Last night’s prime time show in the Catalan parliament served as a reminder of the seemingly dangerously uncompromising nature of the current Spanish crisis, even if it seems to have temporarily pulled back from the brink.
If there were highlights from recent episodes of this seemingly enduring melodrama to be drawn from previous episodes I would identify the following:
- The unnerving site in early September of a small majority –less than the two-thirds required by the Catalan Statutes of Autonomy- of pro-independence deputies in the Catalan parliament bulldozing through their unilateral plans for a referendum in which the result would be binding with a simple majority and without requiring a minimum turn out . The referendum was illegal according to the Statutes of Autonomy and the Spanish Constitution..
- The large numbers of Catalans who turned up and voted for the referendum on October Ist, despite it being in clear breach of Spanish constitutional law, the Statutes of Autonomy and the guidelines of the Council of Europe for any referendum in a EU member state.
An objective reading of the turn out and the result would suggest a large number of Catalans who do not want to be part of Spain, but well short of a clear legitimate mandate for independence, with Catalans showing their opposition to it by voting against and a majority staying away.
I am not alone in this interpretation. Quite apart from the views of the elected Spanish government and majority of the Spanish parliament, Mr Puigdemont’s has failed to secure any international support for the idea of a unilateral declaration of independence based on his referendum or its result.
- Last Sunday’s demonstration in Barcelona by those who want Catalonia to remain part of Spain showed the growing strength of feeling of many Catalans who feel unpresented by Mr Puigdemont and other pro-inpendence politicians.
While Catalonia is seemingly polarised between those who want Independence and those who don’t want it , there is I believe an important constituency of voters across Spain that would welcome a new constitutional pact that would keep Catalonia within Spain.
In his speech to the Catalan parliament , Mr Puigdemont last night described the October 1 referendum as a defining moment in Catalan history and said he assumed the responsibility of his offuce as President of the Catalan government by presenting the ‘mandate’ that Catalonia become an independent state.
He went on to say that he would suspend implementing a Unilateral Declaration of Independence to give time for a dialogue towards an agreement that would take into account the results of the referendum . This was enough to have his more radical supporters feeling betrayed and abandoning their rally outside the parliament building in protest.
But the apparent false hood of his opening premise of political legitimacy to go ahead with independence sooner or later on the basis of the referendum result also unsurprisingly failed to convince all those opposed to the very idea- a majority in the Spanish parliament.
Puigdemont thus emerged from the evening, more demonised than ever by his opponents, and losing the support of some of his supporters whose hopes he had raised of an immediate UDI . He is tainted now potentially as Catalonia’s equivalent of the Grand Old Duke of York who as the old nursery rhyme goes, marched his men all the way to the top of the hill only to have them march down again.
Like a Netflix series, this saga may be far from over. But last night the tide seemed to be turning against Catalonia becoming independent any time soon and with growing calls for election to reestablish a lawful vote as an essential instrument of any serious democracy.
Without dialogue or votes, Catalonia may be condemned to fighting out its future in the streets- a scenario that would be truly tragic.The show is over.