Catalonia: The end of the independence road?

Where now for the Catalan independence movement? Prof Luis Moreno considers whether recent events mark the end of the road or the start of a new phase of the journey. 
 
With the constitutional sanctioning of the Upper House, the Spanish central government has implemented measures to take control of the key institutions of key Catalonia’s self rule. Under Art. 155 of the 1978 Constitution, Rajoy’s Government is to replace Catalonia’s ministers (consellers), by direct rule from Madrid. in addition, the President of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, is to be removed from public office although he has publicly declared that he is not prepared to step down. 
 
All things considered, the most politically relevant decision taken by the Rajoy Government has been to go ahead with snap elections in Catalonia. These will be held as soon as December 21. Such a move has taken the secessionist parties in the old Spanish Principality (Principat de Catalunya) by surprise, as they now face the democratic counterargument of fresh elections supported by non-independentist political forces in Catalonia and Spain as a whole. In fact, Puigdemont had been pressed internally by some representatives of the secessionist bloc that supports him to take the initiative of calling new elections. This move was not however supported by the anti-capitalist and anti-EU party CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), a small but quantitatively decisive part of this pro-independence bloc. Now the situation has somehow been reversed by the decision of the central government in a political initiative which is supported by a majority of Catalans themselves according to the latest polls. 
 
Some of my colleagues in Scottish academia have reacted to such developments presuming that direct rule and new elections would bring about a strong likelihood of an increased pro-indy vote. Such a turn of events is far from assured. In fact, some non-secessionist parties believe that the election will mobilize their ‘lost’ voters of the past and could now turn Catalonia's electoral map around. A recent poll has indicated that the parties of the secessionist bloc would receive no more than 65 deputies and, therefore, fall short of the majority in the 135-seat Catalan chamber. 
 
However, until such Catalan elections actually take place, events might develop in a variety of unexpected directions. It could well be that Puigdemont himself calls for elections based upon the claim that he is still the legitimate President, or that the secessionist forces would not recognize the validity of the elections called by the central government. Such scenarios may be driven by the electoral expectations of the parties now present in Catalonia’s parliament (7 coalitions or parties). 
 
Certainly, the road to independence would come to an end if the non-secessionist parties and coalitions carry the day on December 21. Alternatively, a renewed pro-independence vote would make almost inevitable that a new popular referendum would take place in the not-too-distant future. Alternatively, a substantial reform of Spain’s constitutional order would face the implementation of a scheme of ‘devo max’. Among other challenges in such scenario, would be agreeing on a financial arrangement which would allow Catalonia to have the same ‘fiscal independence’ that the Basque Country, one of the three ‘historical nationalities’ together with Galicia, now enjoys. Such an arrangement allows a much higher degree of public resources to the Basque Country (whose economy represents 6% of Spain’s GDP) as compared to Catalonia (19%). 
 
To be continued...
 
 

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post by Luis Moreno
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
30th October 2017
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