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Home » Content » The collapse of Catalan pro-independence majority in Catalonia
Independence has fallen to 43% of the vote and 25% of the census, and its decline has opened the door to local national populism.

Carles Castro, 14 May 2024


The sudden death of independence

The collapse of the Catalan pro-independence majority was like a death foretold. Certainly, the clumsiness and abruptness of the state in its response to the naïve – though not innocuous – sovereigntist performance of October 2017 could have delayed the fatal outcome even further. But, in the end, the stress caused in any democratic society by a secessionist attempt that does not have unequivocal support ends up paying dearly in electoral terms. Especially if the only possible outcome is defeat and its promoters insist on maintaining the same narrative. It happened in Quebec and is on the way to repeating itself in Scotland, where the self-destruction of Scottish secessionism is advancing apace.

Catalonia reproduces the experience of Quebec and Scotland and also leaves the promoters of a failed independence process without a majority.

In the Catalan case, the collapse of the pro-independence parliamentary majority has taken seven years and two legislatures. In Quebec it also took two legislatures and eight years. But the effects of the extraordinary fatigue that sovereigntist processes leave behind are always the same. On the one hand, they aggravate the division around an irresolvable identity dilemma; on the other, they generate bitterness and frustration among those who came to believe that fantasies can be realised at zero cost. And these are the consequences: increased disaffection and apathy (with visible drops in voter turnout) and, finally, the loss of power of those who recklessly set in motion a process doomed to failure.

The results of 12 May perfectly reflect this decline in pro-independence sentiment. Turnout on 12 May increased by more than 260,000 voters compared to the previous elections in 2021. However, independence as a whole has lost nearly 100,000 ballots. At the same time, the anti-independence forces have gained more than 300,000 votes.

All failed secessionist attempts end up devouring their promoters electorally if they do not change their objectives.

However, if the figures are compared with those of 2017, the effects and magnitude of the collapse of the pro-independence movement are starkly apparent. It is not just that the turnout is still well below that dramatic record (79%). In fact, the 58% of 12-M – but not including the overseas vote – will easily turn into a turnout below 55% when the census of absent residents is also considered in other words, a percentage in the low range of the historical turnout. And this abstention has swallowed up more than a million voters in the last seven years (and slightly less than a million if the comparison is made with the ‘plebiscite’ elections of 2015, or up to half a million with respect to the 2012 elections).

The other impact of the imprudent independence bid – and of its perseverance in the rhetorical arena, without the slightest self-criticism – is the self-destruction of its promoters. The secessionist forces as a whole have lost more than 700,000 voters compared to the polarised election of seven years ago, and 600,000 if the contrast is made with the ‘plebiscitary’ elections of 2015. And the result in relative terms is another figure close to the negative record: on Sunday pro-independence gathered just over 43% of the votes cast (three points above the 1980 figures, the worst ever for Catalan nationalism despite Jordi Pujol’s victory). Junts has certainly saved the furniture at the cost of politically vampirising Esquerra, but since 1980 the pro-sovereignty space has never fallen below 45% of the vote.

Looking to the future, it is worth remembering that the Parti Québécois sovereigntists lost power again almost two decades after the 1995 referendum, when they proposed a new referendum. And they have been mired in opposition ever since. In the case of Catalonia, pro-independence politics’s insistence on sovereignty myths, with the referendum as the magic recipe, has generated another negative record: in the overall census, pro-independence voters now account for 25% of the electorate, compared to 37% in 2017 (or 33% in some elections prior to the procés). Therefore, with these circumstances, it does not seem very sensible to become obsessed with a referendum, only to lose it after subjecting Catalan society to a new stress test.

Independence has fallen to 43% of the vote and 25% of the census, and its decline has opened the door to local national populism.

Finally, the aftermath of the procés has also modified the physiognomy of the opposing camp. Salvador Illa’s victory cannot hide two relevant consequences. On the one hand, the identity fractures of the secessionist trial (and its inevitable palliatives) have raised the pro-Spanish vote in Catalonia to close to 20% (and beyond 600,000 voters). In other words, four points higher than in the 2010 elections, just before the outbreak of the pro-Catalonian political crisis.

And the other fruit of the implosion of Catalan nationalism after the fiasco of 2017 is the emergence of a far-right of Catalanist affiliation, with the banner of immigration as a conflict, in line with other national populisms. From there, if some political forces do not come to terms with reality, the alternative could be a landscape in political ruins.



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