We can draw only one incontestable conclusion about the vote in Catalonia: It was a proof of great trust in democracy. It is just as we saw in 2014-2015 in a Greece in the grip of the debt diktats coming from Germany and the E.U. This time, despite the red-hot atmosphere caused by the repressive actions of the government in Madrid, the response has been a large electoral turnout of more than 81 percent.
This was hard to imagine in the European context, suffering as it does from its pathologies. And furthermore, all this happened while the leadership of the Catalan independence movement was practically held up at gunpoint, some in prison, some in exile; while Catalonia was under economic blackmail, with companies ready to move away due to moves by the Spanish government; and in a dangerous state of political rule from afar, with the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which erased more than just the results of the referendum that Catalonia organized on Oct. 1 and the proclamation of independence that followed.
The move by the Rajoy government also disbanded and subordinated the democratic bodies, Parliament and government, elected by the Catalan nation as per the Constitution, and forced new elections, a decision made from afar and presented by Madrid as the final and decisive showdown.
Now, the results of these elections, even more than the numbers themselves, show some important new developments. The separatists, having accepted the challenge and making a virtue out of harsh necessity (i.e. the repression), have won, with their conquest of a parliamentary majority (a development that no one took for certain), and the entire front of separatist parties holding up, from the Catalan nationalist right to the center left, the Catalan Podemos, and the far left of the CUP. At the same time, Mariano Rajoy’s centrist PP was shown to be adrift, with the prime minister defeated on all fronts, seeing as Ciudadanos showed itself to be the most popular Catalan party, currently “supporting” the central government together with the socialists of the PSOE.
One can see both positive and negative developments on this battlefield.
While the votes received by the separatists now have a much higher importance than those cast in the self-organized referendum that was repressed by the police, we can see a re-shaping of the Left, particularly of its ideological and outward-facing core, with a higher importance given to Podemos and the movement headed by the Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, along with a relative decline of the extreme anti-capitalist Left represented by the CUP.
Nonetheless, from the first statements of all the separatist leaders and President Puigdemont from Brussels, we are given to understand that they are working on a pro-independence government coalition and that such a coalition will exist. What will happen on the issue of independence itself remains to be seen. But it is certainly true that mere threats are no longer enough: Up until a few hours before the vote, Rajoy was still arguing to the effect that nothing would change since Catalonia would remain under external rule, with its leaders in jail or in exile.
Probably the most relevant result is therefore that the fight has been taken to Madrid, and the crisis has moved from the confines of Catalonia to Spain as a whole. We recall that the Catalan storm could develop as it did only because—behind all its boastful claims to have resolved the economic crisis—the Spanish Right, headed by Rajoy with the recent support of Ciudadanos (the right-wing civic party) and, in the end, of the PSOE, is utterly fixated on defending the Moncloa Pact of 1978 to the exclusion of all alternatives. The Pact was the means by which the monarchy drew Spain out from the darkness of Francoism, the Spanish fascist regime, which for 40 years had crushed all democracy, and Catalonia in particular.
Now it is finally understood that the Pact of ’78 and the monarchy itself have been, and are, in deep crisis, and unfit for our historical moment. Indeed, what still remains of the parties of the last century and of the currently corrupt Royal House? In this way, the move toward repression instead of dialogue showed what was at the heart of the crisis. It wasn’t only (or even mainly) the irresponsibility of the self-proclamations of the separatists, who have been moving ever faster toward national sovereignty while ignoring the internal balance of power in both Spain and Europe. It was rather the irresponsibility of Spanish state centralism, strongly revived in the recent years of economic and social crisis, which have by no means been resolved in Spain, as even the International Monetary Fund is pointing out.
Accordingly, it should be emphasized that behind the internal conflict with Barcelona lies the previous mindless initiative of Mariano Rajoy himself, the big loser in these elections, who in June 2010 led an audacious push for the Constitutional Court to strike down the Statute of Catalonia, which read “Catalonia is a nation,” despite it having been approved by both Parliaments, in Barcelona and Madrid.
Now there is only one true solution. It requires the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the PSOE, to mend its ways—on pain of disappearing altogether—and trigger a political crisis in Madrid. This is what Podemos, unheeded, has been calling for. After the vote in Barcelona, it is necessary to call for early elections in Spain immediately. The first place won by Ciudadanos means that the Spanish political balance has profoundly changed, even on the Right. But most importantly, this should be done in order to neutralize the momentum of nationalist separatism and profoundly change where democratic representation should be performed at the national level, with a new constitutional pact that would place all nationalities within a federal, and, in the end, republican institutional framework.