Carles Casajuana, 14 June 2021
Andreu Dalmau / EFE
It is often taken for granted that in Catalonia there are two solid blocs – the pro-independence and the constitutional – without any point of contact, separated by an impassable border. The reality is more nuanced. These two blocks are more porous than you might think. If the conditions are not very adverse, there is another one: that of those who, based on one of these two positions or not, are willing to accept, as a lesser evil, an intermediate solution with reinforced autonomy within Spain.
When the polarization is very high, as in recent times, this third block shrinks and is difficult to see. But if the polarization is reduced, it emerges again. Now it is being seen. After exhausting all other possibilities, the bravest on one side and the other are beginning to do what they should have done from the beginning.
Initially, the Scottish route included a referendum with three options
The lesson of recent years is that, at the moment, there are two paths that are not viable: that of independence and that of Catalonia as part of a uniform Spain, ironed in the French way, in the happy expression of Antoni Puigverd. The forces are even. The independence movement does not have enough force to separate Catalonia from the rest of Spain, but it does enough force to turn it into a permanent source of crisis. Constitutionalism does not have enough force to impose itself, but it does have it to close the road to independence. It is again the impotence draw that Gaziel described.
If option A is not possible for one or the other, logic advises looking for an option B. It is significant that Jordi Pujol himself explains it in his book Between pain and hope and that, after speaking in favor of the independence, he states now that we must be open to non-independence formulas that ensure identity.
Pere Aragonès invoked in his investiture speech the Scottish way. I don’t know if he is aware that initially this route included a third option. The Scottish Nationalist Party entered the 2011 elections with the commitment to call a referendum on independence if it obtained an absolute majority. It was very difficult for it to obtain it, due to the electoral legislation, but it succeeded: it took 69 seats out of a total of 129 (it now has 64 and is missing one seat). When the time came, the party’s leader, Alex Salmond, proposed to then-British Prime Minister David Cameron a referendum with three options: independence, leaving things as they were, and reinforced autonomy. David Cameron, always prone to playing hard, told him no, that if he wanted a referendum it had to be only with two options, yes and no to independence. The rest of the story is well known: the independence movement only obtained 45% of the votes and Alex Salmond resigned.
The Scottish way, by the way, contains another key element: that of a government that manages its powers effectively, without wasting a single pound, and that guarantees Scots a welfare state that includes free care for dependents, meals free in schools for all primary school students, very low university fees, and so on. If the independence movement aspires to broaden its base, as ERC says, it should pay attention to it. This element has given prestige to autonomous administration and is what makes many Scots think that if Scotland were independent, it would be better governed than it is now.
Pere Aragonès has won the elections with a clear mandate: sit down to negotiate and explore a path that does not go through unilateralism. The Government of Pedro Sánchez has embraced the path of pardons and the reduction of penalties for the crime of sedition. Comparing it with the judicialization of Rajoy, it is a giant step. Both have before them the possibility of making history. It is not necessary that they reach an immediate agreement or that they solve the conflict forever: it is enough that they open a path that can lead to an understanding valid for a generation.
The elements with which this understanding could be built are very diverse: an additional provision of the Constitution recognizing the historical rights of Catalonia and shielding the exclusive powers in matters of language, education and culture; tax agreement and ordinality; some element of bi-capitality; a new Statute that would have to be submitted to a referendum, with the logical possibility of other options being considered.
With the variations deemed necessary, this could be the point of arrival. Pedro Sánchez has once said that Catalonia is today the only Spanish autonomous community that does not have the Statute it voted for. It is a good starting point. The difficulty lies in going from one to the other. Mutual trust will have to be rebuilt with small steps that make it possible to move forward without the leaders of either party moving away from their voters, helping each other with complicity. ERC and the Government of Pedro Sánchez are already doing it. Oriol Junqueras’ article last Monday is a good example of this. Détente produces a virtuous cycle: backing out is becoming more and more costly.
Whether this path generates more or less antibodies outside of Catalonia and more or less illusion within it will depend on the ability of Sánchez and Aragonès, but the alternative is a dead end and the probable slow and diffuse growth of a dangerously independentism loaded with resentment and frustration. The PP and Vox will put all kinds of obstacles. We already saw it yesterday. A part of the independence movement will also make it difficult. For all of them, that the PSOE and the Government of the Generalitat managed to channel the litigation with an option B that would leave the majority of the citizens reasonably dissatisfied but satisfied would not be good news. The key will be to see who can do more.