Chris Bambery – Elections results from Catalonia: A further step towards independence

Just as important as the election in Spain is the election in Catalonia. The independence movement in Catalonia has attained an impressive electoral victory. There are clear signs that it is increasing and mobilising its support among the population of Catalonia, although it still has a way to go to secure a major majority necessary to reach its goal of independence.

Chris Bambery is author and broadcaster. Co-author (with George Kerevan) of Catalonia Reborn: How Catalonia Took on the Corrupt Spanish State and the Legacy of Franco (Luath Press, June 2018)

BRAVE NEW EUROPE is probably the independent international medium that has covered the Catalan Independence movement the most. It has provided the Catalan cause a platform to communicate with the rest of Europe, as well as posted many original articles on the topic. If this is the sort of media you wish to read and support, then please donate  here.

Spain now has four elected deputies and a senator held in jail awaiting the end of their trial on charges of rebellion and sedition. If found guilty by the country’s Supreme Court they face sentences of up to 25 years.

The five are among 12 Catalan leaders in the dock over the Catalan independence referendum of October 2017. Spain denies it has any political prisoners but given the election of five of those in jail on a pro-independence ticket that claim looks more and more thread bare.

The outcome of Sunday’s Spanish general election means the issue of Catalonia is not going to go away. While Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Party, credited with winning in Spain pro-independence parties are regarded as winners in Catalonia.

The centre left, pro-independence Left Republican Party (ERC) emerged as the biggest party in Catalonia, winning 15 seats. The other pro-independence party, Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) won seven seats (down one). The Socialists came second (12 seats), En Comú Podem – allies of the radical left Podemos in Spain – was third (7 seats). Ciutadans (Ciudadanos in Spain) got five, while the People’s Party got its worst results ever, one seat. The fascist Vox Party made a breakthrough with one seat as well.

Pro-independence parties have never done so well in a Spanish election since Spain returned to democracy after the end of the Franco Dictatorship in 1975. It also marks a shift within the pro-independence leftwards. JxCat is the successor of the centre right Convergencia which ruled Catalonia for decades after autonomy was restored. It had not supported independence until recent years.

The success of the ERC is in part a shift left among supporters of independence and in part it was seen as best placed to begin a dialogue with a new Socialist administration. It has not been in poll position since the 1930s prior to Franco’s victory.

The turn out across Spain was higher than expected, topping 75 percent  reflecting polarisation there and a reaction to the rise of the far right. In Catalonia, turnout was up to 64.2% from nearly 46.4% in 2016, reflecting not just the politicisation of the nation but the impact of the trial of the 12. Opposition to this prosecution stands at about 80 percent in the polls, far greater than support for independence (opposition to the Spanish royal family is as about as high).

Opponents of Catalan independence label its supporters as being nationalists, which misses out the democratic impulse behind it, but never reference Spanish nationalism which brazenly on despair as the three right wing parties competed as to which was tougher on Catalonia during the election campaign. Then electoral breakthrough of the fascist Vox Party rekindled bitter memories of the Franco decades but had an extra edge in Catalonia where the usual vicious repression was accompanied by a systematic attempt to wipe out the Catalan language and culture.

But the hostility to Catalan aspirations in Spain means Sanchez cannot grant a referendum in Catalonia because Spanish nationalism runs deep within the Socialist Party, if not quite so virulent as on the right. He will do nothing about the trial of the 12 leaders pleading the independence of the Spanish judiciary – ignoring so many judges are political appointees of successive Madrid governments.

Sunday’s result also removed one argument as to why the ERC might give support to Sanchez – to keep out the right including the fascists of Vox. They remain a threat but the fragmented right cannot muster enough votes or find sufficient parliamentary allies to secure office.

In this situation Sanchez looks set to form a minority government brokering deals on each key vote in the Spanish Parliament.

The ERC has said it is willing to co-operate with Sanchez but will not write a “blank cheque” for Mr Sanchez.

“The question is not what ERC will do with the PSOE, but what the PSOE will do with Catalonia,” Gabriel Rufian, the ERC’s deputy leader in the congress told Catalunya Radio.

“We will ask for a negotiation that brings together all the forces, that discusses a referendum and laws in order to lift the case against the separatist comrades.”

Two immovable forces seem to have met!

The Catalan question is not going away but the pro-independence parties have no strategy for achieving that goal. That is a huge weakness, apparent in the immediate aftermath of the October 2017 referendum.

In one sense that doesn’t matter because the campaign in support of the prisoners is mobilising people and leading to bitterness about the Spanish state. Added to this is that The Spanish state has always looked to centralise everything on Madrid, ignoring the aspirations of the Catalans and Basques.

This election saw another significant change in the Basque Country. The radical left, pro-independence party,  Bildu, doubled its seats in the Spanish Parliament from two to four while the more moderate Basque National Party took six seats. The rightist Popular Party was wiped out. This shows how the surge in Spanish nationalism has impacted into the Basque Country with Bildu winning support from former Podemos voters.  The resulting increased support for Basque nationalist parties and the links Bildu has built with the ERC in Catalonia means the Catalans have new and significant allies.

Meanwhile, within a day of the polls closing Spain’s Electoral Commission ruled out the exiled Catalan President, Carles Puidgemont, standing in the upcoming European elections, along with two other exiled ministers, Clara Ponsati and Toni Commins.

Within Catalonia this will be seen as the Spanish state once more intervening to block the democratic choice of Catalans. It adds to a growing sense of alienation from Spain.

BRAVE NEW EUROPE is probably the independent international medium that has covered the Catalan Independence movement the most. It has provided the Catalan cause a platform to communicate with the rest of Europe, as well as posted many original articles on the topic. If this is the sort of media you wish to read and support, then please donate  here.

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