The Observer

The cards on the table

A few days ago, a young subscriber to this newspaper asked us to "put our cards on the table", without pulling our punches, to help our readers understand exactly what stage we are at and what might happen in the coming months. Our reader was merely inviting us to fulfil our obligation to inform and admitted that she is overwhelmed by the speed and sheer volume of events in recent years that one could consider historic.

Obviously, the more information which is available, the better prepared the public will be to make decisions and to accompany or replace our public representatives at this particular political crossroads.

Catalan society is undergoing a process of acceleration following the Constitutional Court’s ruling and faced with Spain’s decision to opt for dismantling self-rule and for judicialising what is actually a political confrontation. As a result, we are into injury time and the challenge presented by the ballot box is growing nearer and nearer.

The Catalan government is determined to hold the referendum in September "one way or another" and declares that it is undertaking the necessary steps. However, the key difference between the 9-N vote in 2014 and the upcoming referendum is the binding nature of the latter. In other words, what happens the day after. And the day after never fails to arrive. Indeed, no one with political responsibilities would argue that independence is a magical state. Instead, it is the result of a sustained effort that requires indisputable majorities and which carries with it a degree of uncertainty.

In the coming months tensions will rise in Parliament, where the pro-independence majority maintains its roadmap for moving from one legal framework to the next. That is, to leave Spanish law in order to adopt a Catalan legal framework and hold a binding referendum. Or in other words, to cause enough of a reaction to force the Spanish government to sit at the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, the reaction to the judicialisation is opaque. The Spanish state has reacted with judicialisation, and it is to be expected that in the coming months it will respond to the steps taken by the Catalan government and the parliamentary majority by barring individuals from holding public office and declaring certain decisions illegal.

The current political confrontation is a game of expectations in which a decisive factor for both sides is the credibility originating from maintaining their position.

It is a game of strategy and tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments, and by extension of society as a whole. Power is in the hands of the Spanish state, which has diplomatic representation and the status of interlocutor with the European Union and with the large countries. It also has economic control of the Catalan government and the ability to use coercive force. Nevertheless, the majority of those who favour independence are prepared for a clash between Spain’s legality and the legitimacy of the new Catalan legal framework backed by mass public support.

Can they count on such support? Expectations ought to be realistic, taking into account the reality of the 48% pro-independence vote in the 2015 plebiscitary election. A great result, unthinkable just a few years ago, yet insufficient in terms of ensuring a comfortable victory in a referendum and smooth negotiations with Madrid.

Many outraged citizens will take to the streets to call for a referendum, but with economic growth standing at 3.5% and the ongoing campaign of fear and threats, the political roadmap must be explained effectively. Moreover, there is a need to act with impeccable democratic, civic credentials both towards Europe and the populace who are being asked to take a leap forward. In an interview with ARA, Vice President Junqueras showed determinations as to the public’s response and was confident that the Spanish government will be forced to the negotiating table "once independence has been declared". Will a referendum which has not been negotiated with Spain and a unilateral declaration of independence be calmly accepted or will it lead to further voter attrition among Puigdemont, Mas and Pascal’s supporters? What will Podemos and Catalonia’s new left have to say, when the moment of truth arrives?

Junts pel Sí and the CUP will both agree to hold the referendum. It is possible that before they do so, there will be reprisals against the President and the Parliamentary Bureau, in keeping with the charges brought against Mas, Ortega, Rigau and also Homs for the 9-N referendum. Whatever happens, tensions will rise, leading to calls for greater public involvement which go beyond the exemplary demonstrations of recent years.

Political credibility depends on the majority and this in turn will depend on the details of the strategy, democratic quality and public debate. Determination is also key, as too are the intelligence, flexibility and realism with which action is taken.

Oriol Junqueras himself, speaking during the interview, declared that strong feelings alone do not win more votes and that, in a democracy, decisions are made by voting.

At this time of political tension that is unlikely to decline in the short term, we need to avoid uncritical unanimity and the commissars of the straight path. Debate, transparency and time management do not undermine solid projects, and blindly towing the party line rarely yields good long-term results. Only votes will decide. Majorities are constructed as societies take on and promote ideas. Ultimately, only the votes will count, however passionate they may be, and whether they are cast in a referendum or a general election.