With delegates from the CUP attending this year’s Radical Independence Conference, this is a timely, and brief, introduction to the political situation in Catalunya, with particular
respect to the campaign for independence, by Alister Rutherford of RI Dundee.
Catalunya is in some ways a bit behind Scotland in that there is as yet no agreement with Madrid on the holding of a referendum and thus no question. However there is a large majority in favour of holding a referendum.
Surprisingly there has historically only been one party that has campaigned openly
for independence. This is the Left Republicans – ERC. It has for many years led
the call for independence in the Catalan parliament. Its electoral support fluctuates
between 8 – 14% of the vote. Recently they have been joined in parliament by a
new community based party. The Popular Unity Candidacy – CUP – is made up of autonomous local groups based in municipalities. They come from the radical alternative left and won 3% of the votes at the last election.
Maybees Aye and Maybees No
This is pretty much the position of two other left wing parties which campaign
together at elections. ICV-EUiA represent two different political traditions, marxist
and green. Initiative for Catalunya Greens – ICV is a merger between what
remained of the once powerful Catalan Communist party and the Greens. Some of
its members split to form their own little party, one that was formally linked to the
Spanish wide United Left party – IU. In Catalunya they are known as the United
and Alternative Left. Despite the schism they work with ICV as a combined list for
elections and win between 7-10% of the vote. They are very strongly in favour of a
referendum and the right of self-determination. They are though split around how
to vote. Some favour independence, while others want a New Federalism for the
whole of Spain.
In Catalunya as in the rest of Spain, Nationalists have not been historically in favour
of independence. They donʼt really want federalism either, they want a special
status for the country within Spain. In Catalunya there are two Nationalist parties,
a small Christian Democrat party – UDC, and a larger Liberal party – CDC, which
work as one at elections as Convergència i Uniò – CiU. They have been the
dominant force in electoral terms post Franco, winning between 31-47% of the
votes. They represent the catalan speaking middle classes and have close links
with the business sector. Initially their main aim was to protect and promote the
catalan language, but now they want greater fiscal powers.
No, No and No
As in Scotland there are three parties campaigning against independence. The
main one is the Spanish conservative party – PP. They are totally against not just
independence, but against just about everything to do with Catalunya. No
referendum, no new powers. Though popular in most of Spain the PP have never
achieved much electoral success in Catalunya, and win between 10-13% of the
votes. They are however ably supported by a relatively new formation, Citizens –
Party of the Citizenry – Cʼs. Just about their sole purpose is to oppose
independence and the promotion of the catalan language. They have jumped from
3% to winning 8% of the votes at the last election. The third party in the No camp is
the party of the Catalan socialists – PSC. They are also part of the Spanish wide
party – PSOE. PSC are in a difficult place just now. They are in favour of more
powers for Catalunya, but when last in office, a few years ago, they failed to
achieve much in this respect. Despite the fact that there was a socialist
government in Madrid at the time. They support the referendum and talk vaguely
about federalism, but offer nothing specific.
The above is a rough outline of the political parties represented in parliament.
However most of the progress towards the holding of a referendum and towards
independence has come from grass roots, community based groups up and down
Catalunya. Only the CUP has actively participated in these movements. It was
these groups which from 2006 onwards organised a series of mass participation
campaigns which has propelled independence into the forefront of the political debate. These included unofficial municipal referendums, mass rallies and this years Catalan Way. The most spectacular was the one in September 2012 which brought out more than a million people under the slogan – Catalunya, new state in Europe. This was a game changing event. The ruling CiU coalition decided, after the event, to support their demand for a referendum. The Liberal part of the coalition has now come out in support of independence: the first time a Nationalist party in Spain has declared for independence. Their junior party, the ChristianDemocrats have so far remained behind, and now talk vaguely about some kind of third way.
As mentioned above this massive grass roots campaign is causing grave
problems for the Catalan socialists. Can any Spanish government be trusted to
bring about real progressive social and economic change? No one knows how this
will develop in Catalunya, but the two largest political groups could be on the verge
of a massive split into pro and anti independence sections.