THE OBSERVER

The end of “pretending that …”

After years of striving to pretend, to pretend that “anything is possible”, years of pretending that everything would be “business as usual”, of pretending that the price to be paid would not be prohibitive, most independence supporters have got a wake up call and that is great news. It is a good thing when fear of facing up to the facts subsides, when you can speak without fearing the reaction of the hardliners and you take a chance to explore political avenues with a skeptical mindset but without undue epic.

In the Catalan parliament the fiction of a shared strategy maintained by the pro-independence parties was brutally exposed this week, leaving the president genuinely upset by what he regards as a betrayal and effectively putting an end to his term. Quim Torra didn’t secure the support of his ERC partners to retain his seat in the chamber and he has interpreted that as an act of disloyalty to the institution rather than a censure of a symbolic action that has led to a deadlocked parliament (1). Whereas some of his MPs asked him to sack the ERC government ministers, once again Torra has chosen to take the path that history will judge as being the most conducive to the preservation of a united pro-independence front. The activist in Quim Torra cannot allow himself any gestures that may be regarded as partisan and he is aware that JxCat and ERC are destined to fight over who is top dog, but also to work together after the elections [to be held later this year].

The Catalan president has declined to announce the date of the polls and won’t do so before the budget has been approved in parliament, which could take two to three months. This way the calendar remains open-ended, but it will be some time after June, in all likelihood. However, an early ruling by Spain’s Supreme Court in the case against Torra for disobedience might completely upset the plan

The picture of a government split down the middle in parliament marks the end of the independence process in the wake of the October 2017 unsuccessful independence bid. But it is not the end of the pro-sovereignty movement, provided it accepts that votes and negotiation are its only weapons. As a matter of fact, today it has a brighter future than when it felt tempted to leap in the dark or sought a permanent confrontation with the State, failing to account for the vast difference in strength.

The Catalan government’s implosion has elicited glee from the opposition and Madrid-based media, but this was premature, as shown by the Spanish executive’s contradictory messages in less than 24 hours. PM Pedro Sánchez’s team, with VP Carmen Calvo at one end and chief of staff Iván Redondo at the other, have had to publicly retract their initial statement [announcing that formal talks with the Catalan government were being called off] after they failed to remember that ERC’s seats in the Spanish parliament mean that the Catalan party is the king maker in Madrid.

In an interview with this newspaper, Catalan vice president Pere Aragonès reveals that ERC reminded the Spanish government that their support will not extend to the Spanish budget unless there is a satisfactory quid pro quo. For starters, Catalonia’s independence movement expects to be recognised as a political actor worthy of the unionists’ respect in order to consolidate a new political scenario where Spain’s greatest problem is not handled by the courts of law.

PM Sánchez’s initial refusal to meet his Catalan counterpart would have meant that ERC’s campaign in Catalonia would have been dead in the water. Sánchez’s initial response [to the announcement of snap elections in Catalonia] seemed to confirm the views of those who claimed that no progress would be possible by holding talks with the PSOE-Podemos government. It also validated the campaign waged by the more reluctant faction within JxCat, who are afraid that the talks between the two governments will get them entangled in an ERC-led strategy that they might endorse, but they also have reservations about.

The announcement of a snap election in Catalonia is an opportunity for the pro-independence centre-right to clarify the scene. Profound internal discrepancies, the difficulty of leading from exile and a lack of interest in party politics have meant that decisions which were put off during the last two years will now be taken in haste. In Saturday’s interview with ARA, Elsa Artadi spoke about the need to “tidy up shop” by president Puigdemont. His personality and standing have discouraged his critics from taking any steps while they decried the fact that Puigdemont would make no decisions about renewing the party’s leadership. At the very least, now they will require a deputy leader —a man or a woman— to take the second slot in the election slate, someone who can show the way ahead.

The next few weeks will tell us whether there is a future for the PDECat’s hypothetical splinter group as some players come forward and admit the error of their ways. A case in point is Marta Pascal’s upcoming book, where the PDECat senator will reveal her profound discrepancies with Carles Puigdemont. There is no doubt that this political space needs to sort itself out strategically and ideologically, but anyone who believes Convergència will make a comeback are fooling themselves. Rebuilding such a fragmented space might seem a herculean endeavour today but, as a prominent name has noted, “does anyone think it was easy with Duran?” (2).
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Translator’s notes:

(1) Last year the Catalan president hung a banner in support of the Catalan political prisoners and refused to remove it as instructed to by Spain’s Electoral Board. This has eventually led to Quim Torra being stripped of his seat in parliament with ERC’s acquiescence.

(2) For many years Josep Antoni Duran was the leader of CiU (Convergència i Unió) in the Spanish parliament before Convergència (later PDECat) embraced the cause of independence.

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