An endgame decalogue

"The timer is running and the detonator’s countdown is showing two months"

The timer is running and the detonator’s countdown is showing two months. We will see days of political tension, distrust, skulduggery and suspicion. The challenge of holding an effective referendum on independence —as opposed to the non-binding vote of 2014— is becoming ever more clear. It is difficult to picture and explore the hurdles in every scenario without having a legion of foot soldiers question the will and determination of the protagonists. This legion happily demands others to sacrifice themselves. Nobody wishes to go down as a traitor and, at times, the ever-present need of a broad-based strategy is jeopardised by the pressure of a few tweets that play down and simplify the seriousness and consequences of decisions.

Joseph Heller once wrote that just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they aren't after you. Something like that is going on in Catalonia. The fear of openly discussing the difficulties of the collective challenge, without having a Greek chorus sing about the end of the world, is providing some moments of political fiction.

1. Catalonia’s independence process is solid. It began with the demise of the constitutional spirit that might have led us to a federal Spain but vanished with the Partido Popular, the court ruling that struck down the Statute (which had been approved by the Catalan people) and a unitary Socialist Party dominated by its Andalusian apparatchiks. The same regional baron who only a few months ago used to say in private that Susana Díaz could never be the PSOE’s candidate for president is now showing his unwavering support for Díaz, the candidate of the Socialist Party’s old guard, the candidate of the wax museum’s apparatchiks. On the one hand, Spanish federalism does not exist; on the other, Catalonia’s mainstream thinking has shifted and support for independence nowadays carries roughly the same weight as support for the status quo. For secession advocates, the challenge is to be found at home: they need to address the Catalans who still remain unconvinced and whose support would allow them to build an unquestionable majority.

2. The political party system in Catalonia is recomposing itself. Every leader is being put to the test. They say that hard times make people tough and the coming months will show what our leaders are made of and how capable they are of rallying social support. ERC is showing discipline and is deploying its policies, at least in public. The PDECat is struggling due to the Jordi Pujol scandal and reports of questionable funding methods, as well as the way they managed the recession years while in office. The agreement between the far left and the moderates has left them searching for an ideological compass, with a rising leader (the President of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont) who does not intend to seek a second term, and an expectant party leadership. The scenario will change in the next two months depending on how this episode pans out and the stakes are high for everyone concerned. Both parties readily admit that their future depends on September.

3. President Puigdemont vowed to hold either a consensual referendum or a unilateral one. The countdown for the latter has begun. An agreement for an independence referendum with Madrid’s consent is unlikely, given that the Spanish authorities won’t get off their high horses, they keep pressing criminal charges against Catalan leaders and regard any negotiation as a defeat. On November 9, 2014 2.3 million Catalans turned out to vote in a non-binding referendum. Later, a plebiscite election was held on September 27 2015 and its outcome left no doubt: 48 per cent support for independence plus a miscellaneous pro-secession majority in parliament that is bound to be short-lived. Interpretations of the election result failed to stress just how much had been accomplished in a very short time. Did we overreach ourselves instead of consolidating our gains? At present two options are available to us: either holding an unlawful referendum that will strain the Catalan administration from within and will bring about the threat of a prison sentence for dozens of people, or calling a snap election with some sort of built-in passive resistance element that will hopefully persuade Madrid to sit down for talks. Either way, many Catalans will remain loyal to their government and the Generalitat will need to carefully weigh what to ask of the general public.

4. Madrid has no intention to negotiate anything, but many in Spain are also beginning to see that the clock is ticking. They realise that those who fuelled a disdain for Catalonia and her culture, institutions and hopes will also be held accountable for a crisis whose consequences are unpredictable at the moment.

5. Catalonia and Spain are nothing like they used to be in 1936, when the Spanish Civil War broke out. Nowadays military action is not an option in a Europe where differences are resolved by talking things over. Before asking people to rally, we should first gauge the willingness of a society that is tired but has not quit, one whose economy is growing by 3.5 per cent and has emerged from the recession on the wings of competitive companies and their exports.

6. In the information era, we have a single political discourse. Grey spaces are needed for negotiation, but messages must be clear and there is growing distrust between the two Junts pel Sí partners, who see their coalition as an artefact that might have passed its sell-by date. Skullduggery and a lack of mutual trust might yet turn the independence process into an embarrassment.

7. Landscape after the battle. At any rate, Catalonia will not vanish and we will still get to vote. An unquestionable, repeated vote in favour of independence will be the most effective tool to persuade the international community.

8. Civic-minded realism. Besides the ballots, the civil nature of its political and popular actions contribute to the prestige of the independence process. So will the combination of courage and realism with which political leaders are able to conduct themselves and call on the people.

9. Any action that shrinks the majority behind the National Accord for the Referendum and intends to rally society will require a winning plan and a strategy that are inarguably civic-minded, clear, transparent and realistic.

10. Do not do anything embarrassing.

EDICIÓ PAPER 04/07/2020

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