on Catalan TV. I adored some of its musical numbers, including Imagine reimagined by Artur Mas and Oriol Pujol in 2012.

But shortly after that sketch aired, something happened to Polònia. In a fairly short time frame, the show suddenly started to poke far less fun at Artur Mas, previously mocked for his vanity and his upper-class attitudes. It started to treat him with reverence, which I found pretty unpleasant. Since then, Toni Soler’s show has continued to go downhill. If I catch it, I’ll still watch. But I get few laughs out of it now. Basically only if the princess is on it.

You can be sure that the writers at Polònia wouldn’t never even consider using the Bunker meme to joke about Artur Mas, even if he were in the middle of a deep crisis. It would undo the work of the last 2 years.

Banal and self-defeating

Besides which, it was ideologically foolish. Much has been made in Catalonia of the ‘banalization of Nazism/fascism’ on the part of the PP and Ciutadans. And quite right, too. Unwilling to debate the political issues surrounding potential independence for Catalonia, both parties (now representing a combined 10% of the Catalan vote, according to recent polls) have used the most atrocious rhetoric to criticize the process. They’ve almost certainly encouraged some fence-sitters to join the pro-independence side, sick of the insults and the dismissive attitude.

And now they’ve thrown all that goodwill away.

As for the independentists who have howled like banshees over the last week, complaining that the PP lacks a sense of humor, or the intelligence to understand a joke… they should take a deep breath, read their words back and see whether they can detect any discrepancies in their attitudes. The joke wasn’t remotely funny by any real comedic standards. And calling Rajoy Hitler in the Bunker is not the way we’re going to win the argument.

I won’t be watching tonight’s Polònia. El Gran Wyoming, however, always has a place at my table.

Perfect timing for Catalan independence on #9N?

One of the recent posts I wrote on here asked at which point the Catalan government would ‘cross the Rubicon’ into potential illegality in the ‘process’ towards independence. Today, less than 48 hours from the popular consultation on independence, it seems like that moment has arrived.

The Spanish government has had the Constitutional Tribunal suspend all preparations for Sunday’s ‘participatory process’. Today, the Catalan government has made clear that it will not hand responsibility for organizing 9N over to civic associations. In other words, The Catalan government appears to be at the least very nearly in breach of the Constitutional Tribunal’s suspension order.

So why now?

There are several factors that make 9N the perfect moment for disobedience on the part of the Catalan authorities.

1 The Catalan government already backed down from the original consulta. In order to maintain the process, the government needs to stand firm now.
2 Disobedience at this point could have multiple effects but the most important aspect is how the Spanish government responds. Having already stated that it would not act “if the consulta were organized by civic associations”, it seems like the Spanish government may have nearly committed itself to instructing the police to interfere with Sunday’s vote. This might be a deciding factor in the future of the process. If the Spanish interior ministry were to order police (including Mossos) to seize the ballot boxes, it would be doing so under the gaze of hundreds of accredited foreign journalists and press agencies. For this reason, I strongly suspect that it won’t act but will try instead to dismiss the poll as meaningless.

This highlights yet another oddity in the PP’s campaign against the consulta: this ‘consulta-lite’, adopted because the full non-binding consulta was made illegal, was initially dismissed by the PP. Alicia Sanchez-Camacho urged MAdrid not to act against it because it was such a joke. Then, when the Generalitat managed to get all the volunteers it wanted in a few days, the PP changed its tune and again took the Generalitat’s plans to court. This indicates a lack of strategy on the part of the Spanish government.

3 The Spanish government seems to be weakened internationally due to the constant stream of corruption cases (which also affect Catalonia, of course). The Economist, Bloomberg and BBC have all published pieces criticizing Spain in recent days. This adds to the feeling that this might be the best time to take advantage of reasonably positive press coverage for Catalonia, and a slightly negative international attitude towards Spain.

My predictions for #9N:

Turnout – Very important. Unfortunately, I doubt that turnout will reach 50%. It may not even reach 33%. If it did exceed 50%, there would be something to celebrate.

Police – I doubt that the police will be asked to intervene. If they were, the vast majority would obey orders, including the Mossos. But it could lead to unpleasant scenes.

Results – The lower the turnout, the higher the support will be for independence. Some parties, particularly Iniciativa, are calling on supporters to vote Yes to the first question and free choice on the second.

Trouble – I doubt there will be disturbances. That would change if the police were sent in. I read today that Montblanc is setting up concrete barriers to prevent vehicular access to the old town (which strikes me as needless and potentially dangerous – what if there’s a fire?). Areas like this would become potential flashpoints in case the vote were stopped by force. The risk of the far-right trying to stir up trouble is always present but these groups have very limited support.

Outcome – Oriol Junqueras will announce his roadmap to independence on Monday. Smart of him to wait for the results of the consulta. The most likely outcome, in my opinion, is that turnout well be lower than desired but will indicate growing support for independence. ERC and the CUP will push for elections soon and will try to guarantee that they take the form of a plebiscite on independence. If they succeed, and Podemos decide to stand (the feeling is that they might not: they’re trying to keep their powder dry until next year’s general elections), they would be forced to declare a position, and it will probably be in support of union with Spain. ICV, PSC, PP and Cs will oppose any kind of plebiscite and may even refuse to stand on a No platform. In short, by Monday nothing might have changed. But everything might have changed too.

Which is why I’m going to vote.

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.

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:

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.