Anton Costas 22/02/2021
Professor of Economics at Barcelona University
From the result of the 14-F elections, it is more interesting to understand the reason for the high abstention than to speculate on the new Government. When the noise of the negotiations passes, we will see that it will be pro-independentist. And that we will continue in misgovernment. Because it is one thing to form a government and another to really govern. And what that coalition has not done since 2015, I don’t think it will achieve now.
Let’s look at the question of abstention, then. Why has it been so high, especially among independentists? Can this make it easier to start a civil conversation about the common good that changes the results in the next election?
More and more pro-independence voters think that unilateralism has no future
Let’s go to the data first. I use the report on Catalan Regional Elections 1980-2021. Historical summary of Metroscopy results. The drop of 27 points compared to 2017 makes the participation in 2021 the lowest in the history of elections in Catalonia.
The abstention was asymmetric. It benefited the independentists and harmed the non-independentists. These lost more votes (they went from 2.2 million in 2017 to 1.3 in 2021) than the independentists (they went from 2.1 million votes to just over 1.4 million). But I think the pro-independence abstention is more significant.
The abstention of the non-independentists is easy to read. Their mobilization in 2017 responded to the fear that the laws approved by the independentists on September 6 and 7, 2017, would produce a violent civil fracture. Now that fear does not exist. They have seen that the State is capable of stopping unilateralism in a legal, judicial and coercive way. Therefore, they could stay home without fear of the results. But why have so many people who voted for independence in 2017 abstained? As in the case of Galicia and the Basque Country, the pandemic has been the main demobilizing factor. But we must not lose sight of the fact that two out of three Catalans value the “procés” negatively and believe that one-sidedness must be abandoned. This fatigue must have played a role.
Fatigue is joined by bewilderment. The data say that the number of nationalist or pro-independence voters who think that unilateralism has no future is increasing. But no one wants to be the first to say it for fear of being singled out as a traitor. The flags have disappeared from the balconies and the yellow ribbons from the streets. The feeling that futile effort leads to melancholy spreads among voters.
Although, for the fourth time in the thirteen Catalan elections, nationalism or independence, according to the label of each moment, has exceeded 50% of the votes cast, this result is a statistical mirage. In reality, this percentage, if we refer to the census is equivalent, as one should do to understand its true meaning, to 27%. It is the lowest since 2006. They agree with the 23% who, according to Metroscopia data, consider that independence should be the priority objective of the next Government. Unilateralism has to recognize its blind spot: more than three-quarters of Catalans do not want to continue with the process.
If I do not misinterpret things, the fatigue and confusion that are behind the abstention of the independence vote of 14-F may be the turning point that brings us the hope of a new time. We still cannot embrace each other again because we are not yet able to easily develop a cross-cutting conversation about the common good and democracy. But we need it. This could be the task of civil society until the next elections.