Reasons for optimism

In Catalonia the electorate is showing signs of maturity and, therefore, it might be better prepared for independence than we tend to think

1. The punishment inflicted on the culprits of the economic crisis.

After the Spanish elections of June 26 pundits were quick to point out two purple islands on Spain’s otherwise all-blue map: the PP had won in every region but Catalonia and the Basque Country, where the new alternative left (Podemos and its affiliates) was first past the pole, thus proving that the two regions are a different reality, politically speaking.

As I see it, what matters is not the fact that Catalans and Basques voted differently, but why they did so. I didn’t vote for the Partido Popular or Podemos and I am highly critical of the policies of both parties. Still, I think it is noteworthy that the PP had explicitly vowed to keep the current economy management model, whereas Podemos had promised to change it, should they win. It is tantamount to saying that the model of low wages, little job security —and, therefore, inequity— is unacceptable in Catalonia but not in Spain, where it might actually be inevitable.

I believe that Podemos’ solutions are flawed, but resignation is worse.

2. The punishment for corruption

The PP’s election results in Madrid, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and throughout Spain undoubtedly show that voters have not punished Rajoy’s party for its corruption cases. Likewise, the PSOE holding its ground in Andalusia proves the exact same thing for the socialists in that region. As for Catalonia’s Convergència Democràtica (CDC), they did badly at the polls eight months ago, and even worse last June.

Time and again I have read that CDC’s decreasing popularity is the consequence of its fresh pro-independence stance. Such an explanation does not hold water. If supporting Catalan independence were the main reason why voters have deserted CDC, then former coalition partner Unió Democràtica —and the Catalan Socialist Party, to a lesser extent— would have become the natural recipients of many such disgruntled voters. Unió actually appealed to that segment of the electorate by offering them precisely what the old coalition with CDC used to deliver: their motto for the December election was “Spain with Good Sense”. No: if support for independence were the main issue, Unió would now be in the process of registering its own parliamentary group in Madrid rather than going into receivership. As for the ever-shrinking PSC —the Catalan Socialist Party—, its losses are greater than CDC’s, even though the socialists have always made it clear that they oppose independence. As we can see, former CiU voters who reject Catalan independence had plenty of alternatives on the right and the left. And yet they didn’t go either way.

Actually, the reason why CDC and the PSC have taken a nosedive —and Unió has dropped out altogether— has little to do with independence. So, what do these three parties share with the PP, the fourth party that is struggling in Catalonia? The general public sees them all as tainted by corruption and advocating a socio-economic model that shows little sympathy for those at the bottom.

3. A punishment for poor management

Let’s pretend that media outlets report that a huge, illegal landfill where old tyres are dumped is on fire somewhere in Catalonia; local residents have been urged to stay indoors and the burning tyres —which will take several days to put out— are giving off a cloud of carcinogenic smoke. To top it up, it turns out that the regional authorities had known about the landfill for years, but chose to turn a blind eye.

There is no doubt in my mind that the ensuing political storm in the Catalan parliament would cost half the government —if not the whole cabinet— their jobs (1).

Yet two months after the Seseña landfill fire in Castilla-La Mancha, regional president Emiliano García-Page is still in office and he feels that he can lecture his own party, the PSOE, about voting in a new Spanish president. Likewise, Cristina Cifuentes is still at the helm of Madrid’s regional government and, what’s more, rumour has it that she is a likely successor to Mariano Rajoy.

4. The party system

After the 1898 crisis, a Spanish politician who would later become president complained about the Spanish society’s inability to take action in the face of adversity. “Spain has no pulse”, he remarked. Once again, today’s Spain strikes me as a country resigned to be led to a mediocre future by mediocre rulers. The current deadlock in the talks to vote in a new Spanish president points to an embarrassing third election because the PP and the PSOE —both impervious to renovation efforts— have worked out that a third vote would bring back bipartisan politics for good.

In Catalonia, by contrast, the uncertain phase which the Catalan independence process has entered conceals two realities. First, the Catalan electorate is showing signs of maturity and, therefore, it might be better prepared for independence than we tend to think. Second, the party system has undergone a profound renovation: today ERC is a much more competent political party than four years ago; a modern party has emerged from Unió Democràtica (Demòcrates), which is a model in more than one way. And, against all odds, Convergència has chosen to break away from its past, which is proving painful but efficacious.

(1) N.T. A blaze precisely as described by the author broke out in Seseña, a village in Castille, near Madrid city.