The hole below the water line in the hull of the independence movement’s unity was glaringly obvious prior to the vote in Barcelona’s provincial authority, yet the violinist played on to keep up the appearance of stability as the water level kept rising. Now that JxCat and ERC’s municipal pacts are out of the way, the positions have become more clear. The various actors have spotted their own lifeboat and are trying to set a new course that will take them through snap elections in Catalonia. Today the alleged unity of the independence movement has fragmented into a myriad of parties, currents, cliques and personal ambitions, with a low-profile government holding down the fort as the last line of resistance.
The call on the pro-independence parties to unite gave rise to the Junts pel Sí coalition that won the elections of 27 September 2015 with 62 seats and 39.59 per cent of the ballot (1.6m votes), although they fell short of the mark required to validate the 18-month independence plan pledged in their coalition’s manifesto. It was then that far-left CUP became kingmaker and pushed Artur Mas out of the picture, which led to Carles Puigdemont’s election as president. They proceeded to set sail for the referendum on independence with a disparate crew, but the pro-independence majority in parliament still managed to approve the budget and call the vote. A majority in Junts pel Sí realised that it would not be recognised internationally, but they felt that the referendum would send a powerful message of citizen sovereignty which Madrid and Europe would be not able to ignore. The vote on 1 October 2017 was a civil disobedience success on the part of the 2.3m citizens who turned out to vote and assert their political rights but, above all, it was an outrageous manifestation of the shortcomings of Spanish democracy and it attested to the sort of violence and discredit Madrid was prepared to withstand in order to thwart Catalonia’s independence bid. Then came the short-lived proclamation of independence on September 27 (after the Catalan president very nearly called a snap election), followed by silence, exile, mutual finger-pointing —still ongoing— and the reaction of 21 December, when Catalan elections were held under Madrid’s direct rule. The encore to this eventful spell is a judicial shambles and the repression that keeps social and political leaders in jail or exiled. We have witnessed a string of preposterous, abusive decisions that violate the separation of powers in Spain and have propped up the pro-independence parties in the face of arbitrary power and their struggle to acknowledge their own mistakes.
Today, ahead of another extremely serious decision that should presumably prompt a joint reaction by the independence movement, the political parties and civil society groups are all faced with their own contradictions: protecting their individual interests, following their survival instinct and struggling to come up with a joint response to the verdict, now that it is blatantly obvious that the calls to unity ring hollow.
The JxCat’s rebuilding process coupled with the heft and instinct of its mayors were instrumental to David Bonvehí’s decision [to strike a deal with the socialist party in Barcelona’s provincial authority]. Even though president Puigdemont and president Torra were uncomfortable with it, which at one point nearly jeopardised the talks, the pact had the political blessing of both leaders.
On the plus side, JxCat’s agreement with the socialist party has started a new cycle and brought the PSC out of its ostracism. There is no doubt that hot-headed politics would justify isolating and denouncing the parties that endorsed Madrid’s direct rule, but rational politics must focus on the primary objective of proving wrong those who claim that Catalan society is split down the middle and are striving to turn Catalonia into an Ulster of sorts. Any political or economic move that encouraged a sectarian divide in Catalan society would be an act of irresponsibility that would lead to positional warfare, thus shrinking the support base for independence and undermining peaceful coexistence.
JxCat and ERC are worked up about who gets the upper hand in Catalan politics. In these circumstances, they should be able to agree on a shared course of action for the post-verdict scenario, one that is credible for a grown-up electorate who have drawn their own conclusions about how the 2017 independence bid was managed.
Nowadays, the key elements that hold together the pro-independence movement are the political prisoners, the exiles and Madrid’s inability to put forward a democratic, political response to a popular demand that —despite all the disappointment— has become electorally resilient and demonstrated an outstanding ability to rally the Catalan people.
With the government parties’ eyes set on a snap election —and well aware that a cycle has ended and a new one must commence—, the main organisation that can channel the people’s response is Òmnium Cultural thanks to its significant heft and non-partisan nature. Once again, the verdict might bring together all independence supporters, but fresh elections are looming and the political parties clearly need to update their policies and the road map to achieve their strategic goals in a responsible, realistic manner.