Pro-independence forces vow to keep united front ahead of referendum

Public prosecutor sets government agenda as cabinet looks for ways to bear the brunt of Madrid’s reaction “collectively”

Getting over the first bumps on the road to the referendum on independence and keeping a united front. This is the vow of Catalonia’s secessionist forces, following president Puigdemont’s meeting with the main leaders in order to close ranks. Yesterday the meeting was followed by calls for unity from the entire pro-independence spectrum, beginning with Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras. Speaking at an event in Sant Adrià de Besòs, the ERC leader did not dwell on the differences that have transpired in recent days and, instead, praised “everyone’s commitment” to make the independence vote happen. In an interview with Ràdio 4, PDECat leader Marta Pascal also mentioned the need to avoid “showing discrepancies” and to preserve unity for the sake of the referendum.

This way Catalonia’s separatist parties tried move on after news this week that the Catalan government is split over whose job it is to purchase the ballot boxes to be used in the referendum, as reported by this newspaper. The vice president has verbally instructed the Ministry for the Administration to make the purchase, but the latter wishes to have the instruction in writing. Also, ERC deputy leader Marta Rovira got a rap in the knuckles for disclosing details of the referendum preparations. Government sources claim that the objective is to “stand together to bear the brunt of a country that won’t allow us to vote and that is out to get us”. “We must stay strong, that’s how we’ve got this far”, said a source in the Catalan parliament.

Both ERC and the PDECat played down the rift. “As D-Day draws closer, naturally tensions are on the rise”, said a former government official who remains, nevertheless, persuaded that the split within the cabinet will be resolved and the referendum will be called. To clear any doubts about the government’s commitment, on Wednesday Belgian daily Le Soir ran an article by Junqueras and Puigdemont where they state that “giving up on the idea of a referendum in 2017 is the only thing that our government will not do”. Meanwhile, the CUP insists that the government will be able to hold the vote, provided that it shows “political determination”.

Still, in order to vote the Catalan government will need to overcome not only the hurdles at home. Indeed, Spain’s public prosecutor is keeping a watchful eye on the Catalan government’s every step, as well as the parliament’s. In fact, members of the government have already been served up to five written warnings about potential criminal charges, should they fail to comply with the resolutions of the Constitutional Court. This might become a heavy burden in the event of a trial, as was the case with the non-binding vote of November 9, 2014 (9N).

Our sources readily admit that we have entered a new phase and there is more at stake for government officials than a mere suspension: after the Constitutional Court struck down the budget items for the referendum, they realise that in addition to charges of disobedience and neglect of duty (as pressed against the organisers of 9N), they could also be looking at misappropriation of public funds, which carries a prison sentence. Given the difficulties of facing that sort of penalty, ERC sources say that “the utmost discretion and unity” are needed and that responsibilities must be shared collectively. The same sources claim that “the government acting as a single, united front” would send “the clearest message of strength and determination” ahead of the referendum. Still, not everyone in the cabinet shares this view and lower-ranking officials are wary.

Concern among grassroots groups

Pro-independence grassroots groups are watching the controversy, concerned by how the partisan rift and the government’s doubts might impact their camp. Sources from the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) pointed out that “we must work to ensure everyone is confident that the referendum will be held” and urged any lukewarm elements to step down. Speaking on Catalunya Ràdio, Òmnium president Jordi Cuixart demanded “responsibility” and joined in the government’s call for “discretion” as we approach the last stretch of the independence process. As ever, grassroots groups that support independence believe that the self-determination process “will only succeed” if all actors remain united.

However, calls for unity must coexist with each party’s own agenda. Undeniably, the difficulties of holding a referendum against Madrid’s wishes are further compounded by the internal dynamics of the two main Catalan political parties, who are anxious to secure a good spot for themselves in the nation’s post-independence political scenario. This lack of trust is mutual and it raises its head, for instance, whenever ERC or the PDECat attempt to up their profile within the Junts pel Sí coalition, like when there is a vote in parliament that is not to do with secession. Yesterday Neus Munté —the vice president of the PDECat and a cabinet minister— played down the issue in an interview with Spanish news wire EFE, while the leader of her party, Marta Pascal, advised against allowing “only a small minority” to lead the independence process, in a veiled reference to the CUP. The road to the vote will be no bed of roses.

Podemos members in Catalonia will get to vote on their party’s stance on a unilateral independence referendum

While Catalonia’s new alternative left party (“comuns”) is drafting its political manifesto —its founding congress was only held last weekend— the Catalan chapter of Podemos keeps flying solo. The new party led, by Xavier Domènech and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, agreed to support neither independence nor federalism and its leadership insists that there is no rush to hold a referendum on independence and, at any rate, any such vote must have “guarantees”. Podemos’ leaders in Catalonia chose not to join the new “comuns” party and they will hold an internal vote so that its members may decide Podemos’ position on a unilateral independence referendum. “We want a bottom-up response”, said Secretary General Albano Dante Fachin on Ràdio 4. As for the Podemos members who are also in the executive committee of the new “comuns” party, Dante said that it is an “exceptional” situation. “In any other organisation, this matter would cause a major upheaval, so it must be addressed”, he remarked. Fachin also spoke in favour of running as a coalition with the “comuns” in the event of a snap election in Catalonia. Xavier Domènech has repeatedly indicated that the doors of the new party are open to Podemos, but that a coalition is out of the question.

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