I am often reminded of a Catalan government minister telling one of the top Spanish cabinet ministers that they ought to get used to the idea that "Catalonia has embraced the Protestant faith". They didn’t mean protest as an expression of indignation —although that’s part of it— but rather in the sense of having passed through a period of reflection and events that had transformed the people’s collective beliefs. They expressed the conviction that when one undergoes such a change, one rarely goes back. Reality has changed the Catalans and the situation will never be the same again, however much certain innocent individuals may wish it were so.
After the succession of disasters which occurred between 1 October and the day President Torra took office, Catalonia has begun to wake up from its coma, to dust itself off and take stock of the seriousness of the consequences of its clash with the Spanish state. It is time to do a body count, assess its strength and rethink its strategy in a way that is goes beyond merely dealing with the crisis of the day. The chapter on improvisations and quick decision-making includes Torra’s doubts over whether he ought to visit Tarragona [which is hosting the 8th Mediterranean Games, officially opened by the King of Spain] and the wise decision to represent and lead all Catalans, wherever and whenever necessary. It in no way represents an implicit acceptance of the King’s position; rather, it is an acknowledgement of a reality that will not simply go away, in spite of expressions of discomfort or indignation.
Madrid’s political landscape has unexpectedly changed and the new Spanish government has begun a new chapter with the aim of finding a lasting solution. Sánchez, with his sights firmly set on winning the general election in two years’ time, is in favour of a thawing of relations with the Catalan government and the opening up of a path of dialogue. Spain’s socialists are in a hurry since they are aware that time is running out before those who favour independence regain their strength and demonstrate that their objectives do not depend on who’s in power in Spain.
At present, the most achievable goal is to agree on the extent of the disagreements. In other words, sitting round a table and drawing up a hierarchical list of grievances, with those that can be dealt with and negotiated in the short term and those that require more time, with the final point being that the Catalan people must vote on the eventual outcome.
Before embarking on this path, however, there is an initial, inevitable stumbling block: the existence of political prisoners and those in exile. Their transfer to Catalan prisons and their release must not be used as a bargaining chip. Instead, it must be seen as a crucial gesture to establish a relationship of trust between both parties. The prisoners are a destabilizing factor that forces President Torra’s hand when it comes to sitting down to talks, and PM Sánchez, Interior Minister Marlaska and Spain’s Public Prosecutor are well aware of the fact. The irresponsibility displayed by the current property registrar of Santa Pola [the job the former Prime Minister Rajoy has returned to] when he outsourced the most serious political crisis since the Spanish Transition to the justice system, will have consequences that could easily have been avoided. Any appraisal of Rajoy’s time in office will forever be obscured by his partisan use of the Catalan issue until he became haunted by Ciudadanos, who threatened to devour him.
There is another obstacle that could be seen as part of the same spider’s web. Certain key pro-independence political actors in Catalonia have still not got a grip on reality. They have difficulty getting a global view of the situation. The fundamental fact we all ought to keep in mind is the existence of the 47.5% who favour independence. Far more than many would ever have imagined but below the percentage needed to take advantage of what some see as unilateralism’s new window of opportunity. Certain sectors, mainly ERC’s leadership in prison, have made a crude analysis of the results of October while others have persisted in spinning a web without speaking clearly to the electorate. The worst thing that can happen to the independence movement is not that it fails to manage the current frustration, but that it seeks to deny its very existence. However, if it undertakes an analysis of its own mistakes and keeps in mind the Spanish state’s strength, a new strategy could emerge which manages to attract more voters to the pro-independence camp. Sooner or later, many people will reach the conclusion that a federal Spain will never exist, thanks to Spanish nationalism’s intrinsic inability to accept it. Meanwhile, it is a matter of regaining control over the institutions, good governance and showing what the alternative to imperial Spain is. Puigdemont was aware of the fact when he called for "patience, perseverance and perspective" before leaving for Brussels. A new era also means paying the price for speaking more clearly.