It is a good time to ask ourselves what sort of country we want for those who own the future. We can choose between a small country and a petty one. Between a pocket-size country that is limber, open-minded, reliable, multilingual and driven by great collective ambitions, a country we can feel proud of, regardless of our place of birth. Or we can have a petty country, made up of petty personal ambitions, one that loathes cooperation, can’t keep the momentum going and exudes stuffy patriotism.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed not only human frailty, but also the extent to which political systems are flimsy. Neither Catalonia nor Spain have scored particularly well.
We have witnessed the fragility of a health service that lacks the necessary resources when the going gets tough and only manages to weather the storm thanks to the goodwill and dedication of its underpaid professionals. We have also seen how wobbly a service-based economy can be when its competitive edge rests on low wages and sunny skies. We lack an industrial policy to foster an environment that leads to job creation and a fiscal policy that extends beyond government handouts, not to mention a chronic lack of infrastructure, of the kind that makes the most of Catalonia’s geographical advantages rather than curb the growth of its economy. Ours is an unequal society where the school system is not a top political priority.
We are leaving the pandemic behind but there are tough times ahead for the economy. We should establish what our political priorities must be for public spending and to what extent we should rely on civil society for this. We ought to encourage government to play a greater role, but we should also aim to curb red tape and welcome private initiative. It is possible to strengthen the welfare state, with policies such as basic income, without increasing bureaucracy and penalising private efforts and the self-employed. We must ask ourselves: who was truly indispensable when things went south? Who made a positive contribution? Who showed flexibility and kept services running? We should also ask ourselves why the administration failed to provide the public with online services when the rest of society was teleworking en masse.
Madrid is on fire
The pandemic has also exposed the State’s political recentralisation drift and the irresponsible nature of Spain’s opposition parties: blood-thirsty and with a rhetoric reminiscent of the Spanish civil war. You could put the latter down to the magnetic effect that Vox has on the PP or it might simply be part of their tradition. Either way, its viciousness is a reminder of the darkest pages of the ever-present two Spains. While many are still dying in hospitals and care homes, mourning has turned into bickering in Madrid’s lower chamber, a parliament devoid of politics and filled with rage.
We are witnessing an ancient struggle where change coming from the left or from Spain’s periphery —a concept that is conceived as a property but that remains a foreign body, as far as rights are concerned— triggers every instrument of the reactionary forces. Anything goes to undermine the PSOE-Podemos coalition government, an administration that has failed to anticipate the lack of scruples that the powers-that-be are displaying.
This week Spain’s political costumbrismo hit a Berlanga moment when the Guardia Civil came on stage (1). Even if Catalans feel this is a pantomime that can easily be ignored, it is not. The fact that the Spanish government has no choice but to undertake reforms to save its bacon in parliament and hold the line against Madrid’s feral right is not inconsequential to the well-being of the Catalan people.
Once again, Catalonia’s exit from the current crisis goes hand in hand with Spain’s and Europe’s. If Catalonia were independent, it would be no different, regardless of the benefits of managing our own resources in a world where cooperation with your neighbour is inevitable.
A reliable country
The Covid crisis has left us thousands of deaths in care homes, rising poverty and unemployment, Nissan closing down their factory in Catalonia, and well-meaning political statements with little action beyond appeals to the need to stay together. Spain is at a crossroads while Madrid politics are seized by hysteria and, for the first time in decades, regional governments demand a certain degree of autonomy. This is not the time to be timid. The Catalan government would be advised to make the most of PM Sánchez’s survival instinct —which is more solid than his principles— and try to influence the future of his administration and its policies. It might be tempting to think that what is going on in Madrid today does not affect Catalonia’s well-being, but that would be unrealistic.
(1) In the second half of the 20th century Luis García Berlanga’s movies often painted a picture of local everyday life, mannerisms and customs in Spain, sometimes featuring one or more Guardia Civil officers in a rural setting. Last week a number of high-ranking Guardia Civil officers were either dismissed or stepped down in what appears to be a clash with Spain’s Interior Minister.