Former Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy tipped the scales in the 2017 Catalan elections when he suspended Catalonia’s home rule arbitrarily and without restraint. The next time Catalans go to the polls it will the Supreme Court that will have the upper hand, not because its judges will pick the date (courts of law do not get to call elections yet, though let’s not give them ideas), but because they will likely disqualify Catalan president Quim Torra. A date has been set now: September 17, just as the summer break ends and a new political year begins.
The reason why president Torra will likely be banned from office —an alleged crime of disobedience committed when he refused to take down a banner in support of Catalonia’s political prisoners— is so ludicrous it borders on the surreal. However, it does provide a measure of the length to which Spain’s state nationalism is prepared to go in order to persecute its political rivals. Likewise, it indicates the level to which Catalonia’s pro-independence parties have sunk in terms of their strength, ambition and self-delusion: three years ago they vowed to turn Catalonia into an independent republic and now they are squabbling over losing the limited powers granted by the Catalan Statute of Autonomy (they squabble with the Spanish government, but mostly among themselves).
From a legal standpoint, disqualifying the president of Catalonia for such a banal reason does not really hold water. But from a political perspective, it is totally outrageous, more so in a country like Spain, where the list of Catalan presidents who have been disposed of —one way or another— is rather long (most of them executed or exiled). Yet now Madrid’s authorities claim they want to start a dialogue. It is just as shocking, really. But Catalonia’s separatist parties have been speculating with that outrageous nonsense for months, as another variable in their politicking and electoral expectations: when would the president’s disbarment benefit them the most and how could they make the most of it? Obviously president Torra and his party, Junts per Catalunya, stand to benefit the most because Torra would be made into a martyr. ERC would pay a price for being the socialist party’s partner and supposedly harbouring hopes of forming a left-wing coalition with Podemos and the PSC. This idea is lent credence by the fact that Jaume Asens [a Catalan Podemos leader] has reacted to the Supreme Court’s announcement by implying that it is about time we kicked the Catalan right out of the Catalan government and referring to Torra as “a president without legitimacy”. Well, that depends on how you look at it. Torra was appointed president as a replacement for Carles Puigdemont [who remains exiled and couldn’t be voted in] and he has always regarded Puigdemont at the legitimate president-elect. As time went by, a good deal of independence supporters began to appreciate Torra, primarily due to the slurs and lies which Spanish nationalists —in particular, the PP and Ciudadanos— used against him. He was already a legitimate president when he was sworn in, because he was elected by the Catalan parliament. But those who would like to see him destroyed have actually strengthened his legitimacy over time.