There are times when you can clearly see the sheer number of opportunities to err that reality presents them with and the collective interest of politicians not to miss out on any of them. Some in Catalonia wish to fight a battle with their bare fists. They aim to generate a feeling of disorder that would hypothetically force Madrid to sit down for talks. While they have every reason to put up a fight, they haven’t taken proper stock of their own strength and aren’t fully aware of the arsenal at Madrid’s disposal. The Spanish state is looking forward to any excuse that will allow Spain’s greatest political problem to be reframed merely as a security issue. This would allow for a police and judicial clampdown that would make an example of Catalonia while Europe looks the other way. It is as if rather than securing the release of the political prisoners, the main goal were to fill up Spain’s jails with students who are labelled as “terrorists” by the institutions that serve the Kingdom with total impunity. If Catalonia’s independence movement hopes to win democratically, it will have to do so respectfully and ingeniously, not by gathering momentum in order to crash into an iron wall.
Today PM Pedro Sánchez is Spain’s leading exponent of how hubris can ruin one’s calculations. In order to secure a landslide win that would spare him a negotiation and a pact with the left, Sánchez has jeopardised his own survival and the future of Spain at the most politically critical time since the Transition to democracy [after General Franco’s death]. At present the Spanish Prime Minister is lost in his own maze and those within his party who warned him against a pact with Unidas Podemos —which Sánchez has shown to be impossible— will be sharpening their knives. Sánchez’s April voters must be wondering today who he really is, and there is no straightforward answer to that question. In a hyperconnected world, you cannot send contradictory messages depending on your target audience anymore. Otherwise you will reveal the disorientation of someone whose only concern is how well he is polling and whose marxist principles come straight from Groucho.
Pedro Sánchez’s attempt to capitalise on the Catalan issue might actually bring about his downfall. Leaving behind all talk of a diverse Spain and [the failed attempt to engage in a dialogue with the Catalan government in] Pedralbes, Sánchez has rushed to conceal the PSOE’s internal dealings on federalism, a sucker punch for the PSC [the PSOE’s Catalan brand]. The Catalan socialists have been going from disappointment to disappointment without ever getting the PSOE to endorse their defence of a pluri-national Spain. What’s more, they can see how Sánchez’s erratic behaviour and cuddling up to the PP has left their voters gobsmacked.
The PSOE’s lack of courage on the subject of Spain’s territorial design gave us an utterly embarrassing yet interesting moment on TV last Friday when PSOE representative Adriana Lastra was left speechless during the election debate following a barrage of questions about the exact number of nations that exist in Spain by an aggressive Arrimadas and an apathetic Álvarez (1). As political scientist Josep M. Colomer has pointed out in a letter to this newspaper, the answer was easy: there are eight nations, as that is the number of Statutes [or regional Charters] that use that term to refer to their own territory: Catalonia and the Basque Country since 1979, Galicia since 1981, plus the regions that refer to themselves as “nationalities”: the Canary Islands (1996), Valencia (2006) and Andalusia, Aragon and the Balearic Islands (2007). Do the PSOE, the PP and Ciudadanos refuse to acknowledge the pluri-national nature of the Spanish state as laid out in those legal texts, which are in force today? Or do they possibly seek to further undermine the Constitution and the Statutes by interpreting Spain according to their own interests and ignoring the spirit with which some approved it? Could it be that the champions of the Constitution have actually slain it?
The only virtue of the election campaign currently underway is that it will be short. There is an unwritten agreement that all political leaders have adhered to whereby nothing constructive will be done until after the polls. As a result, maximalism has taken over the public debate in an attempt to discredit everyone’s opponent. All we can hope for now is not to make things worse and avoid slipping down the slippery slope ahead of the elections. We must defend the vote as a means for the people to voice their political will within the rules we have given ourselves in this democracy, which is imperfect, but a democracy after all. It would make no sense for those who have argued that self-determination must be voted at the polls to now boycott the elections on November 10.
On November 10 Catalans will get to choose their representatives in the Spanish parliament and some polls seem to suggest that [Catalonia’s traditional] dual voting might be on the wane: this time fewer voters seem willing to shift their allegiance in a Spanish election. An unequivocal vote against a disproportionate, unjust sentence would lend further credence to the pro-independence cause. In contrast, rioting or a boycott aimed at getting the attention of the international community would merely weaken it and reveal its ugliest face.
(1) Inés Arrimadas is the Ciudadanos candidate for Barcelona in the upcoming Spanish elections. Cayetana Álvarez is her PP rival.