There is more than one process in Catalonia

The alternative left has grown and is setting the agenda. Pro-independence parties held their ground. BCN will require a wide coalition government

Ada Colau celebrated her victory in Barcelona yesterday with euphoria, but now she will need to make deals, at least with pro-independence parties ERC or CUP.

In local elections victory has many faces, but this time it is the smiling visage of Ada Colau, future mayor of Barcelona, that best expresses the significance of yesterday’s events.

Just one year ago, Colau was known for her street-level activism alongside those affected by evictions and for her explosive appearances on Spanish television shows. Now, after a slim victory over Xavier Trias, she is getting ready to govern the capital of Catalonia, a city that was an example for the European labor movement in the first third of the 20th century, but is now more often celebrated as a smart city and tourist destination of the first order.

Undoubtedly the news will not go unnoticed, neither here nor anywhere in Europe. Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in Common) and CUP garnered 14 council seats between them (which does not mean, by a long shot, that they are condemned to understand each other). But the alternative left has never had so much popular representation. The credit, clearly, does not go just to them. Colau’s success cannot be understood without the phenomenon of Podemos throughout Spain. This is a radical turn to the left, which has hit CiU and the PP hard, and also damaged the PSC (except in their metropolitan fiefdoms). It is the result of the long economic crisis that has eroded the foundations of social cohesion.

This interpretation is valid for the whole of Spain. But in Catalonia, as always, many other things are happening. When we speak of the process, we should get used to saying it in plural. The independence movement wins over very large sections of the population, but other equally dynamic groups prefer to underscore social policies, and while they defend the right to self-determination, they don’t feel uncomfortable going arm-in-arm with the Spanish alternative left. They are not mutually exclusive processes, as shown by the excellent results of the CUP, which in the next few weeks could play a much more decisive role than their own leaders could have hoped for: only the CUP can aspire to the common ground between the "estelades" (Catalan pro-independence flags) and the cries of "Yes We Can" that were heard yesterday in the headquarters of Barcelona en Comú.

The arithmetic shouldn’t discourage supporters of independence: CiU won the municipal elections, and the sum total of votes for CiU, ERC, and CUP far exceeded the results of 4 years ago --even in Barcelona (from 16 to 18 councilors). But CiU slid back in key places, and ERC, which just a year ago was hoping to become hegemonic in the whole country and its capital, has had to lower its expectations, in spite of its enviable territorial coverage (more than two hundred mayors and close to 2,400 elected councilors).

Barcelona’s unknown quantity

The narrow victory of Barcelona en Comú, facilitated by the high turnout, opens a scenario of great uncertainty in Barcelona city. Colau will need to reach agreements with two or more groups to be able to govern. Both supporters and non-supporters of independence may end up working together to administer the largest city in Catalonia. If the country embarks on the road to independence, what will its capital do? Yesterday Ada Colau merely stated what her party platform says: a scrupulous respect for the right to self-determination.

The agreement between Artur Mas and Oriol Junqueras calls for early elections on September 27th. In yesterday’s ARA, Josep Ramoneda mentioned how certain elements close to CiU and ERC now argue for reconsidering this date and allowing the Spanish elections to take place first, so that they can try out a joint list (although the CUP will have none of it, and they are the ones who have grown the most in this election). For the moment all of this is nothing but conjecture. But it is certain that Mas has more doubts today than before the polls.

These elections were a disaster for the PP, dropping to the sixth place in Barcelona, beaten by Ciudadanos in almost all the major towns, and in real danger of losing the iconic position of mayor in Badalona. The PSC didn’t have a good night either, but the solidity of some of their strongholds softened the blow for Jaume Collboni in Barcelona and the serious setbacks suffered in Lleida, Sabadell, and other cities. Ciudadanos scavenged the remains of this double shipwreck, but only in part. All together, the unionist vote fell, but remains entrenched in Tarragona and in the metropolitan area of Barcelona. Catalonia has a split personality, with a chronic duality that raises questions.

The end of PP majorities

Yesterday’s events revealed other important details from outside Catalonia: the end of the absolute majorities of the PP in most of Spain (including Madrid, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands), the advance of PNB (moderate Basque nationalists) in the main Basque cities, and the emergence of Ciudadanos and the lists affiliated with Podemos. All of this foreshadows a time of change --but not revolution-- in the Spanish party system.