As expected, the political climate will be hotting up in Catalonia over the next few months, not only because a nationalist party (the moderate centre-right Convergence and Union) took office following the Catalan general election which was held on November 28th but because the unofficial local referendums on Catalan independence reach their climax in the capital, Barcelona, on April 10th, around which time, as was announced yesterday, according to unverified reports, a Catalan independence bill sponsored by the minority sovereignist party known as Catalan Solidarity for Independence (4 seats) may be supported in the Catalan Parliament by the governing party (62 seats), which is just 6 seats short of an overall majority in the autonomous community’s legislature.
For the first time in its history the Catalan Parliament is apparently preparing to organize an internal vote on the independence of its territory, which was taken over by Spain in 1714 as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession, just 7 years after Scotland lost its independence. The 135 members of the Catalan Parliament are to be invited to vote on a proposal to create a Catalan state, independent of Spain, within the European Union. Unsurprisingly, this proposal will be opposed by the Catalan Socialist Party, which led the governing coalition which was defeated in November, and by the right-wing (Spanish nationalist) Popular Party, which is about as popular in Catalonia as death and taxes. For the bill to be passed the support of the left-wing republican sovereignist party known as Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (10 seats), which was a member of the coalition which left office last year, would seem to be required.
A week, as they say, is a long time in politics, and a great deal of (troubled) water may flow under the bridge between now and April. What one knows for certain at present, at least, on the subject of support for Catalan independence is that attitudes towards the concept have changed and are continuing to change, not least in the governing party. Its grand old man, Jordi Pujol, a former President of the Generalitat, blogged on this as follows on January 25th:
When former Spanish premier Aznar said recently that a state with 17 regional governments was not viable, implying that the autonomous system in place needs to be rolled back,he failed to explain how a recentralized Spain could be made to work. Catalan president Artur Mas replied that he couldn’t speak for Spain, but that he knew for sure that Catalonia was viable. Especially, one might add, if Catalans didn’t have to bear the cost of a system that is stacked against them.”
When Mr Pujol refers to the fact that “for many years the majority of the Catalan nationalist movement has not looked to independence”, he suggests that the current governing party, Convergence and Union (CiU), has been driven by force of circumstance, in view of the fiscal, economic and constitutional impasse which it has now reached within the Spanish state, to contemplate abandoning devolution in favour of independence. If the CiU joins forces with the primarily independentist groups in the Catalan Parliament, Solidaritat Catalana and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, there is majority parliamentary support for independence. Whether the measure which Solidaritat Catalana has brought forward for consideration in the near future can rally such support behind it remains to be seen. At the very least the CiU can conceivably obtain concessions from the Spanish government by showing itself to be at least ambivalent about such issues. As the CNA report referred to above indicates, the Spanish nationalist Popular Party is accusing Catalonia of obtaining preferential treatment by such means. Significantly, perhaps, a split appears to have opened up within that party, as the leader of the PP in Catalonia, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, has come out against her party’s Madrid leadership on this matter.
What is happening in Catalonia, translated into Scottish terms, might be said to be roughly as follows. The largest pro-devolution anti-independence political party – that would be the group that calls itself the Scottish Labour Party – increasingly asserts that devolution is not serving the best interests of the country and that further attempts to develop it are not likely to be beneficial. Accordingly, it is flirting with the more alluring prospects which independence appears to offer in comparison and is drawing nearer to the SNP. Clearly, as things stand, that would be nothing short of a fantasy. In Catalonia, on the other hand, what would not so long ago have been regarded as fantastical is in the process of transforming itself into a reality the contours of which will become clearer over the coming months.
Watch this space.