Betting on secession

A boring morning: I can’t find anyone who, following yesterday’s Catalan parliamentary elections, is prepared to bet against a ruling coalition consisting of conservative nationalists, Convergence and Union (CiU), and the secessionists, Republican Left (ERC). The conventional wisdom is that, in synch with their legal and proscribed Basque counterparts, their strategy is going to be to force central government into a confrontation over a proposal for a new statute of autonomy that would tear up Spain’s 1978 democratic constitution. It may turn out like that, and it may not, but it’s certainly going to be interesting in the allegedly Chinese sense of the word.
The Catalan statute of autonomy became law in 1979 and, as foreseen in the Spanish constitution, it defines the political institutions of devolved government, their powers and their relationships with the state. While any change has to be OKed by the Madrid parliament – something that’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future – the interesting bit of the statute for our purposes is article 56.1b which states that the first hurdle a reform proposal has to pass is achieving two-thirds support in the regional parliament. I think there are three possible scenarios, all of which illustrate the futility of any further attempts by constitutionalist parties to come to an accommodation with the nationalists:

  1. CiU-ERC buy the support of the nine communist (ICV) deputies and 12 Catalan socialists (PSC) they’re going to need to push through a secessionist reform package. They then use this show of unity to blackmail Madrid into change.
    Since it is inconceivable that the socialist parties in regions like Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha would allow the national party (PSOE) to agree to PSC support for constitutional change in this fashion, this will probably mean one of two things:
    • The expulsion of the PSC from the national party.
    • A split within the PSC itself.

    Given the current pitiful state of the national party and the traditional betrayal by the PSC of its working class Spanish electorate in pursuit of Catalanist goals, both these are possible.

  2. CiU-ERC do a deal with the communists and then put a less extreme proposal to a vote in the regional parliament. If enough socialists peel away, fine. If they don’t, then the coalition will proceed unilaterally and unconstitutionally to alter the statute, cutting out the Madrid loop and hoping that the national government won’t dare to call their bluff by sending the troops in.
  3. We actually get a PSC-CiU coalition which, with the support of at least two communists, gets a reform package through the regional parliament and then starts haggling with Madrid, all the while holding the ERC gun behind its back. (At the first Esquerra meeting I went to, just after Batasuna was banned, a Basque speaker was introduced by the chair. “I can’t tell you my name or which organisation I belong to, but you know, don’t you, and you know what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it!” she announced, to a standing ovation.)

Meanwhile, one suspects that multinationals will prefer to invest in places like Madrid or the Czech republic where there is no threat of violence and where the main local industry is not flag production.

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  1. I disagree with most of the things you say. Your interpretation of some aspects of Catalan politics is out of reality. You don’t mention some other possibilites of government, like PSC-IC-ERC, and the possibilites of CiU (or PSC-IC) governments in minority, depending of Esquerra demands. Catalonia is not the Basque Country, and political strategies and movements are different. So, don’t expect violence. And Catalonia politics doesn’t work the same way as in the US. So, don’t expect 12 socialists summing with nine communists and CiU and ERC. That’s as probable as Homer Simpson becoming president of the United States or Margaret Thatcher joining the Communist Party.
    120 of 135 elected people in Catalan Parliament demand a reform of the Statute. Knowing the long tradition of consensus in Catalan politics, the most realistic option is to expect an extended consensus about the proposal presented to Madrid government. With an absolute majority of the PP in the general elections of march, it’s possible an absolute “no” to any demand of more autonomy. But then, most of the problem will be PP’s fault and one could think that people who say PP is boosting independentism in Euskadi and Catalonia with its centralist policy towards them are wright. The last comments of your post, about flag production and threats of violence are so unrealistic and out of reality that doesn’t deserve an answer (for now). I’m sorry for the long post, but talking about politic isn’t as easy as talking about women and football :D

  2. 1) OK, Catalonia isn’t the Basque country, and nationalism here isn’t as racist as it is up there (exception: PxC). On the other hand, civil unrest in the north (by the Carlists, the Asturian miners, or whoever) has traditionally been used as an excuse by the nationalists here to open a second front against Madrid. That’s what I think is happening now.
    2) Catalan politics isn’t at all consensual and it never has been. It only appears to be when the socialists give up hope of winning power in Spain, become regional nationalists, and everyone joins in vilifying Madrid and proclaiming the separatist millennium. Whatever dead-man-walking Zapatero’s alleged involvement in the coalition negotiations, that’s what’s going on now.
    3) There already is intimidation (think, for example, of the Catalanist stigmatisation by sticker of small shops whose owners happen to be unfortunate enough to use the state language) and every demonstration here is characterised by violence against symbols of the liberal state.
    4) I’d like to see quicker, more enthusiastic modernisation of both the PP and the state. For example, the party needs to start giving a firm smack round the ear to anyone who runs around waving Spanish flags, and the government needs to do much more to improve the training and equipment of the security forces (eg proper human rights training for everyone, comprehensive video recordings of police interrogations). It’s always going to be easy for secessionist extremists to recruit as long as Madrid can’t prove that it’s not run by crazed Franquistas who enjoy torturing dissidents.
    5) I’m all for Homer going into politics. Are there nationality restrictions, or could he become next president of the Generalitat? Come on, you must be able to agree with that.

  3. So why didn’t you look at the other options? And where are your figures for national flag revenues? Lazy man!!

  4. Well,well, Trevor, you said some interesting things. I will start with the answers:
    5) Homer, president! If he speaks catalan in the intimity, like Aznar, he will have good chances :oD
    4) Security forces. You’re right. Catalonia and Spain needs a more effective police. There are lots of problems: one of the most important, the rivalities between different polices corps. On the torture issue: some declarations of torture are false, part of an strategy of some people, but some other are more credible. We have to take care: i don’t consider the police of today a bunch of franquists and torturers, but if some policeman tortures, he must be expelled fastly (after the courts give a sentence). Zero tollerance.
    3) We can find extremists in both sides. If you use catalan in some places, still now you can have problems. Languages are a way of communication, not of confrontation, as some think. But when you are in a country with more than one official language, things are not so easy. What’s the model in Catalonia? Ensure that all people learn and can use the two idioms: catalan and spanish, giving a priority to catalan. That’s the theory and we could talk a lot about exceptions. But i prefer this model: when you divide people between linguistic, cultural or ethnical borders, conflict is approaching. That’s not the case of Catalonia (for now).
    2) Socialists are more consensual now with nationalists than before, that’s true. But the two face of catalonian socialism (catalanist and spanish socialist together) were present in the past and will exist in the future. PP isn’t as monolytic as most people think: Galicia PP defends the administracion unica (the same that defended Pujol). But the reality now is one: growing territorial tensions, and part of the blame is Aznar autonomic policy.
    1) Catalan and basque nationalists have good relations, obviously. And lots of catalan nationalists often admire the basque nationalist because they are more decididos? than the catalan nationalist governments. But situations are diferent. By the way, PxC leader was a far-right extremist before…from Fuerza Nueva, not the catalan nationalists. But xenopophy can extend in Catalonia, from both “sides”: catalan and spanish speaking communities.

  5. OK, it looks like we’re not going to kill each other this afternoon. Those were just the three options that seemed most probable to me in whichever particular state of paranoia I was in at the time. I still don’t think a PSC-CiU coalition is at all likely, unless ERC formulates its demands with that particularly destructive goal in mind. Even though he’s apparently living on a rock in the middle of a big, big lake at the moment, Pere comes from here and probably knows about 1000 times more about local politics and history than I do. Pere, what exactly do you think’s going to happen?
    Re flags: I just get mad and start screaming and kicking dogs whenever I see a flag. I hate flags and there are at least three flag shops near my place. Recently I went cycling in Aragon where there are no flags painted on the walls and where people talk about normal things. I came back into Catalunya at Alfarràs and stopped at the fountain just past the crossroads to fill up and a little old man walked up to me and asked me where I’d come from. Before I’d finished my sentence, he said, “I’m a worker and I’ve lived here all my life and we need to have a Catalan state now because we can’t take this oppression any more.” Forgive my confusion, but Spain seems like a fairly mature liberal democracy to me.
    If you drink enough tequila, the tall yellow buoys you see in the sea near beaches start looking exactly like Homer. I’m going to get one out of the water on Saturday night, teach it Catalan, and start a new party.

  6. Yes, Trevor, we will not kill each other. Nowadays, my girlfriend is a lot more dangerous for me, i have to say :D I’m not from Catalonia, i’m ibizan, but i lived 8 years in Barcelona, i’m journalist (not Rafael Ramos ;) and i understand the positions of catalan nationalists and i read a lot about spanish, european and american politics and history. What will happen? Sorry, i don’t know for sure. The CiU-ERC coalition government seems the most probable option, all is in the hands of Carod-Rovira party. Against all odds, socialists losed again the elections, but they still can form a government with ERC and IC, if Esquerra wants (and his demands doesn’t seem excessive for CiU or PSC).
    As i’ve said before, the future government will be a more catalan nationalistic one, and there will exist more confrontation with Central Governement (specially if PP wins in march and Rajoy follows the same territorial policy as Aznar). But with limits.
    CiU and PSC will not say “yes, master” to all who could say in the future Mr Carod-Rovira.
    The socialists, because they would lose lots of votes across the rest of the state (even with a good agreement, PSOE would lose some votes in the rest of Spain having ERC in the government). CiU cannot say frenetically “yes, yes” to all who will demand Carod, because if it does it could lose votes to the PP from the right and to Esquerra from the left (if ERC is more effective than Convergència, why i would have to vote CiU?) That will be like commiting a hara-kiri, politically speaking.
    For that reason, i think that any proposal of new autonomy statute must (and probably will be) a consensed one, with CiU and PSC leading the redaction of the new text, and ERC and/or IC, apporting some ideas. And discussions will take a long long time, years (taking an eye or two on the political majories in Madrid). If they are really serious about the new Estatut, the most probable timetable for the discussion of the text in Madrid Parliament will be second half of the next legislative season in Spain (2005-2007) or most probably, 2007-2009, so…if some of you were expecting to see soon trenches across the Diagonal and tanks firing at the flower shops in the Ramblas, choose another country or go to the next videoclub and pick up a Steven Seagal film :P
    For me, Spain is too a mature democracy, and i’m happy with that. I don’t want to return to the times of Franco dictadure or the II Republic and the Civil War. But the treatment of the specifity of Catalonia and Euskadi, and its strong nationalist feelings, is, being objective, one of the pendent matters of Spain democracy.
    IMHO, Spain is a plurinational state, but that reality isn’t fully recognized yet. What the Catalans think is obvious for them but it isn’t so obvious for the rest of the Spaniard. The model of state defended by PP and most of the PSOE isn’t heartily accepted by a vast majority of Catalans and the vision of Spain from Catalonia is not accepted by the rest of Spain. Solutions? Dialogue, dialogue and dialogue. And not trying to demonize any idea, specially if defended by the force of votes (not weapons).
    Catalan-Spanish language war doesn’t exist in the streets (for now). Catalan speaking people speaks spanish too, and lots of Spanish speaking families can speak catalan too. If they don’t speak catalan, they can understand it. The arrival of new waves of inmigration is a test for the catalan model and for the catalan language, but i’m optimistic. Barcelona is becoming and will be as ethnically diverse as London, Paris or Berlin. Some people want to end with that, claiming that Spanish is in danger or that Spanish and Spain have to be kicked out from Catalonia, but, fortunately, they are a minority.
    The vast majority of Catalans accept Spain (and remain as a part of the state), but they want too to remain as catalans. With his own language, his culture and his own way of living. Citing a TV catalan star, catalans are not better or worse than the rest, only different.

  7. OK, I’ll tell a certain old lady I know to put her Civil War rifles back in the attic, but you’ll need to explain to me sometime why Esquerra has got a life-size bust of Carod’s head in the window of their local branch. Stalinist leadership cult or what?
    I used to be a nice, kind, post-nationalist, multiple-identity kind of person, so I’m trying to figure out what turned me into a raving centralist. If the nationalists here pushed the same line as the Scots are doing (less flag waving and linguistic rhetoric, more discussion of the economic advantages of a Europe based on regions), they’d certainly win more support in Europe. At the moment it sometimes feels like Yugoslavia must have felt at the beginning of the explosion, and that’s scary.

  8. I don’t know why they have a bust of Carod in the window. Maybe the girls in there find him attractive :P The “cult” of the leader is common in politics: see Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, Felipe González, Helmut Kohl…
    It’s curious what you say about Scots: for what i’ve read, most of them see Catalonia as a referent (from Scot laborists to SNP or lib-dems). Arguments about nationalist in Catalonia only speaking about catalan, or solely concentrated in grabbing power rather than solving the real problems of the people exist, but i’m of the opinion that the reality is different. If that was true, why Jordi Pujol has stayed 23 years in the Catalan Government? Catalonia isn’t the Paradise, but lives better than before, as the rest of Spain.
    Catalan political parties have strong alliances in Europe and until now, catalanism has been enthusiastically europeist. CDC, the main party of CiU federation, is a member of the Liberal International. UDC, the second party, is a demochristian party, and is a member of the same international group of the PP. Iniciativa is a member of the Greens Federation. Esquerra have less contacts: nationalist movements across Europe (SNP, Parti Occitan, Plaid Cymru…)
    I don’t trust people who only declares to be nationalist. In Catalonia, the positions of the political parties are defined across two axes: the ideological (left-right) and the nationalist (catalan-spanish). I propose you to play a game: why don’t you try the test of Democraciaweb about politial identification? You will find it in

  9. I’m going to get a photo of Carod’s bust tomorrow, because he looks damn pretty. I might even try to steal it.
    My Scottish post-nationalist guru is currently chasing sheep in France, but you’re right: that’s what CiU moderates have been up to and it’s what Maragall spins his own doubtless debt-ridden urban network version of in stuff like Els Origens del Futur.

  10. It is indeed surprising to see someone not catalan with such a deep knowledge of catalan politics, I cant help mentioning a couple of
    things about our country and its politics:
    -Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC), despite its name, is mainly formed by members of Fuerza
    Nueva, an extreme right spanish nationalist party of some importance during the first years of spanish democracy. It’s leader, Josep Anglada (one of the former FN members), has only slightly changed his discourse since those
    -Carod-Rovira’s bust: in catalan local festivities there are two traditional elements: gegants (giants) and cap-grossos (big heads). ERC used this last element in their campaign in an attempt to tone down the seriousness of politics. In other words, quite the opposite to Stalinism’s personality cult.
    As for your political views, I dont agree with many of them but you’re (obviously) entitled to them.

  11. Víctor, you’ve got every right to mock me now. For example, my predictions in this post were completely wrong: ERC got it together with the PSC, meaning that the PSC-PSOE split is going to be that much more brutal. However, pastorets-drunk as I am, I’d still disagree with you on Carod-Rovira. Anglada and his naked kiddie pictures are part of the repertoire of every narcissistic neo-fascist, but Carod, who recites 30s history at the drop of a hat, should know that the previous outsize representations of politicians in Barcelona were of butchers like Stalin and Lenin (37, although Lenin wasn’t glued on particularly well) and Franco (post-39, better class of solvent). The use of large ceremonial busts to represent a politician who recently referred to those “born here but who do not love Catalunya” as malnascuts, misborn, is reminiscient not so much of Stalin as of Hitler. In his public statements, Carod has been consistent in expressing a determination to violate the democratic process (constitution? so what?) and the human rights of Catalunya’s Spanish-speaking majority community. That’s toning down the seriousness of politics, but not in the way that you imply. (One thing I’ve never worked out: since Carod says that Catalunya has the right to secede more or less whenever he gives the word, and since his proposed Catalan constitution clearly violates majority language rights, what’s to stop Spanish-speaking regions like, for example, Barcelona seceding unilaterally from the new independent Catalunya? Is Carod going to give the Mossos machine guns to keep l’Hospitalet quiet?)

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