Stability of Spain is under threat as Catalonia asserts itself armed with a mandate of sorts

Madrid refuses to recognise winds of change

 

Sunday’s election to the autonomous parliament of Catalonia, in the midst of a crisis that threatens the stability and the very shape of the Spanish state, has changed a lot but resolved very little, despite loud claims to the contrary by both of the main contending groups. The coalition Junts pel Sí (JxSí), including Catalan nationalists of both right and left, treated this parliamentary election as a single-issue plebiscite on independence. The Spanish constitution, as interpreted by Madrid and the judiciary, denies Catalonia the right to a referendum on self-determination.

If this poll was a plebiscite, then Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) lost the argument, though their celebrations on election night were more appropriate to a resounding victory. Barely 40 per cent supported them. The only other explicitly pro-independence grouping, the radical left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), took 8 per cent of the vote. So less than 50 per cent of voting Catalan citizens explicitly support total independence.

Nevertheless, JxSí and CUP won a clear majority of parliamentary seats. They insist that this is a sufficient mandate to move ahead with a “road map” towards independence in the very near future. CUP, however, is fiercely opposed to the anti-austerity policies of JxSí leader Artur Mas, so forming a government will be very difficult.

Across the divide, Spain’s conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy is equally insistent that the election result confers no mandate whatsoever for significant change as a (slim) majority of Catalan voters seem to want to stay in Spain. His position reflects the stubborn refusal of his deeply right-wing and Spanish nationalist Partido Popular (PP) to recognise the winds of change that are sweeping not just Catalonia but most of Spain. The PP saw its own vote slump drastically in the Catalan election.

The fact that Catalonia has an unprecedented pro-independence majority in its parliament, clearly determined to move decisively towards secession, is itself a very significant change. Madrid needs to respond with imagination and sensitivity, but there no sign of that at present.

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