He got up on Monday in a bad mood because of Xavier Trias' result in Barcelona, but he's got to Friday in a good mood, as if he's recovered from the electoral defeat and is keener than ever to show that he's in good shape. In the conversation, Mas guarantees that nothing and nobody will make him change the election date on September 27th, that he's worried about the situation in the Catalan capital, that the Pujol Case has harmed CiU, that Podemos is a new complication for the sovereignty process, that the party gives him a free hand to make a President's list and that he won't give up as long as his candidacy is the most voted one. Mas feels like a footballer who is behind at half-time and wants to get back on the pitch to change the result. During the long conversation he doesn't stop to take a drink of water, almost as if he was so keen to explain things that he doesn't want to waste a second wetting his lips. He confirms that he's pro-independence because he's been given no alternative, but accepts that if central government suggested a solution for Catalonia, he would listen and ask the Catalan people to vote on it.
This interview with Artur Mas by Màrius Carol was originally published in La Vanguardia on Sunday 31st May. Click here for the original Spanish version.
I've been assured that
people close to the party and the Government have asked you to reconsider the
date of the elections.
Very few, and not all of them from inside the party. It's not that they don't dare, but that, independently of the uncertainties that bringing forward the elections might generate, there are a lot of people that understand that putting them off would be worse.
What advantages are there to having the Catalan elections before the General elections?
Before anything else, I have to say that calling them for September 27th is the fulfilment of a promise. There's a phrase by John Maxwell that says "when you make a promise, you create hope: when you keep it, you create trust". For me, keeping promises has been a permanent attitude because it's the way to be credible at a time when there's very little trust in politics. And it's a promise that comes from agreements not a whim of mine. I had a expressed a desire to hold Catalan elections when they were due, which was at the end of 2016. That was my idea. But the reason for bringing the elections forward once again is to hold the consultation, which we haven't been allowed to hold any other way, under normal conditions. Nobody can tell me that this isn't legal because they're elections to the Parliament of Catalonia. And I was already thinking about this at the beginning. For that reason, I once said "the consultation will be held and it will be legal". On November 9th we did what we could against all odds but the definitive consultation still had to be done. And we have no other way of doing it than by holding elections. It's not the best way but it's the only one. And given the choice between this or nothing, I prefer this. That's the reason for bringing the elections forward. Is it ideal doing it like this? No, because nothing about the time is optimum.
But holding elections at the end of the mandate would allow you to see the distribution of power in Spain and plan a strategy according to the correlation of parties.
This would be an advantage but the two elections follow each other so closely that in fact they're almost together. Certainly the advantage of holding them after the general elections is knowing what's happened in Spain. But we'll know this anyway. One of the advantages of doing them before the Spanish elections is that we start from a clear position in Catalonia, and we will have defined our field of play.
What will the key be?
We'll know whether or not there's a pro-sovereignty majority in Parliament, because that remains to be seen. I don't take it for granted that this majority will exist. I want to know whether it exists or not. Because if we don't know, how can we lead the country for the next four years with a million and a half people coming out onto the streets every September 11th asking for a State for Catalonia or independence with 90% of the town councils in Catalonia saying they want a referendum.
Don't you think there's any possibility of reaching an agreement with a future Spanish government to get us out of this maze?
That looks a long way away to me. I'm very sceptical. I've got too much experience of how politics works in the Spanish State to get too excited about there being a radical change with respect to Catalonia, whoever governs in Spain. Perhaps we'll get some varnish, depending on what kind of government there is. But if we're talking about substantial changes for decades, I'd be very surprised. I'm very sceptical but I'm not inflexible. Consequently, if at some time, the State or the new Spanish government thinks it's worth their while to take the issue of Catalonia seriously and this results in an important offer, then we'll talk. But until that happens, we have to go our own way.
Why hasn't Rajoy made any political overtures to Catalonia? Why hasn't there been so much as a wink towards those in favour of the Third Way?
I'm surprised that the President of the Government hasn't done so, but I'm not surprised that Mariano Rajoy hasn't. That about sums it up.
Are you sure that independence is the best alternative?
If the independence of Catalonia were an easy objective to achieve, if we could get there without excessive costs or traumas, the answer is resoundingly that it's in our interest. Catalonia could turn into the Denmark of the south or the Austria of the south. If with many fewer tools than these countries we've made a country that's enviable in many ways and is worth a lot, imagine what we could do with the tools these countries have. The problem is that I know it won't be like that.
Without costs or traumas?
It won't happen without costs or traumas. Because Spain isn't the United Kingdom. Just as Rajoy isn't like Cameron and Pedro Sánchez isn't like Miliband, if you understand me. As that's how it is, if we're at the point of trying to gain a State for Catalonia or even an independent State, it's because we haven't been left any other way, because we've already tried everything else. And when you've tried everything and you find yourself with no options, you look for a way out. And that's the problem Catalonia's got at this point in time. We weren't in favour of independence during the Transition. We took a big bet out on coming to an understanding with the Spanish State and helping in its modernisation. We haven't ever let them down in almost forty years of democracy. And the truth is we find ourselves with a decapitated autonomy, with increasingly less political power, less power of decision and fiscally overexploited as always. And what's more, attacked from the point of view of our identity and language.
Aren't you worried that the country ends up splitting in two because of the scenario you're proposing?
It doesn't worry me and I don't give it any special importance, because while you keep a democratic sense and a completely civic and peaceful sense, countries are always ideologically divided. Or don't countries divide on the basis of left and right, for example, in agreement with the traditional divisions? And nobody worries about this, do they? Everybody considers it normal. Consequently, why can't a country also differentiate between those who aspire to having their own State and those who aspire to continuing within the Spanish State?
You said that without Barcelona the sovereignty project would be weakened. Do you still think this after Sunday?
Yes, clearly. I think it could be a step backwards. The new government should at least correct the lack of definition and ambiguity it's shown until now. So, I'm not saying definitively that it's a step backwards, but it might be depending on the decisions that the municipal government team takes.
As a rule, does the most voted list in the elections have to govern in Barcelona?
Who are you asking? Someone that might have an influence? No, someone who's already been through the same situation. Twice! So, it makes me laugh when people say that an alternative majority would be immoral and a legal fraud. They're the same people who did it in the past. Because, if I remember rightly, in the candidacy of Mrs Colau, there are people from Iniciativa de Catalunya and EUiA. And didn't these people make two Tripartits in the Generalitat against the most voted list? They didn't say it was a legal fraud and immoral then. They said that it was perfectly legal and that these were the rules of the game. It annoys me that some people want to turn themselves into eternal judges of morality.
But are you worried about the future of the Catalan capital or not?
Yes, I am worried about the future of Barcelona. I'm worried about the capacity that there will be in this city that has a great drive and has achieved an exceptional prestige. And it's Catalonia's great calling card in the world, apart from an important economic motor. I'm worried about the capacity there'll be for governing this city with efficiency, rigour and even sensitivity.
What do you put Ada Colau's victory down to?
Principally to three factors. One, which I think is the most important, is the decrease of the socialist vote. They had as many as 21 councillors when Pasqual Maragall was mayor. At the present they have four. So the question is where are the councillors they've lost? Evidently, our handicap and certainly our mistake is not having been able (and here's the second explanation) to attract a part of the traditional Socialist Party voters, who no longer vote for them. There is also a third factor. It shows that the division of sovereignty forces can mean that a third party ends up winning the elections, which is a great paradox and a great contradiction. Convergència i Unió goes down, Esquerra Republicana goes up, conclusion Ada Colau mayor.
Colau has accused your party of being a mafia.
She doesn't just talk about the mafia, but she also calls us thieves. And I ask myself, when you call someone the mafia or a thief, you ought to have some kind proof, because if not it ... it's the Holy Inquisition, which was holy and an inquisition. It worked like this, they said "I don't like this, now I'm going to point my finger at it and then to the funeral pyre". It reminds me a little of those methods. There's no funeral pyre now, but I'll judge you with a moral superiority, which you so often see but which frequently has little basis.
Do you take it as a personal attack?
As I've done my military service in politics, I've got a much thicker skin. And consequently it influences me very little. But I'm not willing to let them say certain things in this way, and even less if they slander me personally. This kind of language always affects personal relationships. And personal relationships are also important in politics.
Has the Pujol case done you harm?
Yes, it has harmed us to put it bluntly. It's one of the factors that has been detrimental, that's obvious, but I'm not saying that it's the only one. We've also had to face a very serious economic crisis, without precedent, runaway unemployment, the impoverishment of many people and families, without precedent in the last thirty years. We've had to manage the financial asphyxia that the Spanish State subjects us to, the cuts ... If you put all this in the cocktail mixer, you shake it, and the cocktail is explosive. Precisely for this reason, I argue that our result, not in Barcelona, but definitely in many parts of Catalonia, has been pretty decent because for the second time consecutively we've finished as the main political force in the country in number of votes in the municipal elections, increasing the distance from the second, which is the PSC.
What is the presence of new political parties down to, the expiry of the traditional parties or the appearance of populism in a new format?
We're facing the fragmentation of the political map in the whole of the Spanish State and in a large part of Europe, particularly in the south, but also in the north. Not in the United Kingdom: there with 36% of the votes, David Cameron has an absolute majority. And in 2010, with 38% of the votes, I was left six deputies away from an absolute majority. They are very different electoral systems. Now imagine if there was a second round in the system for the Spanish municipal elections. Trias would probably be mayor and not Ada Colau. But we have a system in which you can be mayor of Barcelona with 11 councillors out of 41, as is the case. This fragmentation can be observed in countries like Finland, Holland, Denmark ... but they have a great culture of coalition, of agreement.
That's right. We now see that Pablo Iglesias' great contribution in order to reach an agreement with PSOE is I make agreements, but I don't want positions in office. This is Pujol in its purest form. Jordi Pujol did it for twenty years. He couldn't get enough of making pacts and he never held office in Madrid. This is the same as Pablo Iglesias proposes and it's supposed to be new.
What do you think of Podemos? Can they limit the process, can they make it more difficult?
They're a new actor, which to the extent that they are decisive in the Parliament of Catalonia, either they change many things or they weaken the process obviously. It's like this, whether you like it or not. From a point of view of the great questioning of the status quo that this sovereignty project is, Podemos is more reactionary than progressive. To put it another way, November 9th is much more daring than certain inflammatory speeches that we hear.
You said that personal relationships are important in politics. How are things with Oriol Junqueras?
Afloat. The ship's afloat. There hasn't been any change in the good journey that we're making together. We'll see from now to September how everything finishes up. But in principle there has to be harmony.
Would you get on better with a Pedro Sánchez government in Spain?
I don't know. I've already reached an understanding with the government of Rodríguez Zapatero, and Jordi Pujol and Miquel Roca with Felipe González. But the truth is that, although we understood each other, things ended up how they ended up. I came to the conclusion that the great challenge of Catalonia with regard to Spain can't be resolved with a Spanish government. it has to be resolved with the Spanish State, which is different. The State is the government, it's the main opposition party, it's the way the Parliament is made up, it's the Constitutional Court, it's the monarchy, the head of state ... What use was the agreement with Zapatero's that I myself came to under a lot of criticism at the time, if later the PP on the one hand and the socialist ombudsman on the other appeal to the Constitutional Court, which divides and humiliates the people of Catalonia and throws out substantial parts of the Estatut that had been voted on? What's the point of all this then? It's not only a question of reaching an agreement with the Spanish government, it's the State that's got to reach an agreement with its own internal powers in order to make a plan for Catalonia.
Are there any conditions?
I said before that I'm very sceptical. If the time comes, we'll be prepared to listen, as long as it's understood that if there's an offer from the Spanish State, it can only be accepted by the Catalan people, directly voting in a ballot. In contrast to a few years ago, the leaders can't take responsibility of closing an agreement in Catalonia without it passing through the filter of the ballot box. My strategy is not to stop the Catalan process because I think it's the only thing that can give consistency to Catalonia in the coming decades and the coming generations, bearing in mind the attitude of the Spanish State until now.
The economy's improving and the finances of the Generalitat continue at a minimum.
The economy is improving but not the Generalitat's finances. The Generalitat's financial autonomy is virtually equal to zero. We're guarded, watched and controlled legally. They want to convert the Generalitat into a great service-providing administration, without political autonomy and without financial autonomy. Does the collection of the property transfer tax improve a bit because a few more apartments are sold? Yes. In this case the yield is a hundred percent and we charge it, but in the case of Catalonia we're talking about a few dozen million euros out of a budget of 25 billion euros.
And the reform of the financial system?
The new model should have come into effect in 2014. With what we've got, however much the economy comes back, the Generalitat will never have a substantial income unless there's different distribution and above all if we don't finally get rid of the fiscal deficit. There's only one way that Catalonia can have more public resources to put all kinds of policy into practice, including social policies, and that's putting an end to the fiscal deficit.
Where do you start?
There's only one way of putting an end to it, and that's to close ranks in Catalonia and not argue or fight over how to manage scarcity, misery and the crumbs that we have in the country. They want to work, pay and shut up. That's how they want us. And while we do that, they won't get too angry. But I refuse to continue with this dynamic.
What's the work done by your Government that makes you feel most proud?
Of three things. Firstly, having helped the economic recovery of the country and job creation in a very positive way. Catalonia is clearly creating jobs at this moment in time. And related to this, of having dealt with basic issues for the future. For example, the whole issue of professional training, leadership in university research, the internationalisation of the Catalan economy, which is going like a rocket ... The other reason to be proud is having maintained social cohesion in Catalonia and essential public services (health, education, social services etcetera) with 5 billion euros less. The achievement of the last four years is having maintained the quality standards of all these services and consequently all the people's benefits, with a 20% smaller budget.
Despite ERC not being involved, could there be a President's List on September 27th with professionals, trades unionists and business people joining the list as independents?
I haven't started talking to anybody. I haven't offered anybody the possibility of joining such a list for the time being. Neither to those on the inside nor those on the outside. Convergència is behaving exquisitely with a great sense of national priorities. CDC could behave like others and say that if everyone wants to go their own way, then we also have the right to do so. But that's not Convergència's attitude. The party knows that we're at a crucial, and at the same time an impassioned, moment for the country. We're gambling almost everything as a nation. This requires different attitudes. Faced by exceptional moments, exceptional attitudes. Convergència has understood this for some time. I don't think the inside of the party will have any difficulty doing whatever's necessary. Bearing in mind that in the municipal elections Convergència has shown that it's Catalonia's main party, it cannot be ignored.
What kind of candidacy do you have in mind?
My intention is to broaden the space using the concept I developed in the Casa Gran del Catalanisme. Now it's particularly relevant Casa Gran means joining together, multiplying, converging, reuniting different sensitivities. Obviously it has to be done from the point of view of those people that at least defend the right to decide, I'm not saying full sovereignty. We need to bring together the maximum number of people possible so that Catalonia's emancipation project, of Catalan sovereignty, takes shape. Because if it doesn't become a reality, other things will take its place.
What other things?
For example, there are two ways of solving inequality. The first is creating wealth, activity and work. The is second is sharing out misery and scarcity. What I mean is Denmark or Cuba. And you have to choose. And we're ready to make a Denmark. And others are ready to make a Cuba. Everybody has to argue in favour of their model. And ours is Denmark.
Are you telling me that on September 27th it's not so much about winning but about doing so comfortably?
Given the situation, the pro-sovereignty bloc has to win comfortably, and if we finally stand separately as we agreed, the pro-sovereignty forces will be led by whoever comes first. So two things are at stake in these elections: who wins and how many votes we all poll together.
What's the minimum needed for you to continue leading the process?
The idea is to win.
And if you win, will you continue?
If I win, I'll have to continue. If I stand with the aim of leading a country and a process and we move ahead under the current conditions, despite the explosive cocktail that I talked about earlier, I obviously can't say that I'm leaving. It doesn't make any sense. If the people of Catalonia decide they want a change, then I won't be an obstacle. I've always said so and I'll say it again. That will always guide my actions. I'll be here for as long as I'm part of the solution. And I'll go when I'm part of the problem. In some people's opinion, I'm already part of the problem, but I don't know whether those that think so are a majority yet. That's why people need to decide at the ballot box.