The CUP: The Achilles' Heel of Catalan Independence

November 29th 2015

The long-awaited CUP assembly took place yesterday (Sunday 29th November) and in my, and most people's, opinion, the result was very negative for the Catalan independence process. The far left party firmly decided to dig its heels in and refused to compromise on the investiture of Artur Mas as President of the Generalitat of Catalonia.





The Story So Far

Back on September 27th the pro-independence parties won a clear majority of 72 out of 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament with 62 seats goings to the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition and 10 to the left-wing Candidatura d'Unitat Popular (CUP). One of the differences between the parties was that the Junts pel Sí candidate for president was Artur Mas from the centre-right Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya party whilst one of the CUP's main campaign points was that they would refuse to invest Mas as president because of his party's association with corruption scandals in the past.

Actually, I had found this distinction very useful during the campaign because, in the working class districts of Sant Andreu and Nou Barris, where I live, most of my friends and acquaintances wouldn't vote for Mas in a million years so the CUP anti-Mas option brought in a lot of votes. However, few people expected the CUP to do so well and the mathematics of the election results have turned into an Achilles' heel for the process. Artur Mas could only count on the 62 votes of Junts pel Sí whilst the combined seats of the unionist opposition parties, who would definitely vote against, came to 63.

This meant that, although most of the CUP deputies could abstain, he needed at least two to vote in favour in order to be invested president. Most people expected that Junts pel Sí would agree to include some of the CUP's demands in their programme and then the left-wingers would, albeit grudgingly, make Mas president.

Declaration and Debate

The first demand that Junts pel Sí accepted was the passing of the 'Declaration of the Beginning of the Process of the Creation of the Independent Catalan State as a Republic' before the debate on the investiture of the president. The making of such a declaration had been included in the Junts pel Sí manifesto but final draft was more radical than they would have probably drawn up on their own and the passing of it would have been left until a couple weeks after the new government had begun its term of office. In fact, a few days before the vote, an annex of social measures was added to the declaration that would make any solid socialist government proud so it was clear that the independence movement was moving well to the left.

The CUP spent the first week of November suggesting alternative candidates to Mas almost at random until the day of the debate on the declaration came on November 9th. As predicted, the Parliament of Catalonia voted in favour by 72 votes to 63 and it appeared that Catalonia's push for independence from Spain was now well under way.

However, in the investiture debate the following day, the CUP not only didn't vote in favour of Mas but they didn't abstain either and, after a rather inflammatory speech by their parliamentary spokesman, Antonio Baños, voted against as a block. They did the same again in a second investiture debate two days later and announced that, given their internal structure, a decision of such importance could only be taken by their National Assembly, which they called for Sunday November 29th.

A Long Wait

The last three weeks have been incredibly frustrating here in Catalonia. We have a declaration that offers a clear roadmap for the creation of the Catalan Republic with a massive body of grassroots support just waiting for the next step to be taken. Meanwhile, the Spanish Constitutional Court has not surprisingly suspended the declaration, Mas and other ministers are awaiting trial for organising the proxy referendum on Catalan independence on November 9th last year and central government is placing financial restrictions on an already beleaguered Generalitat government. Nothing can be done until the new government is in office.

For this reason, everyone had high hopes for yesterday's CUP assembly, especially because over the last few days a number of the party's historic leaders had spoken out in favour of a compromise. However, the result couldn't have been more disappointing. Around 1,200 of the CUP's 1,500 or so members were at the assembly and of those 823 voted in favour of continuing to negotiate with Junts pel Sí but refusing to accept Artur Mas as candidate. As well-known Catalan pundit, Pilar Rahola, tweeted last night "823 people have just dashed the dreams of 1.6 million".

Where Do We Go From Here?

It's very difficult to accurately predict what will happen next but, to me, there seem to be three possibilities.

Firstly, Artur Mas could step aside and accept a consensus candidate, such as former communist Raül Romeva, who headed the Junts pel Sí candidacy, or ex-trades unionist Neus Munté, who was Welfare Minister and Vice President in the last government. Both are left wingers and have already been proposed by the CUP. However, apart from the fact that neither are particularly keen to take on the job, there's a growing feeling that another candidate wouldn't solve the problem. The Junts pel Sí programme is unlikely to change and as the CUP have already shown their refusal to move an inch in negotiations, it seems quite likely that they could hold the process to ransom again at some point in the future.

Furthermore, the personal charisma of Artur Mas is incredibly important for the Catalan independence process. Unlike in Scotland, where the pro-independence forces tend to be left wing, here in Catalonia they have a much broader ideological basis. In fact, one of the keys to the massive grassroots support is that not only the left but the conservative middle classes and small business owners have really got behind the movement. If the independence movements gets hijacked, or is perceived to have been, hijacked by a party as radical as the CUP, some people might look at the conservative government in Madrid and think 'better the devil we know'.

A second possibility is that the Spanish General Elections on December 20th return another right wing Partido Popular government, which might end up governing with the even more anti-Catalan Ciudadanos. This would mean that any hopes of a referendum or the introduction of a federal system in Spain would go out the window. As result the CUP might change their mind or Catalunya Sí que es Pot or PSC, which are currently unionist and advocate a referendum or a federal Spain respectively, might realise the error of their ways and decide to invest Mas before January 9th, the legal limit. This seems very unlikely to me.

Finally, Artur Mas could wait it out until January 9th, when he would be legally obliged to call elections, which would probably be in March. This seems the most likely option to me. Current polls show that support for independence has dropped mainly because of frustration with the lack of progress. Once the General Election results are in and we see no change in central government, it seems more likely that disaffected Catalunya Si que es Pot and PSC voters will come over to the independence cause.

What is very clear is that a single pro-independence coalition, Junts pel Sí or whatever name it goes under then, has to win an absolute majority in order to guarantee a stable government that is firmly committed to the creation of a Catalan Republic.



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