Catalonia Calling! #15

Time's Running Out for the XIth Legislature - 9/1/2016

Catalonia Calling #15 Time is Running Out for the XIth Legislature covers the last possible week in which Artur Mas can be invested as President of the Generalitat and the independence process can be saved.

Since the CUP's decision last Sunday not to invest Artur Mas, Catalan politics have been in turmoil with recriminations being thrown in all directions and the social media networks have almost literally been on fire.

In the original version of last week's Catalonia Calling Cupullos and Diabolical Maths, I made the crass mistake of losing my composure and using too much insulting and inflammatory language. I have since edited the video so that I make all the same points but the tone of the language remains just about within reason.

If the Catalan independence process is to survive this terrible setback, the different actors and groups need to be on speaking terms so it's important that we all stay reasonably polite.

One of the things that has characterised the Catalan independence movement is its civic nature. In the four Diadas involving a total of about 6.5 million people and the proxy referendum in 2014 involving another 2.4 million there hasn't been a single violent incident and the independence movement has been called The Revolution of the Smiles.

So many people have invested not only time and energy but also committed themselves emotionally to a cause that fills them with enthusiasm and optimism. It's not at all surprising that some of them should lose their tempers when they see all that effort being stubbornly blocked by a relatively small section of the smallest party involved in the process.


The CUP vetoes Mas again

After more than three months of refusing to invest Artur Mas as President of the Generalitat it was no surprise that the Political Council and the Parliamentary Action Group of the CUP-Crida Constituent voted against investing him again last Sunday.

The 67 members voted 36 against and 30 in favour with one abstention, which was much more anti-Mas than the result of the previous assembly where there was a tie of 1515 votes in favour and 1515 votes against.

The same evening there were rumours that the president of the CUP parliamentary list, Antonio Baños, would be resigning. He confirmed this the following day in a letter in which he said he felt incapable of arguing in favour of the decision taken. He went on to say that he'd become involved in politics in order to accelerate Catalan independence not block it.

It also became clear that not only were the CUP refusing to give their support to the Junts pel Sí coalition but they wanted to "broaden the support for independence on the left" and would be working with Catalunya Sí Que Es Pot and the other Podemos franchises in Catalonia in favour of a unilateral referendum on independence.

Explaining the Problem with a Referendum (again!)

Catalonia has already held a unilateral referendum on November 9th 2014, which although was a social and moral success wasn't a political success because as it wasn't official most unionists didn't vote. The only way to stop unionists from boycotting voting is for the referendums or elections to be official legal and binding.

That was the reason why the elections held on September 27th, which were won by Junts pel Sí and the CUP, were dubbed plebiscitary elections so effectively the CUP is willing to throw away a legally won majority and take a gamble on something they know won't work.

The other problem with a 9N-style unilateral referendum is that whilst Catalonia is still part of Spain it will be declared unconstitutional. Catalans have been refused a referendum repeatedly over the last three years for this reason.

The only way to be able to hold a legal binding referendum is by changing the Spanish Constitution, which requires a 66% vote in favour is need in Congress and the Senate after which elections are called and the changes need to be ratified again by the new Parliament.

This impossible because the only major party that would even consider voting in favour of a referendum is Podemos who only have 69 seats in Congress and an even smaller representation in Senate, where the Partido Popular have an absolute majority.

Furthermore, rumours were heard throughout the week that, in order to reach an agreement over a possible coalition with PSOE, which be able to govern Spain, Podemos would be willing give up their insistence on a Catalan referendum.

Dissent within CUP

Although it's clear that nobody in the CUP particularly likes Artur Mas, many members within the zone of influence of the pro-independence tendency Poble Lliure would be willing to accept him as president for 18 months in order to gain independence.

Also bear in mind that his powers as president would be restricted as Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva and Neus Munté would all be vice presidents with extra powers, he would be submitted to a vote of confidence after 10 months in office and throughout the negotiations Junts pel Sí and the CUP have agreed on a social programme that is well to the left of social democrat.

If they really wanted independence, the hardliners of the CUP would realise that they have to move from their extreme left position, especially as right-wing Convergència is willing to make compromises.

Throughout the week many more criticisms came in from pro-independence Cupaires, many of whom were town councillors and long-standing members, with many saying that they no longer felt represented by the party. In fact, one CUP-controlled town council plans to resign en masse if elections are called for March.

Many said that the decision taken by Political Council and the Parliamentary Action Group wasn't fair because the territorial representatives would have voted in favour and the vote was swung by the Trotskyist groups Corrent Roig, En Lluita and Lluita Internacionalista, who had joined as part of the Crida Constituent and not only had few members but weren't really part of the CUP.

I've also heard rumours that Spanish Secret Service agents have infiltrated the party in order to scupper the Catalan independence process. I want to stress that this is only a rumour but I have always said that the independence movement has more to fear from the Secret Service than from an open attack fby the Spanish Army.

Reactions from Junts pel Sí and the ANC

Along with Poble Lliure, everyone in Junts pel Sí, the Catalan National Assembly and pretty much the whole pro-independence movement have called for an agreement but the Endavant tendency and its satellite groups, which tend to be represented by Anna Gabriel and Gabriela Serra in the media, have refused to budge on the issue of Mas.

The week began with an impassioned call for an agreement from Oriol Junqueras, which implied that Artur Mas should step aside and allow possibly himself or preferably Raül Romeva or Neus Munté to invested as President of the Generalitat. 

As the week progressed more people began calling for Mas to stand aside. Many, for example, MP Joan Tardà or the Súmate Spanish-speaking pro-independence collective were close to Esquerra Republicana, although the official party line was that Mas was still the Junts pel Sí candidate for the Presidency.

Meanwhile, politicians in the Convergència camp and many others in civil society have repeatedly expressed their loyalty to Artur Mas.

On Thursday, Junts pel Sí and the CUP had a final meeting but failed to reach an agreement. Later that day, there was a modestly attended demonstration outside the Cathedral in Barcelona with most of the people simply calling for an agreement, which could mean either the CUP or Artur Mas backing down, and a large minority calling for Artur Mas to back down.

Later the same evening Artur Mas gave an interview on TV3 in which he stated quite clearly that he wouldn't back down and expected to call early elections, probably for March, but was prepared for Junts pel Sí to keep negotiating with the CUP until the last minute.

If he's not invested president by 12 o'clock tonight Saturday 9th January, elections will have to be called automatically on Monday.

What Do I Think Should Happen?

One of the reasons why the tone of this week's Catalonia Calling is much less vitriolic than last week's is that I'm finally getting my head round the disaster that has befallen the Catalan independence movement and am beginning to take things a little more philosophically. In many respects, I think the damage has been done and the hope of an independent Catalan Republic within 18 months, which was already extremely difficult to achieve anyway, is now nigh on impossible.

I've often said that I'm an admirer of Artur Mas and that as he was Junts pel Sí's official candidate, the CUP should have backed down and invested him as President of the Generalitat immediately after the Declaration of the Beginning of the Independence Process on November 9th or at the very latest after their first Assembly on November 29th.

If they invest him now, though, I think the new government will have much less authority to move the independence process forward and the CUP are likely to put very strict conditions, which will make government even more difficult, and there is always the risk that they'll withdraw their support at any time during the legislature.

If I were Artur Mas, I'd stand aside and let Neus Munté, the Convergència Vice President take my place. This would mean that Artur Mas would go down in history as the man who saved the independence process and he could still hold an important office in the new government. In this scenario, there's still the risk of the CUP withdrawing their support but at least they'd have the sensation that they'd won and that might mean they were more loyal. Whatever happened it certainly wouldn't be Mas's fault.

I think elections in March are the most likely option but the problem with this is that the divisions between the pro-independence parties have become very clear and if three months of messing about have badly affected committed independence supporters' enthusiasm, the undecided voters are unlikely to vote independence again.

This means that the historic opportunity of having an absolute majority of pro-independence deputies in the Parliament of Catalonia will have been lost and we may have to wait a good for years for such a good chance of declaring independence with a democratic mandate.

The Junts pel Sí formula is unlikely to be repeated so we could well see Convergència and Esquerra Republicana engaging in an unpleasant electoral battle for leadership of the independence process.

THe CUP could well split with one half moving closer to Podemos and the other remaining in the independence camp. It's even been mooted that the future Catalan government could be a three-party left-wing coalition between Podemos, the CUP and Esquerra, which will mean we'll have to forget about independence for a very long time.

Something to remember, though, is that I don't think the desire for independence is going to go away so, particularly if the ANC manage to mobilise people, there's a slim chance of getting a pro-independence mandate again.

I think it's more likely, though, that we'll end up having to wait another four years and once we've licked our wounds and seen that the Spanish central government will continue behaving in exactly the same way, whatever party is in power, the independence movement will be back with a vengeance.

The sensation today, though, is that an amaing opportunity has been missed and it wasn't Madrid's fault but it was us Catalan that fucked it up.

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