Current Affairs Politics

Catalan Politics Enters New Phase

An Chatalóin (Catalonia)
A right-wing Spanish unionist or ultranationalist supporter at a counter-independence rally in Barcelona, 2014 (Íomhá: RT, AFP Photo / Josep Lago)

As always one must treat news reports from Russia Today (RT) with a certain degree of scepticism given the avowed political nature of the media organisation (though as we saw in Scotland’s recent independence referendum debates even the most self-proclaimed of “non-partisan” media companies have their loyalties – or know which side their bread is buttered on). Playing up “secessionist” movements and counter-movements in western Europe has become a favoured theme of RT broadcasts since Russia’s escapades in Ukraine and elsewhere gained international prominence. However this article, and others, on the hostile reaction by Spanish nationalists to the suggestion that Catalonia would stage a consultative plebiscite on independence deserved far more attention than it received. As we witnessed in Scotland with the defeat of the pro-sovereignty “Yes” side and the violent emergence of British unionists and ultranationalists from the shadows of the “No” campaign, the ideology of “unionism” appeals to the most atavistic forms of ethno-national supremacism.

“Pro-Spanish unity supporters set Catalonia’s flag ablaze as thousands marched in Barcelona on Spain’s national day to oppose the region’s decision to hold an independence referendum. The march took place less than a month before the Nov. 9 vote.

At least 40,000 people took part in the rally, according to police.

Some of the right-wing ultras were burning the “Estelada”, the Catalan unofficial flag of those who want independence from Madrid, Ruptly’s video shows.

“I am Spanish,” the protesters were singing. They were waving banners, saying “unionists always.”

The march was organized by the Catalan Civil Society organization under the motto of “Spain for All.”

Support in Catalonia for seceding from Spain has grown in the relatively prosperous northeast province over years of economic hardships and austerity measures. A recent opinion poll by the Omnibus Opinion Studies Center showed that almost 60 percent of Catalans would vote for independence.”

A Spanish unionist or ultranationalist supporter at a counter-independence rally in Barcelona, 2014. Note the Far Right symbols (Íomhá: RT, AFP Photo / Josep Lago)

However the last 48 hours has seen considerable confusion in Catalonia following the decision of Artur Mas, the leader of the regionalist CiU party and the semi-autonomous government, to accede to the legal coercion of the Spanish state by dropping the multilateral plan to hold a sovereignty poll. This led to wide-spread domestic criticism and threats that the CiU-led minority administration in the Catalan parliament could be brought down. However the latest reports indicate that the increasingly embattled Mas still plans to hold some form of vote in November of this year, even if no one is quite sure what form that vote will take. From the Irish Times:

“The premier of the Catalan region, Artur Mas, said yesterday that legal action taken by the central government had made the planned November 9th referendum impossible.

“The objective is the same, to hold a referendum, but in a different way,” Mas said, describing his alternative plan as a process of “civic participation” which will take place within a framework of previously existing legislation.

On Monday, Mas, who leads the moderate nationalist Convergence party, held marathon talks into the night with other parliamentary groups which had backed the original referendum on how to proceed in the face of Madrid’s opposition.

By his own admission, disagreements between the parties led to a breakdown in their consensus on the issue.

His appearance yesterday in the regional presidency building, alone beside a large Catalan flag, highlighted Mas’s apparent political isolation. However, he called on the other secessionist groups to join his party on a shared electoral platform, with the aim of calling early elections in the north-eastern region, which would act as a plebiscite on independence. Such elections, he said, would represent a “definitive” and legal referendum, although he did not mention when they might take place.

Mas’s decision to announce the alternative vote took many observers by surprise, including, it seemed, other pro-independence parties such as the powerful Catalan Republican Left (ERC).

Other, smaller, pro-independence parties, such as the ICV greens and the left-leaning CUP, were dismissive of the new plan.

Meanwhile, Rajoy initially welcomed the fact that the original referendum had been cancelled as “excellent news”. But after details of Mas’s alternative vote emerged, his central government went on the offensive and said it would look closely at the project’s legality.”

The last thing the centre-right CiU needs is a regional election in Catalonia, especially in the wake of recent financial scandals, and the growing presence of more avowedly nationalist – rather than regionalist – parties in the polls, particularly the left-leaning ERC. Mas has no desire to become the man who led the previously dominant CiU – actually a federation of two discrete parties – to a Fianna Fáil or SDLP-like position, permanently eclipsed by similar but more progressive (politically glamorous?) rivals.

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