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The Vice President’s dream

We don't want, here and now, the Spanish vice president to win ten to nil

Spanish vice president Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría apparently told Catalan MP Jordi Xuclà that her government would win the conflict culminating on October 1 by ten to nil. However, I believe that the ambition for a 10-0 winning score reaches much further. In a pursuit that started a long time ago, Spain’s Partido Popular wants to win, unopposed, the war to bring back the same old unitary Spain that was upset by the transition to democracy after General Franco’s death, just like in 1931. A word of warning: I do not believe that Spain’s elite and public opinion are homogenous. I would not play down the differences between the PP and the PSOE or Podemos, nor the various attitudes towards Catalonia among conservatives or on the left. Having said that, though, it is equally true that —regrettably— Spain’s nationalistic right has set the agenda and dominates, to a great extent, the political initiative and discourse.

The notion of the State embodied by the PP simply cannot tolerate difference. It cannot even tolerate Gibraltar. The PP wishes to travel back to the past and drag us along in the process. Starting with their first outright majority in 2000, they have been permanently campaigning for this objective. And, as I said, they want a ten-to-nil win. Their campaign strategy is divided into four phases:

Firstly, they aim to re-centralise Spain and effectively end regional home rule. They have made much progress in that direction. For instance —and this was no coincidence—, the first decision taken by the PP government in 2011 was to halt the process whereby Barcelona’s airport would have been managed individually. And recently —and perhaps more importantly— the deplorable Committee of experts on Spain’s regional finance system (1) has agreed that the Ministry of Finance should be given carte blanche in exchange for absolutely nothing, with the sole outright opposition of the Balearics and the absence of the Catalan representative. It was pathetic.

Secondly, the PP intends to break Catalonia and bring her in line with their unitary system, and it has been an uphill struggle. They hope that Catalonia will be like a French region and Barcelona, like Lyon. Not only are French regions entirely dependent on Paris, but they are also happy to be that way. This is the PP leadership’s dream. And when it comes to the Catalan language, you only need to look at what they have been encouraging in Valencia and the Balearics: turning it into a picturesque, degraded patois. Make no mistake: once they have got rid of the current system of devolved regional governments, they will not allow a Catalan exception. In the past they set up a system of 17 autonomous regions precisely to avoid making an exception with Catalonia (“Catalonia is a nation but so is everyone else”) and now they are disposing of it with the same intention (“We are not a nation, and neither is Catalonia”).

If they manage to liquidate the Catalan difference, the third phase will involve eroding the Basque Country’s home rule. I am not sure if the Basques realise this, but Catalonia’s resistance is what safeguards their exceptionality. At the moment it suits the PP to conceal their intent (Ciudadanos are more transparent about it). But as far as the essentialist unitary State, nothing is forever. No exceptions will be made.

The fourth phase is, in fact, an ongoing effort: the aggrandising of Madrid city. Granting the Spanish capital a unique deal is not exceptional, but part and parcel of the political architecture promoted by centralism. This is routinely taken to an exasperating extreme. The fact that Madrid hoards all of the State’s institutions is not enough. They also want it to have the best infrastructures and to become the natural habitat of the wealthy and the economy’s decision-making centres. That is why Madrid needs to be allowed a more favourable fiscal system than Spain’s provinces. One of the conclusions drawn by the Committee of experts actually makes sense: inheritance tax must be harmonised across Spain. Yet they won’t do it. As a matter of fact, the new regional finance system will likely perpetuate Madrid’s fiscal exception (my apologies: its necessary preeminence).

And that is where they intend to get to. They believe this avenue will open up, provided they win on October 1 by ten to nil. Some of my friends think that Catalonia has acted in haste, that the CUP’s support is troublesome, that the outcome of the election on September 27 did not allow for any definite dates to be set. In other words: we have made mistakes. I tell them that I can share their views, but that neither them nor I want, here and now, the Spanish vice president to win ten to nil. Therefore, on October 1 we must stage a massive, peaceful show of democratic dignity so that on October 2 we may get up in the morning holding our heads high and with a morale boost.


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Translator’s notes:

(1) A revised finance system for Spain’s regional governments is long overdue.