Carles Castro, Barcelona, 10 October 2022
Jordi Turull, Laura Borràs and Oriol Junqueras at a recent Òmnium event
The division of Catalan nationalism means a loss of electoral tension that threatens its parliamentary hegemony
The independence ‘procés’ is clinically dead. And although a benevolent diagnosis places it in an induced coma, the internal confrontation that Catalan nationalism is experiencing does not augur a quick or easy recovery. The reproaches that the different players in the pro-independence movement are hurling at each other, and now the break-up of the coalition government, make for an electorally toxic breeding ground. And this drift leads one to wonder whether the hitherto indestructible secessionist parliamentary majority might not find itself in danger for the first time.
The last autonomous elections, held in February 2021 amidst a record abstention rate of almost 49%, generated a real mirage. The famous 52% of secessionist votes claimed by the most fervent supporters of “jumping over the wall” (although the abyss awaits on the other side) is a false figure on two counts. Firstly, because the votes for pro-independence parties accounted for little more than 51% of the vote cast (and only 48% for brands with parliamentary representation). And secondly, because the almost 1.5 million pro-independence voters on 14 February represented only a quarter of the electoral body. In other words, less than 26% of the almost six million voters that make up the Catalan electorate.
Secessionism will not have a majority if it stagnates in its 2019 vote and the rest recovers only 3% of the electoral roll.
Behind this gloomy balance sheet is hidden, however, the real threat that could dislodge the pro-independence parties from the Government. In February 2021, the losses of close to 600,000 voters registered by the secessionist brands with respect to the 2017 elections were offset by the parallel demobilisation of those opposed to independence. The situation was not what it had been four years earlier and no one in their right mind could have feared a new DUI. Hence the extraordinary relaxation (born of extreme fatigue) exhibited by the anti-secession electorate. Almost 900,000 of these voters stayed at home.
As a result, independence saved its parliamentary majority and even extended it by four more seats, to 74, in the last regional elections. The problem with this generous majority is that it could constitute a real swansong for the secessionist forces. In the current circumstances, if this electorate continues to withdraw or, worse still, moves from abstention to actively supporting a state party, albeit to a very limited extent, the result could lead to an inverse correlation, leaving the pro-independence movement in a minority against the rest of the parties.
The attached graphs show four scenarios in which, based on the results that have been produced in Catalonia over the last decade, the pro-independence parties could lose their majority, even obtaining many more votes than on 14 February. For example, secessionism would be in a minority with almost two million ballots if the rest of the parties were to repeat the exceptional result of 2017. But it would also be in a minority if it were stuck in its 2021 vote and the rest of the groups were to obtain the same number of votes as in 2012 (less than 1,800,000) or 2015 (just over two million).
And in much more plausible scenarios, the pro-independence movement would lose its majority by the slimmest of margins if it were to repeat its result of 14 February and, at the same time, the rest of the parties – especially the PSC – were to mobilise slightly more than 200,000 voters who stayed at home in 2021. In that scenario, the anti-secessionist parties would gather slightly more than 1,600,000 voters, which would not reach 29% of the electoral roll (a percentage they have been exceeding by far between 1995 and 2017) and would add up to 68 seats.
Independentism may be banking its fate on the fact that fragmentation is greater and more irreconcilable in the anti-secessionist bloc (which occupies a space that ranges from the alternative left to the far-right). But continuing to play electorally with the fire of the fratricidal struggle could lead to unimaginable scenarios.