Catalunya: what happens next

With the final results of the election to the Catalan Parliament declared, I'd like to offer an analysis of the result and what is now likely to happen.

In summary: this is unquestionably a victory for those who want Catalunya to become an independent state, but it is a messy victory. There is a mandate to move forward towards independence, but it will need to be done carefully.

Forming a Government

Yesterday's election allowed the Catalan people to choose who they wanted to represent them in the Catalan Parliament, and the immediate task ahead of those who have just been elected is to form a Government. As we can see from the graphic below, Junts pel Sí won 62 seats and are by far the largest party. In reality, there is no other alternative but for Junts pel Sí to form the government because the other parties come from radically different parts of the political spectrum and could never work together.


It is easy to think that the obvious choice is for Junts pel Sí to form a government with CUP, because they both unequivocally support independence. But CUP are a radical, left-leaning party which will almost certainly not be interested in forming a government with politicians from a centre-right party like CDU. In fact they have specifically said they would not support Artur Mas as president.

One option would be for CUP to abstain in the vote to elect Mas as president. But the numbers don't quite add up: if they abstained, the 62 Junts pel Sí candidates could still be outvoted by the remaining 63 deputies from other parties. It would therefore be necessary for at least one of the other deputies to abstain or vote for Mas. If this happened, it would almost certainly be one (or all) of the deputies from CSQEP that does so.

The other option would be for Artur Mas to stand down in favour of someone else. There are two choices: either a neutral, figurehead president such as Raül Romeva, Carme Forcadell or Muriel Casals (the first three on the Junts pel Sí list) or Oriol Junqueras, the leader of ERC. CUP and CSQEP, both on the left of the political spectrum, would probably support Junqueras rather than Mas. This needn't necessarily result in Mas being sidelined. Mas and Junqueras have worked hand in glove on everything to do with the route map to independence over the last three years (though not the day-to-day questions of governance, such as implementing austerity) and would continue to do so now.

In many ways, a change of president might be good. Large sections of the pro-Spanish media have delighted in calling the independence movement the product of Artur Mas' ego, so a change of president would clearly show that it is more than that. Besides that, ERC have supported Catalan independence for far longer than Mas, who was only converted to the idea three years ago following mass public demonstrations in favour of independence.

What will the new Catalan Government do?

Whatever question mark there might be over who is president, there is no question that the new Catalan Government's priority will be to set up the institutions necessary for Catalonia to function as an independent state. This is the platform they were elected on, and in this they will have the full support of CUP, so getting these things voted through parliament will not be a problem.

It is equally certain that the Spanish Government will do all it can to prevent these institutions from being set up, using the Tribunal Constitucional de España (Spanish Constitutional Court) to do so. It is worth noting that 10 out of its 12 members are political appointees, who will therefore make political decisions. The new Catalan government will therefore have to ignore its rulings, just as the previous government has already done with its rulings on issues such as the use of Catalan in the education system.

The only real questions will be over what the Spanish Government does when the Catalan Government ignores the TC's rulings. Will it arrest prominent members of the Catalan Government? If it does, there will be plenty of others willing to step up to the plate. So the only other option would be to send in troops and tanks. It is a matter of brinkmanship, and the pro-independence deputies will have to hold their nerve.

When and how will independence be declared?

At the start of this post, I was careful to say that the new Catalan Government had a mandate to move forward towards independence, but that things would have to be done carefully. As I see it, there is no real problem in setting up the institutions necessary for Catalonia to be an independent state, but there is a problem over any eventual declaration of independence.

The key question is whether yesterday's vote constitutes a mandate to declare independence, and the reality is that it doesn't.

If Junts pel Sí and CUP had obtained more than 50% of the vote yesterday, there is no doubt that this would have constituted a mandate to make a unilateral declaration of independence, without the need for any further vote on the issue. But this wasn't achieved. Nevertheless, yesterday's election cannot be interpreted as a vote against independence either, because those were not the only two options on the ballot papers.


As the graphic above shows, both CSQEP and the UDC are in favour of Catalunya's right to decide about independence in a referendum, but not in favour of a unilateral declaration of independence. They achieved 11.45% of the vote between them, and it is all but certain that some of these voters would have voted for independence if yesterday's vote had been a binding referendum on independence. This would take the figure in favour of independence beyond 50%.

But a matter of this importance needs to be established with complete certainty, and therefore another vote needs to be held before independence can be declared.


There is more than one way of doing this. The painless way would be for Madrid to allow a referendum to be held and respect the result. But I think this could only happen if Podemos, probably in coalition with the PSOE, were able to form the next Spanish Government. There is absolutely no way that either the Partido Popular or Ciudadanos (the Spanish wing of the Ciutadans) would allow such a referendum. Also, apart from the question of independence, yesterday's election was a marked success for the Ciutadans, making them the main Unionist party in Catalunya with almost the same level of support as the PP and PSC combined. This can only bode well for their performance in the Spanish election in December, making the chances of any sort of agreement between the Spanish and Catalan governments even less likely.

But according to the road map to independence set out by Junts pel Sí, the Catalans are going to be given another chance to vote anyway. The idea is to spend the next 18 months setting up the institutions required to function as an independent country, and for the electorate to then approve a constitution for the new Catalan Republic. The declaration of independence would be made by the Catalan Government on the basis of that approved constitution. This, as it happens, was the main point of difference between Junts pel Sí and CUP: CUP wanted the declaration of independence to be immediate rather than after a second vote in 18 months, which was one of the major reasons why they did not join the Junts pel Sí list.

So things are now trickier than they might have been, but the problem is not insurmountable. If there had already been a vote in favour of independence, the second vote would have been solely about the provisions of the new constitution. This, logically, must mean that if new constitution were not approved by the electorate, the Government would have needed to revise it until it was approved. Now the second vote will need to be not only about the provisions of the new constitution, but also about the principle of independence.

One could say that this second vote always implied acceptance of the principle of independence; the only change is that the question must now be framed in such a way as to make it explicit.

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment