Convolution continues in Catalonia: The more things change, the more things remain the same

By: Conrad Yiridoe

A man wearing a mask of the Catalan independence flag

The recent election in Catalonia might finally provide a path forward, but also provides continued confusion and disarray.

In the past few weeks, the Catalan Socialist Party secured an extremely narrow popular vote victory, through equalling the number of elected seats that the Catalan Republic Left (ERC) received (both with 33 seats). Meanwhile, third place Together for Catalonia received 32 seats. Critically, this result means pro-Independence parties have received a majority vote (plus 50%) in parliament now. Another surprise was the far-right Vox party receiving 11 seats. However, as seen in other regions in Europe (AFD party in Germany for example) most other parties have already agreed to distance themselves from working with them.

From this election, Catalonian independence is not the only major issue during this time. Amongst other issues, a destructive unprecedented health care crisis and a struggling economic climate, provide more than enough problems for voters to focus on besides Catalonian independence. Hence, the various parties need to address these factors going forward, and not simply focus only on independence as their sole priority. The apparent failure of the 2017 independence movement as well as these other issues suggest why there were some different results for a few of the parties compared with the 2017 election. Besides the far-right Vox and their improvements as mentioned above, the Citizens party whom in 2017 led in most votes and seats in parliament, suffered a dramatic decrease this past election. Without question, their poorly handled independence issue of 2017 may have played a significant role in this.

A critical issue that also needs to be sorted, is to better understand the public viewpoint on this issue. Turnout has always been lower than one might prefer to see. For example, in the 2014 referendum, turnout was 37%. In the 2017 referendum, this increased slightly yet was still low at 43%. Finally, this latest election turnout of 53% while not directly comparable to the referendums in the past, is still lower than hoped, especially given the 2017 election turnout (79%). Though given the presence of Covid-19, this turnout figure is rather impressive. Though there are obvious differences between referendums and elections, the fact that the independence issue continues to be maintain a higher priority, combined with low turnout, is interesting. Citizens against the pro- independence movement are more likely to abstain from the voting in the referendums. Hence, the over majority support for independence given the average votes counts over the years clearly does not provide the full extent of its actual support amongst all Catalonians. Hence, it is not a huge surprise that there is such disagreement between the different parties over how best to go forward.

In 2017, with the referendum carried out by the Catalan government in the region kicked off arguably the biggest political discord in decades for Catalonia and Spain. It escalated to the point, that the Spanish government stepped in with unprecedented measures, such as dissolving the current (at the time) Catalan government. The full extent of the crisis at the time is beyond the scope of this piece. However, the point remains that this rather disorganised and overly ambitious attempt did not start off with the most solid foundation possible. With even the EU essentially siding with the Spanish government, the Catalonian government officials might have been more successful with a more patient response that crucially, had the backing of more significant figures.

Currently, this issue is certainly not going to go away, and this recent election confirms this fact.  The newly elected anticipated pro-independence coalition appears to be taking a softer more nuanced stance than was previously taken. The willingness to come to the table to negotiate, rather declare their sovereignty point blank without any actual feasible plan to put it into action is a potential sign of a way forward. This more careful approach will hopefully provide a path for the newly elected Catalonian government to achieve their aims.

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