I have been following the Catalan independence campaign for a number of months now and the issue of a referendum has played out as an important issue in the recent Spanish general election. Many media figures are questioning what the hung result in the general election will mean for Catalonia. I believe that the circumstances in Madrid and Barcelona are beneficial to the pro-independence movement.
Spain is currently embroiled in two political crises. The first is in relation to the election result for the Madrid government which saw the electoral success of anti-establishment parties like Ciudadanos and Podemos. The fallout from this has yet to be finalised as PSOE and Ciudadanos are refusing to form a government with Podemos unless they go back on their election pledge to hold a referendum on Catalan independence. Without the above agreement Spain will not have a majority government and may require fresh elections.
The second crisis is in Catalonia itself. Although the left-wing CUP support Catalan secession, they have voted against the election of Artur Mas as President. This could have two consequences. Either Junts pel Sí, the pro-independence coalition that won the Catalan elections, put forward another candidate for president, or they’ll be another election in March. At this point the latter is looking more likely, and Mariano Rajoy has welcomed this in the hope that it quashes calls for independence. It is now imperative that,if another election is called, Rajoy is proven wrong and the mandate for a referendum is strengthened.
So why does this instability benefit the secessionists? The result in the general election was a reaction against the established parties. If people wanted to vote purely against Mariano Rajoy’s government PSOE would have picked up some seats. The fact that PSOE also returned with fewer seats would imply that the momentum is with parties outside of the establishment. Podemos have more leverage than people realise as they could threaten another election knowing that they, along with Ciudadanos, would have the outsider advantage. It is likely, in my view, that another election may put PSOE in a weaker negotiating position than currently as they could lose more Deputies. If this situation plays out a referendum will become more likely, and PSOE and the People’s Party are not popular in Catalonia. Further, a second general election, because of the chance of a Catalan referendum, would galvanise the pro-independence forces.
In relation to a second Catalan election, I don’t believe that another election will be needed because Mas will probably stand aside. If, however, I am wrong I don’t foresee different results if the broadly pro-referendum forces came together. Independence remains the main issue in Catalan elections, and any second election in Catalonia would only continue the pressure on the Madrid government to acquiesce. Anything but a referendum would continue to polarise and focus the discourse on independence, which again would be a development that would benefit the pro-independence movement.
The political instability in Spain will benefit the independence movement. The next Spanish government, if a majority is eventually found, will have to offer a referendum; Podemos are the king-makers and without a referendum another election that weakens the PP and PSOE further could be a likely scenario. Another candidate for Catalan President will probably emerge in the next few weeks but if one does not new elections will produce a similar result unless the vote dramatically dropped off. With the CUP holding the balance of power once again a new candidate for President would have to come forward. In any case, the realpolitik of Spain is favouring Catalan secession.