As we wait for Spain’s Supreme Court to announce the verdict in the case of the Catalan independence leaders —it is expected some time in the coming weeks—, the public in Catalonia have already formed an opinion about the events occurred during the 2017 independence bid. Without exception, every poll that has inquired about the matter has shown that a broad majority of Catalans object to the fact that the independence leaders are in jail. The omnibus poll conducted by the Catalan government’s CEO (Centre for Opinion Studies) is no exception. This newspaper has been privy to the figures: 70.3 per cent of respondents believe it is “unjust” that the political and grassroots leaders should be jailed over the independence referendum held on 1 October 2017. In contrast, only 17.6 per cent think that the situation of the prisoners and exiles is fair, while 12.1 per cent prefer not to answer. The results —which are based on 1,200 interviews conducted between 3 and 25 of June this year, just as the trial of the independence leaders was wrapping up in Madrid’s Supreme Court— also show that voters of unionist parties object to the imprisonment and exile of the independence leaders, too. While the percentage of JxCat, ERC and CUP voters who regard the situation as unfair is 95.1, 97.7 and 100, respectively, 92.2 per cent of Catalunya en Comú voters also oppose prison and exile. The percentage drops to 57.8 for PSC voters, 20 per cent for Ciudadanos and 6.7 per cent for PP supporters. Only 22.9 per cent of PSC voters believe that prison and exile are justified, as opposed to 66.7 per cent of Ciudadanos and 80 per cent of PP voters.
These figures roughly match the poll published by this newspaper in December last year, when 80 per cent objected to the defendants' pre-trial imprisonment. In that poll, 52.5 per cent of respondents who opposed independence nevertheless felt that pre-trial imprisonment was excessive.
Rights and liberties
Furthermore, 66.1 per cent of respondents believe that Catalan people have seen their individual and collective rights and liberties diminished in the last year, whereas 25.5 per cent do not feel that way and 8.3 would rather not answer. Interestingly, the percentage of people who believe the situation has worsened in the last twelve months has increased among the younger age group. Up to 78.6 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 think that their rights and liberties have been eroded, while 62.1 per cent of those over the age of 65 agree with them.
The results reported for this question are even less partisan, because Ciudadanos, PSC and PP voters also feel strongly about the loss of liberties and rights in the last few months in Catalonia. It is unclear whether they feel this is the result of Madrid’s actions or the Catalan government is to blame. 66.7 per cent of PP voters feel the situation has worsened, while only 33.9 and 31.1 per cent of PSC and Ciudadanos voters agree with them. The percentage is much higher among respondents who voted for a pro-independence party. As for Catalunya en Comú, 63.6 per cent of their voters believe that there has been a regression in terms of rights and liberties in the last year, but the percentage climbs to 91.2 for JxCat voters, 91.4 for ERC and 94 for the CUP.
A call to dialogue
Catalan government spokesperson Meritxell Budó emphasised that “two thirds of Catalans believe their political rights and liberties have been eroded in the last year due to the repression” and she added that the Spanish government, led by PM Pedro Sánchez, should feel compelled to consider the need to stop dealing with the Catalan issue through repression. Budó remarked that “political leaders should be able to resolve this issue politically”. However, she also admitted that the latests gestures by the PSOE leader —who has refused to meet the leaders of the pro-independence parties and has repeatedly stated that their differences on the Catalan issue pose a major hurdle for an agreement with Podemos— do not leave much room for hope. The Catalan minister said that “it does not invite optimism, but there is room to sit down for talks” and she mentioned that if Pedro Sánchez is able to be voted in and he appoints a new government, the scenario could change.
In an attempt to frame the problem as a Catalan issue, so far Sánchez has merely asked that a strong consensus be reached within Catalonia, backed by 70-80 per cent of the population, before engaging in talks with Madrid. Polls indicate that in Catalonia there is a broad agreement against the imprisonment of Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Carme Forcadell, Jordi Sànchez, Jordi Cuixart, Josep Rull, Raül Romeva, Joaquim Forn and Dolors Bassa and in favour of the return of exiles Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, Marta Rovira, Meritxell Serret, Anna Gabriel and Lluís Puig. The pro-independence movement is hoping that this will show in a massive response on the streets of Catalonia, if the Supreme Court hands down a guilty verdict in the trial of the independence leaders who staged the self-determination vote on 1 October 2017. The verdict is expected some time in late September or early October.