Joan Ignasi Elena: “There are now more people in favour of the referendum in Spain despite political obstruction”

Interview with the spokesman for the National Pact for the Referendum

Joan Ignasi Elena took on the coordination of the National Pact for the Referendum with one clear objective: “To put the spotlight” on the support for the referendum in Catalonia, which he is convinced is backed by a majority of the population. Now that the Pact will present its finished work on 19 May and is facing the final stretch of its task, he won’t be drawn on the platform’s future: he says it will be decided among the bodies that make it up.

What will the Pact’s event on the 19th consist of?

We will try to make it a reflection of the cross-party support for the Pact through the empowering of the organisations and the claim for the referendum. It will show that the consultation is the will of a majority of the Catalan people and not the obsession of a handful of politicians.

Will there be an international presence?

Yes, there will be important people there, but we’re still confirming who.

Little prominence for politicians?

We want it to be an act by and for the citizens. It’s an act of a country which wants to vote and wants to say so to the world and to Spain. We want to vote because we’re a nation and we’re sovereign and, as such, we have the right to decide our collective future.

Will there be representatives of FC Barcelona?

I don’t know, but the support of the “Barça” football club is very important to us because it’s a team with an extraordinary significance around the world. Its backing shows the diversity of those who demand a referendum. If it weren’t so widespread, neither Barça nor so many apolitical organisations would have signed up. The referendum is a claim which transcends politics, moving to the social sphere. That means that trade unions, employers and sporting associations support it and do so peacefully, without internal differences.

Have you updated the number of 400,000 signatures up to 23 April?

We will announce the final total on the 19th, but it must be noted that collecting so many signatures in two months is very important. The fact that a political cause would be a central pillar of festivals like Sant Jordi (St George’s Day), Fira de la Terra (Earth Fair), International Workers’ Day, of the vast majority of lawyers, of farmers, of employers’ organisations [...]. It’s a strong sign of the reality we’re living. The call is loud and clear.

And what will happen after the event on the 19th? Will the signatures be delivered to the institutions?

The finished work will be handed over to the Pact, which will decide what should be done. Just as will happen with its future.

Is there a fear, however, that the Pact might feel used by the Catalan government to stage the end of the idea of a referendum negotiated with Madrid and to start on the unilateral path?

The Pact belongs to everyone, and speaks loud and clear of a desire to vote, and I’m sure that no one will exploit it. During these six months, I’ve not had this feeling; rather, I’ve felt the commitment of the institutions and political parties. Everyone is very clear about the meaning of the Pact, what unites it [a negotiated referendum]. Afterwards everyone will do what they believe is right. It’s obvious that there are differences of opinion, but what unites us is very great.

After the experience of the Pact, do you believe that the negotiated path is less likely?

There’s an attitude of more people in favour of the referendum in Spain than before, but, at the same time, there are some parties that have decided to conceal the truth. That’s a very serious political error. We’ve requested meetings [with PP and PSOE] and they’ve been turned down. It’s incomprehensible that someone can call themselves a political leader but not negotiate.

How have you established that there is now more support in Spain for the referendum?

The number of votes in Spanish elections for parties that support the referendum is equal to or greater than the number of votes for the [anti-referendum, governing] PP. That’s a lot of people, but at the same time, there is an institutional blockade from the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos.

And what do you say about PSC’s role?

The PSC (the Catalan branch of PSOE) received the Pact for the Referendum and entered into talks. It’s different to the PSOE’s attitude. The PSC has the right to any opinion, but, from my point of view, they’re not responding to the majority of their electorate. The proof of this is that dozens of PSC town councillors and mayors are voting to support the Pact. Firstly, because they believe in it. And, secondly, because they know what their voters think about the referendum. The PSC, in that sense, is making a mistake.

Would you be willing to assume a political role in the case of a general ban from public office of the Catalan government and parliamentarians?

I’m a member of the Pact because I believe very strongly in the referendum. I didn’t plan to play at politics, I was working as a lawyer. I don’t have any further plans. And it would be good that the Spanish state, besides banning officials from office, would concentrate on politics.

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