Gweinidog Un

After reading this story I'd encourage our dear Gweinidog Un to follow his namesake and go for a nice ride in the country, just to take his mind off the pressure of deciding what should or shouldn't be broadcast on state-controlled television.


The problem is to find any part of the countryside where he'd be welcome.

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Further thoughts on the Catalan election

Although I made a few comments on the results of the Catalan election in my previous post, I thought it would be a good idea to write something more considered now that I've had a chance to reflect on them.

This was the final result:

An emphatic mandate for a referendum

This election was called primarily to establish a democratic mandate from the Catalan people for a referendum on independence. Of the seven parties that won seats, four of them unambiguously favoured a referendum, winning a total of 87 out of 135 seats. This is an emphatic mandate.

Contrary to some misleading reports, there has in fact been a small overall swing towards parties that favour a referendum. In the previous parliament there were only 86 deputies from pro-referendum parties (including 4 from SI, who all lost their seats in this election).


     Pro-referendum Parties


     Anti-referendum Parties



The only sadness might be that 64.4% of the seats in the Catalan parliament is just short of the two-thirds majority that the Spanish parliament requires in order to amend the Spanish constitution. But there is no requirement for such a super-majority in the Catalan parliament, even though I'm sure those opposed to a referendum will now start claiming that there should be.

A strong swing to the left

The big change in this election has been in the left-right balance of the parliament. In the previous parliament there were 80 deputies from right-leaning parties and 51 from left-leaning parties (I've not counted the 4 deputies from SI on either side because the party was formed solely on a pro-independence platform with deputies specifically drawn from both sides of the political spectrum). There are now 69 deputies on the political right and 66 on the left.


     Parties of the Centre-left and Left


     Parties of the Centre-right and Right



The reasons for this swing to the left are obvious. Both Catalunya and Spain are suffering as a result of the debt crisis, and both have had to take measures to reduce their fiscal deficit. As would be expected from a party of the centre-right, CiU chose to reduce Catalunya's deficit primarily through cuts in public services. They have taken a hit in the polls because the cuts they've made have been particularly savage.

All the autonomous communities were put under pressure to control their budgets by the Spanish government. At one level that's fair enough, but the PP government have been using the economic crisis as a pretext to re-centralize fiscal powers to Madrid, pointing the finger of blame for the level of Spanish debt at the autonomous communities, even though the vast majority of it is held by central government. Artur Mas was caught between a rock and a hard place and in effect said, "There's no need for you in Madrid to take any powers from us; we'll make all the cuts ourselves." In his eagerness to show that he meant it, CiU implemented those cuts with an enthusiasm that bordered on the indecent and went further than was necessary in order to prove a political point. His party has now paid the price for that at the polls.

Forming a new government

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, even after the setback of losing 12 seats, CiU still has more than twice the seats and twice the popular support of any other party. They remain the only party in a position to form a government, and Artur Mas will undoubtedly retain his position as President of the Generalitat. The only question is what form his government will take.

It is possible for CiU to form a minority government with no support from any other party, as they did in the previous parliament. This is because some parties are polar opposites of others. There is no way that a right wing, anti-independence party like the PP will ever see eye-to-eye with left wing, pro-independence parties like ERC and CUP. It is hard to imagine an issue on which they would ever vote the same way. Therefore the PP's 19 votes will be effectively cancelled by 19 of the votes from ERC and CUP deputies. With 38 votes effectively "paired", there are 97 votes remaining; and CiU, with 50 of those votes, would therefore have a slim majority.

I'm not saying that this would be a comfortable position for CiU to be in, not least because the two constituent parts of CiU (the CDC and UDC) do not always agree. Nor am I saying it is likely to happen ... but it is an option.


The alternative is for CiU to go into coalition with another party. Because 68 seats are needed for a working majority, the only parties large enough to be coalition partners are the PP, the PSC and ERC.

In other circumstances, the PP would be a natural choice. Both parties are to the right of centre, and for the past two years CiU have relied on the PP's votes (on a "variable geometry" basis rather than as part of a formal agreement) in order to implement their austerity agenda. For with 62 seats, CiU were 6 votes short of a majority. However it's much harder to imagine any degree of co-operation between the two parties now, especially after the torrent of abuse from the PP government in Madrid during this election campaign, and the dirty tricks that they are widely suspected of orchestrating.

It might, just, have been possible for CiU to work with the PSC if the PSOE were in power in Madrid, and therefore in a position to negotiate some sort of agreement on an independence referendum along the lines of the Edinburgh agreement between the UK and Scottish governments. But they're not ... and even if they were, the PSC probably wouldn't be interested.


That leaves ERC. To my mind, there is no doubt that this is the alliance CiU would prefer. However the ERC's spectacular showing in the election, and in particular the fact that they are now the second largest party, gives Oriel Junqueras options that he and the ERC wouldn't have had otherwise. On behalf of the pro-independence left across Europe, allow me the indulgence of showing this graphic from a GESOP survey on approval ratings for the main party leaders. It goes a long way towards explaining why ERC did so well in this election:


In my comments on Sunday night, I said that I thought it would be better for ERC to take advantage of its position as the second largest party in the Catalan parliament to become the official opposition, perhaps in alliance with ICV and CUP as a 37 seat bloc of pro-referendum left wing parties. They would of course work with CiU on the arrangements for the referendum and negotiations of things like the terms of EU membership, but would be able to oppose the excesses of CiU's austerity package. This option has now been advocated by Alfred Bosch, leader of ERC in the Spanish parliament, as reported here in the New York Times.

But with the benefit of a day or so to reflect, I now wonder whether this is such a good idea.


My main concern is the flakiness of CiU. Although I respect the comments on the previous post and elsewhere about a referendum now being certain, I can imagine it being derailed. First, we need to bear in mind that CiU came to the position that independence was the only option left for Catalunya only as a result of the 1.5m turnout on 11 September. Prior to this CiU had been lukewarm about independence, and indeed there are some elements within the UDC part of CiU that are opposed to independence.

Second, Artur Mas is not exactly in a strong position within his party as a result of losing 12 seats. Fingers of blame will be pointed at him, and he might consider that keeping his party together and keeping it in power is more important than securing independence. And even if he were determined to press on, infighting behind his back would be a distraction he couldn't ignore.

Imagine a situation where the EU procrastinates over how to handle the situation in the face of reluctance by some member states to bail Spain out, so that their economy is in danger of falling off the edge of the cliff. Imagine riots in the streets of Spanish cities that make what's happened in Greece look tame, and generals in the armed forces champing at the bit to go in and impose a version of public order that would make Franco proud of them. Imagine Spanish leaders having to acknowledge that their economy needs Catalunya far more than Catalunya needs Spain and belatedly offering Artur Mas the same fiscal arrangements as the four Basque provinces enjoy ... reminding him that this, after all, was what he and his party originally wanted.

Could the pressure to give way on independence, especially if backed by major international powers and accompanied by the promise of a package of financial aid (perhaps to write off Catalunya's not inconsiderable debt) prove too much for him? I'm not saying it would be. Perhaps he's made of stronger stuff. But it's a risk ... especially for a party that is a late convert to independence rather than having it as one of its core aims.

A route forward

Because I think Artur Mas is going to need all the help he can get, I'm now inclined to think it would be better for UiC and ERC to work out a formal programme of government together, based on a clear timetable for a referendum and establishment of the structures necessary for Catalunya to operate as an independent country.

In many respects, it clearly isn't in ERC's interests to be part of a governing coalition that won't have much room to reverse the austerity programme of the last few years. But there is some room for manoeuvre: namely to increase taxation in order to protect public services, something that any self-respecting party of the left would advocate. Catalunya's fiscal deficit is now largely under control; although the debt, and the cost of re-financing it, remains. However it's impossible to deal with accumulated debt through further austerity. The name of the game is to ensure that the debt is under control and doesn't get any bigger, but then to stimulate growth in the economy so that the debt can be repaid in the long term.

Catalunya's economic crisis is short term. The underlying economy is healthy, and the problem will be solved at a stroke when it becomes independent, because it will be able to use the €16bn or so it currently loses to Spain each year on its own needs. Of course Catalunya will need to spend a large part of this on its new obligations as an independent country, but in political terms it will do no harm at all to outline how the rest of it could be used. I think ERC could avoid the political toxicity of being in government at a time of austerity by setting out and securing agreement with CiU for a long-term programme of re-instating the services that have been cut after independence, when Catalunya will no longer be drained of some 8% of its annual GDP.

People will be more willing to suffer financial hardship in the short term if they can see overall gains in the longer term. And, in addition to that, adopting such a policy will keep up the momentum of the drive towards independence, in order to make the short term as short as possible.

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This weekend's election in Catalunya

On Sunday, Catalans will go to the polls in what promises to be the most significant election in their history. The president of the Catalan parliament, Artur Mas, called the election two years earlier than needed in response to the Spanish Prime Minister's point-blank refusal to countenance any change in the fiscal relationship between Catalunya and Spain. However immediately before the parliament was dissolved it passed a resolution calling for the right of Catalans to determine their own constitutional future, meaning that this election will be primarily about whether the new parliament has a mandate to take Catalunya to independence from Spain.

There are six major party groups contesting the election. Ranked in terms of their share of the vote in the 2010 election to the Catalan Parliament they are:

•  CiU - Convergència i Unió ... centre-right, Catalan (38.5%)
•  PSC - Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya ... centre-left, Spanish (18.3%)
•  PP - Partido Popular ... right, Spanish (12.3%)
•  ICV - Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds ... eco-socialist, Catalan (7.4%)
•  ERC - Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya ... left, Catalan (7.0%)
•  Cs - Ciutadans ... left, Spanish (3.4%)

There's a list of the latest opinion poll figures on this page. In general terms, they show CiU way out in front with around 37% of the vote; the PSC, PP, ICV and ERC quite close together with between 10% and 15% of the vote each; and the Cs trailing with around 5%. The voting system is proportional, but there is a 3% threshold, so smaller parties like the pro-independence SI and CUP will be lucky to get a seat.


The PP (who have a majority in the Spanish parliament) and Cs are both Spanish nationalist parties, vehemently opposed to Catalunya being able to decide its own future.

The PSC say they are in favour of Catalans having the right to decide their constitutional future, but only if done within the Spanish Constitution. However there is no way that the Spanish are likely to allow this, so it's little more than an exercise in either gesture politics or wishful thinking. A month or so ago, at the start of the campaign, there might have been a sliver of hope that Catalunya could gain more autonomy within a federal Spain; but the acrimonious—not to say vicious—tone of the campaign waged by the Spanish parties will surely have persuaded most people that it's too late for that to happen. As a result, support for the PSC is falling fast. They are now only a pale shadow of the party that won 31.2% of the vote in 2003 and 26.8% of the vote in 2006.

CiU, the ERC and ICV support the right of Catalans to decide their own future. Between them they will get at least 60% of the vote and maybe two-thirds of the seats. This means that the next Catalan parliament will vote to hold a referendum on independence. Of that, there is no doubt whatsoever.

Whether Spain will allow that referendum to happen is another question. Although talked about by a few hotheads, I don't think there is any chance of the Spanish using military force to stop it. However they will certainly use economic force, starving the Catalan government of the cash flow necessary to pay public sector workers. That means one of the first priorities for the new government will be to set up a Catalan tax agency so that taxes are collected in Catalunya rather than being sent to directly to Madrid. The referendum will not be held until this system is up and running. 2014 is the most likely date.


The only real question is whether CiU will get an absolute majority of seats. All the signs are that they won't, but from my point of view that will be a good thing. It means that CiU will have to work with ERC and ICV to achieve a broad consensus.

I have to say that I am disappointed that the ERC are not doing better in the polls. What I had wanted to see was a wholesale shift on the left of the political spectrum away from the PSC and towards the ERC, mirroring the shift away from the PSOE in Euskadi towards EH Bildu. The ERC are Plaid Cymru's sister party in the EFA in the European Parliament, and have consistently supported independence for Catalunya for decades, so I can't help but feel that they deserve to do better in the polls. The Johnny-Come-Lately CiU have only come out in favour of independence in the last few months.

But maybe that's not the best way of looking at it. Personally I am as much a Green as I am a Nationalist, and would find it very much harder to support Plaid Cymru if it had a different stance on Green issues. There is no doubt whatsoever that Catalunya will become independent within the next few years, and when the fight for independence has been won there will be a general re-alignment of political affiliations ... as indeed there will be when Wales becomes independent. So perhaps it's better to look at support for the ERC and ICV together.

I was chatting to someone from the ERC only a couple of weeks ago and he thought it likely that the ERC and ICV would form an alliance. This is not unusual in Catalan politics; after all, the CiU is itself an alliance of two parties. Between them they should get at least 20% and maybe 25% of the vote, so that if they did work together they would easily be the second largest group in the parliament. Obviously they would support CiU on the constitutional agenda, but could form a constructive and much needed centre-left opposition to ameliorate the CiU's savage programme of austerity cuts and instead promote sustainable growth ... which is the only real way out of recession.


So what will the result be? Cherry-picking from the plethora of opinion polls, I think this GESOP poll for El Periódico is most likely to be right:


Perhaps that's wishful thinking on my part because it puts the ERC in second place. But I'm not alone in that optimism, as this article by the Catalan News Agency predicts the same thing, giving a glowing account of the ERC's agenda and of its leader, Oriol Junqueras.

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Catering for demand

Work on the new Ysgol Treganna in Cardiff is progressing nicely. But it looks like the number of parents clamouring to move into the catchment area so that their children will get a Welsh-medium place is so great that a new housing development is going to be built right next to the school (on the right in the first picture) to accommodate them.



And very pleasant it is too. But at this rate another new Welsh-medium school will be needed. How about just the other side of that footbridge?

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Catalan independence, the latest poll

Three or four times a year, the Catalan government conducts a wide-ranging survey of political opinion based on a sample of 2,500 people. The most recent was published yesterday:

     Baròmetre d’Opinió Política, November 2012

The most interesting question is how people would vote in a referendum on Catalan independence. These are the new figures, together with those for the end of June this year:

If a referendum on the independence of Catalunya were to be held tomorrow, what would you do?

Vote for independence ... 57.0% ... (was 51.1%)
Vote against independence ... 20.5% ... (was 21.1%)
Abstain ... 14.3% ... (was 21.1%)
Other responses ... 0.6% ... (was 1.0%)
Don't know ... 6.2% ... (was 4.7%)
Won't say ... 1.5% ... (was 1.1%)

Question 39, page 26

If we factor out those who say they will not vote, the Yes percentage increases to 66.5% and the No percentage to 23.9%. This would be the closest equivalent to a UK poll, where people are first asked how likely they are to vote, and the figures then weighted accordingly.

And if we exclude them and the three other categories, the straight Yes/No split becomes 73.5% in favour of independence to 26.5% against.

By any standard, this is an overwhelming majority. Catalan independence is looking like a cast-iron certainty.

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Penblwydd Hapus, S4C


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