Neither the timing nor the content of the Spanish supreme court’s verdict on the so-called “procés” case against a dozen independence leaders came as a big surprise.
Leaks to the media over the weekend made it increasingly apparent that the fate of the defendants would be announced on October 14th. Those leaks also made it clear that nine of them would be found guilty of sedition, a serious charge that carries with it potentially lengthy jail terms.
However, the information released prematurely did not lessen the impact of the sentences when they came: a total of 100 years in prison for nine politicians and rank-and-file leaders. Such a dramatic outcome was fitting for the most controversial legal case Spain has seen in recent decades, one which feeds into a crisis that shows little likelihood of fading.
Much of the debate during and surrounding the lengthy trial which took place earlier this year was over whether or not the independence movement had employed or instigated violence in its efforts to separate from Spain in 2017. On that question this verdict, which cleared the defendants of charges of violent rebellion, was vindication for them and their allies, who have always insisted they use peaceful methods.
Spain’s Socialist government had expressed the hope that the culmination of this case could mark a new, more conciliatory phase in the country’s territorial crisis, which would allow for a calming of tensions.
However, it is hard to see such an outcome in the short term. The defendants in the case are determined to appeal, first before the constitutional court, then, if necessary, before the European Court of Human Rights, dragging the legal process out indefinitely.
Also, the region’s own politics make the supreme court process difficult to leave behind.
Under the often haphazard leadership of Quim Torra, the Catalan government has veered between fiery unilateralism and meek indecision, fuelling mistrust between its coalition partners Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC).
Meanwhile, the secessionist civic organisations which have been so instrumental in driving the movement to its more drastic decisions, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, are frustrated at the pro-independence parties’ reluctance to return to a more radical roadmap.
The trial and its verdict have therefore become a crucial rallying point for a divided independence movement.
The question now is whether it can remain united with its response. Mr Torra has called for Catalans to exercise civic disobedience, without advocating institutional disobedience on his own part. The closures of roads, rail links and partial shutdown of Barcelona airport on Monday were part of that strategy and reflected the anger of many pro-independence Catalans.
Torra has demanded amnesties for those convicted of sedition and called for negotiations on the holding of a formal referendum, warning that his region will descend into chaos if his calls are rejected. With Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez unlikely to make such concessions, especially with a general election approaching in November, the stand-off looks unlikely to end soon.