The researcher from the Department of Political Science and Administration of the UNED and the LSE Ideas think tank talks about the concept of “affective polarity” that leads people to vote against others and not in favour of proposals.
José Javier Olivas, with 16 years of work as a researcher, is an expert on populism. For him, both Brexit and what has happened in Catalonia have the problem that “social division forces people to take a position and many become aware of a political identity that they didn’t have before. Suddenly, if you take the side of the losing option, you are not part of the community”. The researcher from the Department of Political Science and Administration of the UNED and the think tank LSE Ideas speaks of the concept of “affective polarity” that leads people to vote against others and not in favour of proposals.
The process of populism is not immediate and also involves the use of a certain language. “The Spanish press used Catalan nationalist terminology uncritically from 2012 onwards, and it was only at the height of the procés that they became aware of its manipulation and began to stop using terms such as the right to decide and others.
Olivas reflects on populist processes that he considers to be based on generating feelings of indignation: “Spain steals from us (Catalan independence), Brussels takes our money (Brexiters)”. For the researcher, although Catalan independence did not achieve its ultimate goal, which was none other than the creation of a state, “it did make significant progress, given that it normalised certain nationalist interpretative frameworks, euphemisms and messages such as those related to language or the acceptance that the rule of law does not prevail in Catalonia”.
The greatest success of Catalan independence, according to José Javier Olivas, has been that “a large part of the international community has bought the narrative that Catalonia is an oppressed people”. Catalan independence has been able to achieve many of its objectives due to the lack of a “counter-narrative on the part of the Spanish state and its governments”. A clear example of this lack of counter-narrative is what has happened with Citizen Lab and the alleged spying on Catalan pro-independence political leaders, which has been taken up, even by the Spanish government, without any doubt as to the report’s credibility.
For Olivas, Citizen Lab has acted more like an activist organisation than a scientific organisation, and he recalls that many analyses carried out a posteriori cast doubt on the report’s results. José Javier Olivas stresses that “only Josep Borrell and Irene Lozano, in Pedro Sánchez’s first term in office, tried to launch messages of response at the international level about the real political situation in Catalonia”. Olivas recalls positively Sánchez’s visit to the LSE during his first term as Prime Minister and the clarity of his message on independence and finds the change of attitude of the Prime Minister disheartening.
“For many years, Catalan independence has worked actively in London and in many parts of the world to spread its message at an international level so that it can be heard by the media and the elites, without facing any kind of opposition or opposition of ideas”.
Olivas establishes comparisons between Scottish and Catalan pro-independence populism, reaching the conclusion that Catalan populism is more radical and populist, given that Scottish populism adopts a “more constructive” and less aggressive discourse, focusing its messages more on public policy issues. Olivas establishes five factors for analysing populism: antagonism, morality, idealised construction of society, exaltation of popular sovereignty and personalistic leadership.
“Populist movements do not focus so much on dismantling the proposals of their rivals, but rather consider them as enemies and try to delegitimise them and describe them as immoral”, adding that “they try to homogenise society by excluding those they do not consider to belong to the people”. “The fourth factor, the exaltation of popular sovereignty, is used by populists to question the model of representative democracy and the traditional party system that they seek to unseat.
Finally, personalist leadership, Olivas argues, “emanates from the belief in the existence of a popular will that certain leaders are capable of feeling and transmitting by leading the fight against corrupt elites”. “Examples of this type of leadership would be Farage in the UK or Puigdemont in Catalonia, one becoming the visible head of the campaign against the EU and the other the martyr”.