Spanish politics tends towards drama and warnings of an impending apocalypse. Today’s session in the Congress of Deputies was a clear example of the inability of the majority of Spain’s political parties to create a shared space in which to engage in honest, peaceful dialogue regarding Spain’s future. Whipped into a frenzy by the reactionary media which is always on the verge of a nervous breakdown and, even more so, by the pressure from the far right, the investiture debate was brimming with smear tactics, florid jingoistic oratory and empty rhetoric. An abundance of fancy words in an attempt to avoid admitting that the true substance of the debate is an overhaul of the idea of Spain in the twenty-first century. If one thing was made clear, it is that the right is in favour of the retrograde steps which began with Aznar and the Constitutional Court, and with the extreme right and which reached a height during the Franco period. They envision Spain’s future as a return to its unitarian, homogeneous past. During yesterday’s debate there was an attempt to try to avoid the key to the question which is corrupting Congress: its inability to admit that the Spanish institutional system has consumed itself, it is past its sell by date, and Spanish politicians have neither the capacity for dialogue that existed during the Transition nor the intelligence to admit that the judicialization of the political process has eroded the exercise of democracy. The Catalan question has become the Spanish question.
What model of state will Spain have in the coming years with a centre-left government backed by the ERC [the Republican Left of Catalonia] and the PNB [the Basque Nationalist Party]? After a whole day of debate it is still not clear what the PSOE is proposing for Catalonia as an autonomous region, though Pedro Sánchez did change his tune somewhat: he admitted that Spain had made some mistakes and offered a new beginning, a negotiating table, round which the governments of Catalonia and Spain can get together to engage in dialogue. In Sánchez’s own words, the offer is about "finding a political solution to a political conflict" and an end to the judicialization of the affair. It’s not much of an offer if one were speaking about a mature democracy, but it’s an attractive novelty if we consider relations between Catalonia and Spain in recent years; if we remember that right now there are civil society and political leaders who have been given long prison sentences or forced into exile.
Despite the JEC’s [The Junta Electoral Central is Spain’s electoral commission] attempt to torpedo the investiture, ERC realizes that vetoing Sánchez’s investiture would be a gift to the reactionary forces. Instead the party has agreed to leave the trenches and explore the terrain. The eventual outcome is uncertain, but there is no other strategy which offers a better shot at tackling the challenge of sorting out the mess and incurring the costs of engaging in politics, while ensuring the far right isn’t calling the shots.
No one knows how the negotiations between the two governments will turn out, but following years of repression and frustration, dialogue needs to be given a chance. In other words, we shall either see another disappointment for those who want independence or the transformation of Spain, with the ballot box giving the people a say as to the suitability or otherwise of the outcome. The Spanish government will either need to opt for a Spain which is progressive or one which is reactionary and the ballot box will give the Catalans a voice and it will show the true strength of those who favour independence and those who favour autonomy.
Meanwhile, the Catalan Parliament gave Quim Torra its symbolic support, defending the institutional figure of the President of the Catalan government, in spite of any political differences and Torra’s isolation. If Spanish politics tends towards hyperbole, Catalan politics tends towards pretence. President Torra called for "strategic unity" and called on the Assembly of Elected Officials of Catalonia to establish the framework of negotiations with the Spanish state, after having distanced himself from the ERC’s position in Congress. Torra, the subject of a decision by a body which has abused its power and which lacks authority in the matter, called on parliament to "stand up and defend democracy". He did not go into details as to what he meant by “stand up”, however.
President Torra will buy himself time by appealing against the JEC’s decision, which has clearly exceeded its powers. And then what? We'll see in the coming weeks if the Supreme Court bans the president from holding office for the simple act of having displayed a banner. This would leave the way open to calling an election in Catalonia, thus ending the round of elections. Within both the ERC and the political successors to Convergència there is an underground majority who wish to start a new chapter. Nevertheless, the president alone has the answer to the key question as to when an election will be called, and his decision affects both his political opponents and the chaotic post- Convergència political space.