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The independence movement’s hardest battle

If this battle is not won, if the pro-independence message does not reach all Catalans, the war may well be lost

The Catalan independence movement often sees itself through the eyes of others: what the European Union, the United States and so forth think. An enormous effort is being undertaken aimed at internationalization and undoubtedly this external battle is extremely important. But we must be clear that it will be neither the Germans nor the Americans who will decide on the independence of Catalonia, but rather the people who live in Catalonia. Therefore, the Catalan independence movement still needs to win the hardest battle of all: convincing more Catalans who are not pro-independence. If we can learn one thing from recent international politics (Brexit, Trump) it is that whoever wins the media battle wins the war.

The independence movement may well have entered into a positive feedback loop, since its message does not extend beyond the largely Catalan circle from which it originates. And feedback can lead to self-deception. In fact, in spite of all the mass protests and the blatant judicial pressure from the Spanish state, the unionist idea of federalism still persists in many citizens of Catalonia. A recent opinion poll was interpreted by the unionist media as an increase in federalism. Meanwhile, the pro-independence media saw it as favourable to independence. The question is: do these two interpretations reach the entire population? The answer is no. The unionist message reaches everyone while the pro-independence message does not.

Therefore, an effective strategy would be to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Let us imagine that federal unionism gains ground. Why would this happen and what solutions would be needed?

To begin with, the unionist message reaches the Catalan people as a whole, whether they consume the media in Catalan or not. Meanwhile, the independence message does not reach all the Catalans, since it does not take advantage of a vital means of communication for the unionists: Spanish. Unionism’s most powerful weapon is its potential in terms of its communicative reach.

Another factor is that the type of communication employed by those in favour of independence is of the old school involving debate and deliberation. Instead, the unionist media relentlessly launches direct messages without foundation or deliberation such as: " the independence movement wants to snatch democracy from the whole of Spain".

They are clear, effective and smart, since they refer to stereotypes which are easily believed. For example, recently the unionist communication strategy has two strands: 1) an attempt to equate independence with violence (" The independence movement is in the hands of extremists / it is violent"), and 2) that the independence movement is more divided and weaker than ever (" The pro-independence front is falling apart").

The unionist strategy of making direct messages which reach everyone, destroys the narrative created by the independence movement by attacking two key points for potential voters, " independence is bad" and " independence is not possible". It is a strategy designed to present federalism as the more feasible option.

Since the pro-independence movement will never be able to overcome the media boycott which the unionist media inflict on pro-independence communicators, the latter need to overhaul their message in order to reach all Catalans. At an extraordinary moment in time, extraordinary decisions must be taken: both the civil and political leaders of the independence movement must address Spanish-speaking Catalans in Spanish, paying particular attention to the Barcelona area. If this battle is not won, if the pro-independence message does not reach all Catalans, the war may well be lost.

We also need to modernize our form of communication. The independence movement has solid arguments but it finds it difficult to convert them into clear, direct messages aimed exclusively at those who oppose independence. In contemporary society, using reason and argument to put across the content of one’s message is important but insufficient. The side which wins is not necessarily the side with better reasoning, but rather the side which better puts across its message.

At the same time, a rigorous analysis of unionism is essential, through collecting and analysing its messages and understanding its strategies. These must be disabled with clear, brief and specific messages written in Spanish for the various target audiences, and relentlessly broadcast.

There is a pressing need to better organise ourselves. The Catalan government, the powers that be and civil society organizations need to coordinate their actions and openly (and not so openly) spread their messages.

Finally, every individual has potential. If tens of thousands of people in favour of independence steadily spread their own messages, the effect would be significant. Every little helps.

In short, we are in the era of messages and need to use all the tools at our disposal in the fight, including the Spanish language.

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