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.