Vox, the Spanish far-right party, tabled a bill in parliament seeking to ban all secessionist parties in Spain. Eventually, only Vox voted in favour and most other parties opposed it. However, Ciudadanos and the Partido Popular abstained. The views of those who voted in favour are hardly a secret: Vox’s own political tradition is all about banning. Likewise, we are in no doubt as to how those who opposed the bill see the matter. But, what on earth do those who abstained make of it? What political message did Ciudadanos and the PP aim to send out?
Abstention is always an odd choice: the larger political parties typically have clear-cut policies on issues. They are either in favour or they oppose them. Abstention is the choice of those who are in doubt or simply do not give a damn. Or, at a push, someone who feels torn between Yes and No. At any rate, when you choose to abstain, you are clearly hoping to send a message. Perhaps you are trying to say that this might not be the right time to discuss a ban, but we shall see further down the road. Maybe it means that Ciudadanos and the PP have a more subtle plan to push pro-independence parties out of the game of Spanish politics: to set a minimum percentage of voter support across Spain, a requirement which parties that only run in a few constituencies will never meet. That might be why they abstained: because they share the end, but not the means. Not for now, anyway.