“I used to talk about creating a movement or a political party which, in order to take centre stage and help to raise the hay pole, so to speak, should ideally bring together a range of nationalist, social democratic and Christian democratic forces, as well as single individuals on their own merit. The latter included people that —for a while— we used to call Pujol’s ‘supporters’, for want of a better word […] Since we couldn’t set up a serious party or go around introducing ourselves as “Pujol’s bunch”, we came up with the acronym GASC, which stood for Action Group at the Service of Catalonia” [in Catalan]. I have taken this quote from book two of the memoirs of former Catalan president Jordi Pujol and he refers to the events of 17 November 1974. Jordi Pujol explains how he was driven in a FC Barcelona fan bus to the top of the Montserrat mountain, where a group of about seventy people would found his party, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, in a meeting that began at 11 am and ended at 5 pm and was held in a conference room courtesy of the local Benedictine monks. They would officially name the party a few weeks later, but Jordi Pujol knew that his had to be a party along the lines of what Germans called Volksparteien (the CDU and the SPD), which aimed to represent no less than 30 per cent of the population. Additionally, Pujol was not prepared to share the leadership with anyone, something that he had made clear to other salient figures in Catalan politics at the time, such as Josep Pallach, the sorely-missed socialist leader.
In the 1980 Catalan elections Convergència received 28% of the popular vote and, in partnership with Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, that percentage rose to 47 only four years later. In the 2016 Spanish elections it would hit rock bottom, with a meagre 14 per cent.
Heirs on the run
Nowadays Pujol’s legacy is radioactive for his own people, precisely due to the events that are absent from his own memoirs: his party’s shady finances and the questionable business dealings —involving members of his own family— of the euphemistically called “corporate faction”. Pujol’s work to rebuild Catalonia as a nation will not be acknowledged in history until the outrage caused by him running the place as if it were a family business —ruined by crooked heirs— goes away.
This socially grim legacy, which is yet to be fully resolved in a court of law, is what the men and women of the new leader of that natural political space, Carles Puigdemont, refuse to embrace. Puigdemont is still the greatest electoral asset of the post-Convergència domain, with Jordi Sànchez as his chief strategist. Sànchez and Morral have been tasked with kickstarting the machinery of a new party whose president —as someone very close to him has revealed— “enjoys a nice meal but not the washing-up involved”. This remark encapsulates Puigdemont’s willingness to remain active in politics whilst skirting around the chores associated with the day-to-day running of a political party. Carles Puigdemont has just announced that he will be cobbling together something you could refer to as “Puigdemont’s bunch”, to lift the phrase from Jordi Pujol, but he is unwilling to weave a web of understandings with the other heirs of his political space, which would require him to discuss actual policy rather than confrontation politics.
Puigdemont is the greatest political asset of the post-Convergència space, indeed, but his policies on the economy and society are yet to be spelled out. So far, the gist of his most revealing writings revolves around the mythical idea of unity. In Reunim-nos [Let’s reunite] he states that “this is a time to shun what separates us, to drop attitudes that lead to confrontation and disrespect, to be very generous with Catalonia and put aside party politics. We must bring together our efforts to stand up to the [Spanish] state, whose stance has not shifted one inch since the crackdown began”.
Headed for the polls
With the more orthodox members of the party leadership —who opposed Puigdemont’s views— now in the new Partit Nacionalista Català (PNC), the next battle will be fought within the PDECat between those who think that there is still room for an understanding with Puigdemont’s lot —which would avert a major political breakdown— and those who have given up on the idea and are willing to exploit the practical and financial advantages afforded to the PDECat by the fact that they own the JxCat brand. Today there is a chance that, in the next Catalan elections, Puigdemont will head a slate of political leaders who have been at the receiving end of the Spanish crackdown or who will likely be disqualified by a court of law at some point. Would this be a defensive move against the Spanish government? A move to relinquish the daily running of affairs in the Catalan administration with the argument that the Catalan government is devoid of any effective power and is merely some sort of rubber-stamping chargé of affairs? Perhaps rightly so.
The truth is, Catalonia is headed for a snap election, which might be held at the beginning of October. That time frame would mean that president Quim Torra would kick off the election campaign with a deposition in Madrid’s Supreme Court, which is due to see his appeal against a conviction for disobedience [for refusing to take down a banner from the main government building]. Unless the conviction is overturned —something that looks highly unlikely today—, Quim Torra will be disqualified and barred from running in an election. Likewise, Torra’s right hand in the Spanish parliament, MP Laura Borràs, will appear before the same court in the case of the government contracts she awarded while leading a quango in the Catalan Culture Ministry.
Catalonia is headed for an election and the political space led by Puigdemont remains misaligned and strained by the management of the interim phase.