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Notes on the process (6)

Hate towards Mas. One of the most striking phenomena of recent weeks has been the sudden visceral reaction of various leftist leaders towards Artur Mas, whose defeat has moved to the center of their respective programs. They claim their reasons, obviously, but none of them is so recent as to justify this brusque change. The explanation of the phenomenon rests in the consultation of 9 November 2014 (9-N) and nowhere else.

9-N is enormously important because it is the first time that Catalonia seriously challenged Spain. Up until then, the independence movement had expressed itself in demonstrations; on 9-N the Catalan institutions --part of the Spanish state-- clearly laid out their belief that the permanence of Catalonia in Spain should be decided at the polls. That challenge was led by Artur Mas, and I’m afraid that some of his competitors caught a whiff of the Pujol phenomenon all over again.

Remember that at the beginning of 1980 Pujol was the leader of a coalition that had finished in third place in the municipal and general elections, both of which were won overwhelmingly by the left.

However, Pujol’s profile not only carried him to an unexpected win in the regional election that year, but also to dominate the political scene for more than twenty years. To put it simply, that profile was composed of a tie and real guts: Pujol was a banker and a Catholic, but he had been in prison for his ideas.

There are many differences between Jordi Pujol and Artur Mas, but they share that profile. Some of those on the left are offended by Mas’ tie, but what really worries them are his guts.

The offer from Mas. I confess that I was taken aback by last Saturday’s proposal. The idea that the ANC, Òmnium, and the AMI (1) should set up a candidacy seemed like nonsense to me. Do not forget that Point 4 of the ANC’s founding charter (30-4-11) says: “Beacause of its broad-based, all-embracing character, the ANC will not participate, either with its own candidacy or by joining in another one, in any political elections on any level”.

I’m not arguing the sincerity of Mas’ offer, but I believe that it should be understood in an electoral context: Mas has risked a lot and wants to win. The follow-up interview on TV3 (22-6-15) clarified that Mas is trying to strengthen three weak points. First of all, the message was: “Trust me because my interest is not personal, and the proof is that I’m willing to step aside”. Second: “Trust me because I’m not a radical and I will manage the independence process in a reasonable manner”. Third: “Trust me because I’m not a neocon who is insensitive to the suffering of those at the bottom: my model is no longer that of the United States, but Denmark’s”.

3. Fear of a draw. I participate in a panel discussion show, and I realize that for some of my colleagues --on both sides of the independence issue-- the worst scenario after the elections of 27 September (27-S) is a draw. Now, a draw is the most likely outcome indeed (according to the opinion polls), but it’s not a disturbing scenario. The enormous success of the independence movement has been to place its own proposal firmly at the center of the debate, and you don’t need a PhD in political science to know that the main difficulty that any proposal faces is to be taken under consideration. Until that moment, it has no chance; from that moment forward, its options depend on its own virtues, and if it has many, then time may rule in its favor.

In our case, a draw will mean that the Catalan people want to give Spain another (perhaps one last) chance to make Catalonia an attractive offer, instead of resorting to a heavy-handed approach. This would mean that the people want to examine their leaders and the proposals in more detail before submitting themselves to the adventure of independence.

4. Now, or later. I attended a dinner with a leading member of FAES (2). He thinks that the independence movement is a baseless phenomenon that will pass once the economy gets better. A few days later, two pro-independence friends expressed to me their worry that the lack of an indisputable victory on 27-S would mean missing the “window of opportunity” presented by the recession.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe that both of these views are mistaken. Even if the Spanish economy improved dramatically, the magnitude of the challenge presented by an aging population will require a collective sacrifice similar to that of Sweden and Germany some twenty years ago. In Spain this agreement is unthinkable because the foundations for a healthy solidarity were never laid. The wealthiest areas (the Basque Country and Navarre) don’t pay, nor are they willing to. The area that benefits the most (Madrid) presents itself as a victim. The most heavily subsidized regions (southern Spain) don’t even want to talk about changes. The areas that bear the biggest burden (the Mediterranean regions) have grown tired of paying. Spain is bound to ask its citizens for solidarity, to which they are not accustomed. That will be the moment of truth for Spain.

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(1) N.T. The ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and Òmnium Cultural are the main grassroots, non-partisan, pro-independence organisations behind the September 11 demonstrations in Catalonia. The AMI (Associació de Municipis per la Independència) is an association of local councils that support Catalan independence.

(2) N.T. Spain’s FAES is a conservative think-tank with close ties to Partido Popular.