Already in a state of flux, the Diada demonstration of September 2012 and the calling of early elections for November 25th 2012 caused a tsunami in Catalan politics as the current legislature still had two years left to run. The previous elections to the Parliament of Catalonia had been held exactly two years earlier in November 2010, making the current legislature the shortest since the return of democracy.
In the 2010 elections, the traditional two-party system had already begun to break down with fragmentation particularly on the left of the political spectrum. Convergència i Unió (CiU) had been clear winners with 62 seats out of 135 followed by the Partit de Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC-PSOE) in a very poor second with only 28 seats. The Catalan subsidiary of the Partido Popular, the Partido Popular de Catalunya (PPC) had a strong representation for them of 18 seats whilst the ecosocialist-communist coalition of Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds and Esquerra Unida i Alternativa (ICV-EUiA) maintained their position with 10 seats. Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) also had 10 seats and was accompanied by another pro-independence party Solidaritat per la Independència (SI) with 4 seats. The list of parties with parliamentary representation was closed by Ciutadans-Partido de la Ciudadanía (C's) who had three seats.
The 2012 elections to the Parliament of Catalonia would shake things up even more but it is a good idea to take a look at each party in turn as they came out of the starting blocks.
Convergència i Unió were the traditional conservative Catalanist coalition, which had been led by Jordi Pujol and, with Pujol as President from 1980 to 2003, had controlled the Generalitat for 23 years. Artur Mas had taken over as party leader and candidate for President of the Generalitat in 2003 and had won most seats in both 2003 and 2006 elections but, without an absolute majority or an obvious coalition partner, had been unable to form a government.
The 2010 elections had been third time lucky and an important vindication for Artur Mas as party leader. Absolute majorities are rare in Catalan politics so 62 seats out of 135 was an excellent result and CiU were able to govern in relative comfort. This meant that calling early elections in order to respond to the Catalan independence movement might jeopardise their position and so didn't meet with approval from all sections of the federation.
Something I had only been vaguely aware of prior to these elections was that CiU was a federation of two parties, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), founded in 1974 by Jordi Pujol and now led by Artur Mas, and Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC), founded as Catalanist Christian Democrat party in 1931 and currently led by Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida.
Significantly more conservative, Unió are affiliated to the European People's Party whereas Convergència are members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party. Furthermore, whilst Convergència are clearly in favour of Catalan independence, particularly since Artur Mas and his group gained control of the party in 2003, Unió are more reticent on the subject of secession from Spain.
This is particularly clear in the case of Unió leader Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, who in 2002 was also tipped to named CiU candidate for President of the Generalitat, before Pujol finally named Artur Mas as his successor, so there are not only ideological differences but also personal rivalries between the two men. The issue of independence also meant that any future CiU wouldn't be able to count on the support of the Partido Popular, who had voted alongside them on a number of occasions in the previous legislature.
CiU's election slogan was "La Voluntad de un Poble" - "The Will of a People".
Since the return of democracy, PSC had traditionally been the main opposition party to CiU in the Parliament of Catalonia and whilst the conservative nationalists had controlled the Generalitat, PSC had run Barcelona City Council or Ajuntament until 2011. However, in 2003 former socialist Mayor of Barcelona, Pasqual Maragall, became President of the Generalitat, much to Artur Mas's chagrin, as a result of a three-way coalition with ERC and ICV known as the Tripartit.
In 2006, the PSC candidate José Montilla had once again become President through a second Tripartit coalition but by 2010, the unpopularity of the Tripartit governments had taken its toll, and the PSC under Montilla only won 28 seats. The poor result led to Montilla renouncing his seat in the Parliament of Catalonia and his place as leader of the opposition was taken by Joaquim Nadal whilst the position of First Secretary of the PSC was occupied by Mayor of Terrassa Pere Navarro following the Spanish General Elections of November 2011.
The Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya is a separate party federated to the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) at national level and one of its successes over the years has been its combination of Catalanism and socialism. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, its leadership had been mainly middle-class Catalan intellectuals.
Pasqual Maragall, for example, was grandson of the poet Joan Maragall, who amongst other things was responsible for the lyrics to one of the Catalan national anthems El Cant de la Senyera. However, the affiliation to PSOE meant that most of PSC's voters came from Barcelona's mainly Spanish-speaking industrial belt and this was also reflected in its membership.
First under José Montilla, the Spanish-speaking PSOE wing of the party began to gain more control. When Pere Navarro became First Secretary one of the first things he did was to remove Catalanists from key positions and PSC voted against the fiscal pact in July 2012. This caused a rift in the party and whilst many Catalanist members had attended the Diada demonstration, the official PSC line was that the demonstrators weren't in fact calling for independence but rather expressing discontent at the economic crisis and cuts imposed by the CiU and Partido Popular governments in Catalonia and Madrid.
The obvious success of the Diada made Navarro change his tune and whilst the Madrid-based PSOE leadership continued viewing the Catalan independence movement in social terms, PSC began calling for a federal solution to the Catalan problem. This clearly improvised idea would involved changes to the Spanish constitution that would require a two-thirds majority in Congress and hence the support of both PSOE and Partido Popular but despite its impracticability, Navarro would defend federalism as the so-called Third Way.
PSC's election slogan was "L'Alternativa Sensata" - "The Sensible Alternative".
Unlike PSC, the Partido Popular de Catalunya is not an independent party but simply a delegation of the Spanish Partido Popular. Consequently, it suffers no identity problems and follows the national party line at all times.
Given the Partido Popular's obvious anti-Catalanism, its appeal is to right-wing anti-Catalans living in Catalonia and has rarely captured much more than 10% of the vote. Under leader Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, the PPC had given a strong show in 2010 and had won 18 seats with a vote of 12.4%.
On the independence question, the Partido Popular's position was clear. It was and is against independence, against a referendum, against the fiscal pact and is actually in favour of a reduction of Catalonia's autonomy and would like many of the Generalitat's competences recentralised to Madrid.
Partido Popular's election slogan was "Catalunya sí, España también" - "Catalonia yes, Spain too".
ICV-EUiA is a coalition of various left-wing parties that have come into
existence since the collapse of communism in Spain in the 1980s and is
loosely associated with the also former communist Izquierda Unida at a
Iniciativa per Catalunya formed out of various communist parties in 1987 and first formed a coalition with Els Verds, the Catalan Green party in 1995. As the coalition became more established, non-Green left-wingers broke away to form Esquerra Unida i Alternativa in 1998 but ICV and EUiA have formed a solid coalition since 2003.
Although there are many Catalanists amongst its ranks, given its left-wing stance, ICV-EUiA is fired by an almost maniacal dislike of Convergència i Unió in general and Jordi Pujol and Artur Mas, in particular, which made collaboration difficult.
Broadly speaking, the ICV-EUiA standpoint was that Catalans should be allowed to vote on independence but they favoured increased autonomy or some kind of unspecified constitutional change rather than complete independence from Spain.
ICV-EUiA's election slogan was "I Tant Si Podem" - "Of Course We Can".
Founded in 1931 as a result of a merger of various left-wing Catalanist parties, Esquerra Presidents of the Generalitat, Francesc Macià and Lluís Companys, proclaimed the Republic of Catalonia in 1931 and 1934 respectively. Esquerra Republicana means Republican Left and, despite a significant drop in popularity in the 1980s, ERC are the only major political party to have consistently campaigned in favour of independence for Catalonia since the return of democracy.
Being part of the unpopular Tripartit governments had led to another drop in popularity in 2010. As both the pacts of 2003 and 2006 had led to Artur Mas not becoming President of the Generalitat on two occasions relations between CiU and ERC were particularly tense. Similarly, as the traditional pro-independence party Esquerra tended to treat CiU as newcomers, much to the irritation of the new Convergència leadership.
Under new leader Oriol Junqueras, chosen just prior to the Spanish General Elections of November 2011, many of the personal rivalries with CiU were no longer so present but the two parties would be competing directly for the pro-independence vote.
ERC's election slogan was "Un Nou País Per A Tothom" - "A New Country For Everyone".
Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència were a coalition, which took their name from the historic Catalanist coalition Solidaritat Catalana that had won the elections in 1907. As the name suggested their aim was simply to achieve independence for Catalonia and their best-known deputy had been former president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta.
At the time of the 2012 election, Laporta had split from the group and SI was led by Alfred López-Tena.
SI's election slogan was "Som garantia d'independència" - "We are a guarantee for independence".
The Ciutadans political party originally grew out of a social movement of the same name opposed to what it calls Catalan nationalism and initially campaigned for more use of Castilian Spanish in schools and against the increased autonomy that the new Estatut would have given Catalonia.
The party's position was totally against independence and in 2012 they were led by the dynamic Albert Rivera and the slightly spooky Jordi Cañas. Interestingly, Albert Rivera was often compared to another figure from early 20th century Catalan politics, Alexandre Lerroux, who had led the often violently pro-Spanish Partido Republicano Radical against Solidaritat Catalana in the 1907 elections.
C's election slogan was "Mejor Unidos" - "Better Together".
Little was known by the general public about the radically left-wing and Catalanist CUP at the time of the 2012 elections. They had been involved in municipal politics for a couple of decades but were mainly associated at the time with civil protest movements such as the Indignats.
As this was the first time CUP had stood for the Parliament of Catalonia, they had no deputies in parliament and consequently no allotted television time in debates.
However, it was very clear that they were mobilising large numbers of disaffected youth in Barcelona, in particular.
CUP's election slogan was "Ès l'hora d'un poble" - "It's the time for a people".