The Catalan elections were called to find a solution, but the only certainty arising from the results is that the problem is still the same. The outcome of the vote shows a division into two blocs, of more or less equivalent strength.
This remains true even if the electoral law puts a thumb on the scales, giving an absolute majority of seats to the separatist forces even though they got the same number of votes as their opponents. The reality is that over two million voters support secession from Spain, and more or less the same number oppose it. The Catalan crisis is moving in circles, a prisoner of two extremes that don’t seem to be trying to enter into a dialogue with each other, but instead expect the other side to give in.
It is a political draw, which certainly cannot be solved with the Guardia Civil, nor with the Penal Code, in thw way of the recent judicialization of social and political life that is becoming a dangerous trend throughout Europe.
The stalemate is shown even clearer by the mediocre result obtained by Catalunya en-Comú Podem, the alliance in which Podemos ran. It failed in its attempt to make inroads into the pro-independence social bloc by proposing a referendum agreed on by all parties and multinationality as the core of a reform of the old post-Franco constitutional covenant, and also in its attempt to draw votes from the forces supporting Spanish nationalism by bringing the social and environmental crisis to the center of the electoral debate.
Those who have wanted secession for years have not changed their minds, and the very high turnout led a great portion of the working classes that have been most affected by the crisis to the polls. However, they considered it more beneficial to strengthen the anti-secession front and give a vote of confidence not to Rajoy’s PP, but to Ciudadanos. This is a party that still proposes neoliberal solutions for the crisis, and that the Constitution should be kept as it is, with its compromise with the monarchy and its territorial centralism. They are following the path of traditional Spanish parties, that have never stopped seeing Catalonia with a measure of contempt, as an alien territory and people.
The Left, more so than the Right, is in a crisis of unity and strength, and repeat elections in Catalonia alone would not be a solution. To resolve the Catalan issue, it must form part of an overall Spanish perspective, without neglecting the European background. This is to say that a constitutional initiative should be set in motion in order to retire the Constitution of ’78 and promote one that would transform Spain into a republic which the various territories could freely join. It would need to elevate the fight against inequality to the status of a constitutional principle, including regarding gender and ecology, in order to offer a compelling and much-needed image of a better Spain, which would inspire the desire to belong to it, in Catalonia and elsewhere—not set out the obligation or requirement to do so.
This proposal would make sense if an alternative to the Right were to quickly take shape throughout Spain. The defeat of the Unidos-Podemos alliance in Catalonia complicates matters, as Catalunya en-Comú Podem has not gotten a good enough result to wield power in forming the government.
In order to aim at the highest goal again, making Podemos and its possible coalitions the number one choice in the next elections, we need to examine in depth the causes of their failure so far. It is not enough to explain it by invoking the latest of the endless string of flip-flops by the Socialists, which has definitely taken away all credibility from what would have been a real chance of being able to conduct a referendum agreed on by all sides, and even more so for the possibility of a constitutional reform. Nor is it enough to invoke the divisions afflicting Podemos, in Catalonia and not only. Maybe at this point we should ask ourselves whether the pressure for change, the need for social and environmental justice, the desire for rights of the 15-M movement remains strong in Spanish society, or has completely subsided. Stoking this social indignation seemed to be the main objective of Podemos at their February conference, beyond the disputes between charismatic leaders. The results of this Catalan vote say that this has not been succesful, even given the fact that the Rajoy government will now put forward a budget that will reduce investment in health, education, social services, pensions and labor policies for the third consecutive year. And all this after they already took away almost all the funding for the much-vaunted State Pact on gender-based violence.
With or without Catalonia, Spain will still be the European country with the second worst unemployment and the highest level of corruption. If we add environmental degradation and the climate issue to the mix, essentially all the ingredients seem to be there for an explosive social crisis, but it is struggling to take shape and awaken the subversive impulse and the indignation that in 2011 managed to shake the balance of the political system, with its suffocating bipartisanship, to the core.