Catalunya – the Battle for a Referendum

This is a brief introduction to the political situation in Catalunya, in particular with respect to the campaign for independence. It is a slightly longer version of an article that I wrote for Radical Independence Dundee. Catalunya is in some ways a bit behind Scotland in that there is as yet no agreement with Madrid on the holding of a referendum and thus no question. However polls consistently show a large majority in favour of holding a referendum.
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For Independence
Surprisingly there has historically only been one party that has campaigned openly for independence. This is the Left Republicans – ERC – one of the historic parties in Catalunya. After a brief flirt with the right in the early post Franco era, ERC has rediscovered its leftist and republican roots. It has also for many years led the call for independence in the Catalan parliament. Its electoral support fluctuates between 8 – 14% of the vote. Recently they have been joined in parliament by another pro-independence party. The Popular Unity Candidacy – CUP – is made up of autonomous local groups based in municipalities. This new community based party comes from the radical alternative left and won 3% of the votes at the last election.

Maybees Aye and Maybees No
This is pretty much the position of two other left wing parties which campaign together at elections. ICV-EUiA represent two different political traditions, marxist and green. Initiative for Catalunya Greens – ICV is a merger between what remained of the once powerful Catalan Communist party and the Greens. Some of its members split to form their own little party, one that was formally linked to the Spanish wide United Left party – IU. In Catalunya they are known as the United and Alternative Left – EUiA. Despite the schism they work with ICV as a combined list for elections and win between 7-10% of the vote. They are very strongly in favour of a referendum and the right of self-determination. They are though split around how to vote. Some favour independence, while others want a New Federalism for the whole of Spain. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much of an appetite for any kind of federalism in the rest of Spain.

The Nationalists
In Catalunya as in the rest of Spain, Nationalists have not been historically in favour of independence. They don’t really want federalism either, they want a special status for the country within Spain. In Catalunya there are two Nationalist parties, a small Christian Democrat party – UDC, and a larger Liberal party – CDC, which work as one at elections as Convergència i Uniò – CiU. They have been the dominant force in electoral terms post Franco, winning between 31-47% of the votes. They represent the catalan speaking middle classes and have close links with the business sector. Initially their main aim was to protect and promote the catalan language, but now they want greater fiscal powers. CiU have recently moved even further to the right and are following with gusto the dominant neo-liberal austerity agenda. But then so is just about every other party, including some so-called left parties.

No, No and No
As in Scotland there are three parties campaigning against independence. The main one is the Spanish conservative party, the grandly named Popular Party – PP. Even more right wing than CiU, they are totally against not just independence, but against just about everything to do with Catalunya. No referendum, no new powers. Though popular in most of Spain the PP have never achieved much electoral success in Catalunya, and win between 10-13% of the votes. They are however ably supported by a relatively new formation, Citizens – Party of the Citizenry – C’s. Just about their sole purpose is to oppose independence and the promotion of the catalan language. They have jumped from 3% to winning 8% of the votes at the last election. The third party in the No camp is the party of the Catalan socialists – PSC. They are also part of the Spanish wide party – PSOE. PSC are in a difficult place just now. They are in favour of more powers for Catalunya, but when last in office, a few years ago, they failed to achieve much in this respect. Despite the fact that there was a socialist government in Madrid at the time. They support the referendum and talk vaguely about federalism, but offer nothing specific. Their big problem is that some of their members and more of their voters are in favour of independence. Their fellow socialists in the rest of Spain are as hostile to the referendum and to Catalan independence as the right wing PP. They even use the same pejorative and negative language.

Recent Developments
The above is a rough outline of the political parties represented in parliament. However most of the progress towards the holding of a referendum and towards independence has come from grass roots, community based groups up and down Catalunya. Only the CUP has actively participated in these movements. It was these groups which from 2006 onwards organised a series of mass participation campaigns which has propelled independence into the forefront of the political debate. These included unofficial municipal referendums, mass rallies and this year’s Catalan Way. The most spectacular of these campaigns was the one in September 2012 which brought out more than a million people under the slogan – Catalunya, new state in Europe. This was a game changing event. The ruling CiU coalition decided, after the event, to support their demand for a referendum. The Liberal part of the coalition has now come out in support of independence. The first time a Nationalist party in Spain has declared for independence. Their junior party, the Christian Democrats have so far remained behind, and now talk vaguely about some kind of third way. As mentioned above this massive grass roots campaign is causing grave problems for the Catalan socialists.

The main struggle at the moment is to secure a legal basis for holding the referendum. The Madrid government is adamant that such a referendum is unconstitutional and will do everything in their power to prevent it happening. The Catalan government of CiU with the support of ERC are threatening to hold a referendum anyway. They claim they have the right to self-determination. Underpinning all this is the grave economic and financial crisis which is causing enormous suffering to millions not just in Catalunya, but in the whole of Spain. Both the conservatives and the socialists share the blame for this appalling state of affairs. For many on the left in Catalunya the economic mismanagement and the negativity on constitutional change of both Spanish parties raises some real challenges. In essence, can any Spanish government be trusted to bring about real progressive social and economic change? No one knows how this will develop in Catalunya, but the two largest political groups could be on the verge of a massive split into pro and anti-independence sections.

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