A clear mandate but an uncertain path towards Catalan sovereignty

The 2015 election in Catalonia has provided a clear mandate for the pro-secessionist movement but, argues Marc Sanjaume, there is no obvious institutional means to deliver it.
The results of the Catalan elections bear a close resemblance to Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations” duck-rabbit. That is they can be read simultaneously as a victory leading to a fast-track secessionist plan or as a defeat that would abort any attempt to pursue any pro-sovereignty step in Catalonia. 
The first interpretation is, obviously, the one of the winning heterogeneous coalition Junts pel Sí, which claims a seats-and-votes majority victory against those opposing secession. The anti-capitalist coalition CUP, also pro-secessionist, has a more nuanced approach and considers the results a victory too, but insufficient (lacks 50%+1 of total supports) for a unilateral secession declaration. 
The second interpretation is that of the Spanish government, and the anti-secessionist forces (Ciutadans, PSC, PP), which before the elections rejected any plebiscitarian parallelism and that is now claiming a total defeat of the Catalan President’s coalition plans and has reinforced legal pressure, charging the president and other two members of his Cabinet with “disobedience” and three other crimes related to the unofficial referendum in November 2014. The Spanish socialists expressed a similar view, appealing to a supposed fracture of Catalan society due to pro-sovereingtysovereignty parties.  However, the former Spanish president José María Aznar has criticized the current president Rajoy’s government and called the results in Catalonia as a secessionist triumph, a view which is also shared by Pablo Iglesias (and the Catalan coalition CSQP), at the very other side of political spectrum, who has also criticised the State’s inability to accommodate Catalan demands. 
In terms of comparative politics of secessionism, the Catalan election results are salient for several reasons. Firstly, there are few cases of a successful and majoritarian secessionist mobilization in liberal democratic contexts other than Quebec (PQ), Scotland (SNP), Basque Country (PNV-EAJ) and Flanders (NVA). Moreover, Catalan nationalism has been traditionally associated with a pro-autonomy and pactist position, which are far less radical than those of the SNP or the PQ. But now Junts pel Sí has a clear mandate for secession and a majority of 62 (out of 135) seats in the Parliament, and the whole assembled pro-secessionist forces, that is including the CUP anti-capitalist force, obtained an absolute majority of 72 seats as well as 47,74% of popular support. These numbers indicate that, in less than a decade, “catalanismCatalanism” has moved from a pro-autonomy policy, negotiating a new Statute for Catalonia in 2006, towards a clear secessionist claim. 
Secondly, the numbers also evidence a comparatively solid support for pro-secessionist platforms when compared to other instances of successful and majoritarian secessionist mobilization; for example Salmond’s SNP called for a referendum after obtaining an absolute majority in the Parliament receiving 45% share of the popular vote in 2011; Prizeau’s PQ lead Quebec to the second sovereignty referendum with 77 (out of 125) seats also with  45% share of popular support in 1995; and, in 1980, René Lévesque organized a plebiscite on his sovereignty-association plan with 71 seats (out of 110) that obtained only a  41,1% share of popular support. 
Thirdly, if we consider the elections a plebiscite (which, legally, they are not) then the 47, 74% share is not far from the results achieved by secessionism in liberal democracies in the last 30 years (in legal referendums), Quebec 40,44% (1980) and 49,4 (1995); Nevis 61,8% (1998); Montenegro 55,5% (2006) or Scotland 44,7% (2014).
Nonetheless, there is a noticeable difference with other cases in that Catalonia has much less power than those minority nations (most of which are in federal states), especially in terms of shared rule, and faces a far more centralistic response from cCentral Governmentgovernment. As result, seccionistsecessionist mobilization in Catalonia must deal with a Spanish Government that refuses to offer a democratic or dialogue-based solution (such as, for example, a referendum agreement like the one reached between Scotland and Britain in 2012 ) for ideological and also strategic reasons. In a nutshell, the new Catalan Parliament has a clear mandate for independence but no clear institutional ways to deliver it.

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Marc Sanjaume's picture
post by Marc Sanjaume
Université du Québec à Montréal
30th September 2015

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