Spanish state: the Catalan February 14 election backgrounded
By Dick Nichols
February 12, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The issue must have been serious to persuade Salvador Illa, Spain’s minister for health, to leave that critical job just as the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was approaching its peak.
It was. For Illa’s party, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), which runs the Spanish government with Unidas Podemos (UP) as junior partner, the Catalan independence movement’s still undefeated threat to Spain’s territorial unity is a graver concern than any virus—even one that has so far claimed 60,000 lives.
With opinion polls before the new year showing that the Catalan election set for February 14 would return a larger pro-independence majority, PSOE anxiety would only have deepened. For example, according to the December survey of Catalonia’s official Centre for Opinion Studies (CEO), pro-independence parties would win up to 50.9% of the vote and 77-seats in the country’s 135-seat parliament. That figure compares with their present majority of 70 seats, won with 47.5% support at the December 2017 Catalan election. The former Spanish People’s Party (PP) government of prime minister Marian Rajoy called that consultation as a part of its suspension of Catalan self-rule under article 155 of the constitution, following the “unlawful” October 1, 2017 independence referendum.
What was the PSOE to do, as much wedded as it is to Spanish state unity as the right-wing opposition People’s Party (PP)? The polls had the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC, the PSOE’s Catalan sister organisation) replacing the neoliberal, Spanish-centralist Citizens as lead unionist force, but not becoming the parliament’s biggest party (with first go at trying to form a government).
Until late December, the unionist bloc (PSC, Citizens, PP and the far-right Vox) was shown as winning 55 seats at most, 13 less than an absolute majority. Even in the miraculous event of it overtaking the pro-independence enemy, a governing alliance between such disparate forces would be inconceivable.
If the PSC were to have any chance of returning to the position it enjoyed between 2003 and 2010—of leading force in a three-party government broadly regarded as left and including the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC)—it simply could not run a business-as-usual campaign: a major counter-offensive against the Catalan revolt was called for, one with a chance of breaking the pro-independence majority in the parliament.
For such a noble purpose the PSOE-PSC has the support of all strands of the Spanish economic, political and media establishment and of Spanish-unionist politics. An early indicator was the January 22 offer of the Spanish-chauvinist and Islamophobic Vox to “facilitate” a PSC government as an alternative to the Catalan administration remaining in the hands of the “separatists and coup-mongers”. For the right and far right and the Madrid media “cavern”, the PSOE in the Spanish congress is an “illegitimate” ally of the “secessionists and communists”, but in the Catalan badlands, where right and far-right unionism will be lucky to score 25% of the vote, the PSC is the hope of Spanish nationalism and gets treated as part of the family, albeit prone to treachery.
From supporting 155 to ‘reconciliation’
Enter health minister Illa, who on December 31 announced that he had agreed to be PSC lead candidate. Illa is Catalan and, despite virulent criticism from the parties of the right in the Spanish congress and Spain getting ranked 78th in the world for its response to COVID-19 (Lowy Institute figure), enjoyed the support incumbent politicians confronting the pandemic have generally attracted. Illa’s steady performance and media profile made him the PSOE-PSC’s “dream candidate”, and its strategy for deploying his political capital unfolded as follows.
First, Miquel Iceta, PSC first secretary, full-time party operative for 33 years and its usual lead candidate, stood aside. After absorbing the message of internal PSC polling, he came out in smiling support of Illa: his reward from Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez was to be made state minister for territories and the public service.
Taking Iceta off the Catalan stage had the advantage of lessening the pain of the notorious images of him smiling alongside Citizens, PP and fascist figures at the October 2017 Barcelona demonstrations for Spanish unity (which Illa also attended, but less visibly). It was now easier for the PSOE, which in 2017 voted for the article 155 destruction of Catalan self-government, to get its campaign message across.
This is that Illa is standing for a Catalonia that “speaks and does not shout, without acts of revenge, the Catalonia of reunion”. Illa’s line is that after ten years squandered in fights over “identity” in a “paralysed” and “disoriented” country, it is time to heal the wounds, admit mistakes and look to a future focused on “the real problems of real people, like you and me”. At the same time, Catalonia had better get used to the Fact that, in the words of Sánchez at a February 7 PSC rally, “independence was always impossible.”
“Reunion” is the PSOE-PSC mantra to seduce voters most concerned with the pandemic and the economic crisis, instilling the feeling that a vote for Catalan self-determination is wasted and that “real solutions” can only come from Sánchez’s office in Madrid. Sánchez and his cabinet is backing this operetta of reconciliation with the insinuation of largesse for Catalonia in the case of a PSC victory, to be sourced from European Union COVID-19 crisis funds.
But the PSOE-PSC has not moved a millimetre away from its rejection of a Catalan right to self-determination, a “conviction” essential to maintaining the support of the Spanish establishment but also an immediate electoral necessity. Seducing unionist voters away from Citizens, which was the lead party at the 2017 election Catalan election, requires ironclad guarantees of anti-independentism, especially after Sánchez had to rely on Catalan and Basque support to pass Spain’s 2021 budget. Citizens, the PP and Vox never stop reminding voters of this “dependence on the terrorists and the separatists”.
In an interview in the February 3 Catalan daily Ara, Illa when asked whether the PSOE-PSC’s support for article 155 was a mistake, repeated the convenient fiction of the Rajoy government as to the cause of the intervention: “No, I think that 155 was the response to a mistake, a previous mistake, that of September 6 and 7, which violated the rule of law.” The reference was to the sessions of the Catalan parliament that adopted the laws governing the conduct of the referendum and action in the case of a successful “Yes” vote. However, at this point there was no movement by the “rule of law”: the application of 155 was only initiated after the humiliation to the Spanish state and government of the successful conduct of the referendum in the face of police violence on October 1.
Of course, the PSOE-PSC brand of denial of a Catalan right to decide is cloaked as civilised “constitutionalism” and nothing to do with the right’s crude strains of Spanish nationalism. For example, after the announcement of Illa’s candidacy a graphic was posted by a PSC councillor in the town of Collbató presenting the health minister as a vaccine against the yellow ribbon (symbol of solidarity with the political prisoners): the PSC disowned the graphic and it vanished from the web.
Nonetheless, in their struggle to obtain a slice of the million-plus unionist vote that went to Citizens in 2017—60-75% of which looks set to abandon it—PSC candidates and propaganda have for the first time adopted Castilian (Spanish) as its preferred language of communication in campaign meetings and debates. With this shift, the PSC, once proud of its Catalanism and supporter of the right to self-determination until 2012—that is, until its exercise started to become a real possibility—has become unionism’s main political bulwark. As a result, the party lost it last Catalanist MP in September, when Carles Castillo, deputy for the industrial city of Tarragona and only PSC notable to visit the political prisoners, abandoned ship. He will now stand for the ERC on February 14, where he joins other former PSC leaders who didn’t see the point of belonging to an organisation that has become a mere PSOE franchise.
Pandemic threat to PSOE bandwagon? Judges to the rescue
As the campaign started the PSOE-PSC focussed all its energy on launching an Illa bandwagon effect. On January 8, the daily El Periódico, his effective mouthpiece, published a poll showing the PSC as lead party with 34-35 seats and the independence camp at 68 seats, one away from losing its majority: Illa was—as required—“shaking up the Catalan political scene”.
However, for a couple of days it looked as if the carefully planned blitzkrieg would all be to no avail. On January 15, heeding the advice of public health authorities, all parties in the Catalan parliament except the PSC agreed with the Catalan government’s proposal to postpone the election until May 31: elections on February 14 would still coincide with the pandemic’s third wave.
At this point, the platform Left Federalists, close to the PSC, and seven other groups and individuals appealed the postponement to the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC). That enabled its judges to provisionally suspend the decree by a 4-1 majority, on the grounds that “there is a very intense public interest in the suspended elections being held, because if they are not held a prolonged period of provisionality begins, affecting the normal functioning of the democratic institutions.”
On January 29, the court quashed the government’s postponement decree definitively, by a 6-1 majority. Despite medical opinion and the intervention of the Catalan Ombudsman, the court majority argued that:
- The situation with the pandemic did not constitute a force majeure that would justify postponement;
- Postponement would be a “very intense” limitation of democratic rights;
- ERC leader Pere Aragonés—deputy-premier in the absence of premier Quim Torra who had been suspended by the TSJC for ignoring a Spanish electoral commission order--had no constitutional right to postpone the election and the table of parties that supported the decision had no status in law;
- The postponement of regional elections in 2020 in Galicia and the Basque Country because of COVID-19 was not a precedent because the impact of the pandemic in those cases was “unforeseeable”; and
- No-one could say with certainty that the Covid-19 pandemic would be less threatening in May.
Dissenting magistrate José Manuel De Soler Bigas maintained his position, arguing that:
- No Catalan party had appealed against the postponement decree;
- Official medical advice continued to underline the danger of holding elections in the midst of the pandemic, no matter how rigorous the measures to ensure voter safety;
- The French National Assembly would decide on whether to postpone regional elections on the basis of recommendations of a scientific committee;
- Under Spanish electoral law (Catalonia has no electoral law of its own) the pandemic qualified as force majeure;
- A probable low level of participation—39.4% in the case of Portugal’s recent presidential poll—would lead to questioning of the validity of the election result;
- After the suspension of premier Torra, the powers agreed by parliament to be withdrawn from vice-premier Aragonès did not include that of postponing elections;
- The threat to life from continuing with the election must have greater weight than any threat to democratic rights from election postponement.
After this ruling, the Catalan government saw no point in appealing to the Spanish Supreme Court. The sarcastic tweet of Jaume Padrós, president of the Barcelona College of Doctors, was to the point: “Thanks for taking the opinion of medical professionals into account at such a delicate moment.” On February 1, Jordi Cuixart, the imprisoned president of culture and language association Òmnium Cultural, described the decision as “an operation of state. Illa becoming president of the Generalitat [the Catalan government] has been put above everything, even looking after the health of the Catalans. All epidemiologists very specifically asked for the elections to be suspended.”
One immediate result of the judges’ decision was that 25% of the 90,000 citizens chosen by ballot to staff polling centres on February 14 have lodged appeals against the requirement to spend the day overseeing voting in mid-pandemic: on February 4, the head of the Catalan electoral authority said it was considering asking for volunteers to staff the voting centres.
At the same time the critical importance of the election for all-Spanish politics was confirmed by the programs of appearances of party heavyweights announced from Madrid: prime minister Sánchez would make five appearances and PP opposition leader Pablo Casado six, while Vox leader Santiago Abascal would be “confronting the secessionists” at every opportunity. On the left, both Pablo Iglesias, Podemos leader and Spain’s second deputy prime minister, and Alberto Garzón, United Left leader and consumer affairs ministers, would be putting in appearances.
The overall battleground
The chances of the PSOE-PSC assault on the Catalan sovereignty movement succeeding will depend on the participation rate. With final legal polls (February 8) still showing 20-30% of voters yet to make up their mind and ex-premier Carles Puigdemont’s Together (Junts), the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the PSC in a three-way fight for first position, any result is possible. Whether the PSC manages to achieve first place (and be proclaimed “the winner”) will depend on the degree of mobilisation achieved by the Catalan movement. It has been demobilised by the pandemic and stressed by internal differences, but, as on all other occasions of threat, the Illa operation could well regalvanise it.
Since the 2017 referendum, the movement has jumped over all the obstructions put in its place: it won the December 2017 election called by Rajoy as part of his government’s suspension of Catalan self-rule and then won the May 2019 European election, when former Puigdemont and two of his ministers were elected as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) after initially being denied the right to stand. It next won the struggle in the European parliament to have these elected members seated as MEPs, against the opinion of the Spanish courts.
Nonetheless, this latest fight takes place with the Catalan political battlefield showing its greatest ever fragmentation. In the 2015 and 2017 elections, both won by the pro-independence bloc, there were seven candidates in the televised election debates: this time there are nine. The two extras point to the main changes in Catalan and all-Spanish politics over the past three years: the emergence of the far-right, xenophobic and racist Vox—itself a product of the “secessionist threat” of October —and the ongoing fragmentation of the camp of centre and centre-right Catalan nationalism.
Within the independence camp, the fight for lead position is reflecting its never-resolved debates over three key questions. How adequate as a referendum—irrespective of its magnificence as mass revolt (known here as the “day that will live for years”)—was the October 1, 2017 consultation? Why was the resultant declaration of independence never implemented? What must now be done to restart the struggle?
Pro-independence voters have four choices of strategy, which also makes the February 14 election a rough plebiscite on the way forward for the movement. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but in the context of the election campaign each proposal gets identified with a contending party and caricatured by rivals. The options are: (1) Junts’ proposal to “reactivate” the October 27, 2017 declaration of independence in the case that the vote for pro-independence parties exceeds 50%; (2) ERC’s proposal to restart the table of dialogue with the Sánchez government, with a negotiated referendum and amnesty for the political prisoners and exiles the key points on the agenda; (3) the proposal of the left-independentist alliance People’s Unity List-Let’s Win Catalonia (CUP-GC) to set a deadline of 2025 as the latest date for a new referendum, with the intervening period being spent in implanting the structures and institutions that ensure that a vote for independence can next time actually be implemented, and; (4) the proposal of the conservative Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat) for a negotiated referendum once the present situation of the political prisoners and exiles has been resolved and “normality” restored.
The pandemic-induced economic crisis has also meant that these different recipes for achieving independence have been accompanied by a greater presence of social and class issues than in previous polls: what economic and social programs are needed to confront the crisis and how are they to be paid for? For example, the 2021 Catalan budget was passed when the Together We Can (ECP-PEC) coalition that is generally called the Commons (and which includes Barcelona mayoress Ada Colau) gave its support in exchange for an increase in taxation on the wealthiest and an inheritance tax. Both of these were anathema to the more right-wing MPs within the governing majority, but they dutifully “swallowed the frog” in order to finally have a budget.
In its struggle to maintain a presence in parliament PDECat has made removing these taxes one of its main banners, forcing Junts, which combines supporters and opponents of higher taxation of the wealthy, to take a stand. This it did, maintaining its support for the taxes but arguing that they were made necessary by Madrid’s discriminatory treatment of Catalonia: after independence they could go.
Apart from the key struggle in any Catalan election—to win a seat majority for independentism or unionism—the other many-sided struggles being fought out on the battlefield of February 14 are outlined below. Inevitably, in all of them the contestants seek to protect their own most exposed flank while exploiting those of their rival(s). At the same time, given that no party will remotely approach 30% of the vote, each must spell out what coalition for government it proposes. This produces a series of mutually exclusive vetos that will only be resolved after the election, if indeed then.
It also guarantees a campaign dominated by scaremongering about what horrors a vote for rivals would bring. For example, for Junts, a vote for it is insurance against the (nonexistent) spectre of a PSC-ERC government; for the PDECat, a vote for it guarantees against (the mirage of) a victory of “the parties of the left” (PSC, ERC and Junts); and for Citizens a vote for it will prevent an (entirely fanciful) joint administration of the PSC and “the secessionists”.
The struggles in the independence bloc
Here are the main questions raised within the independence bloc by this Catalan election, together with the provisional answers suggested by polling averages since the start of the official campaign on January 29.
Will the independence bloc maintain its seat majority?
The independence bloc will increase its seat count from 70 to 72 seats, with the unionist seat count falling from 57 to 55. This would seem to indicate that the Illa bandwagon will fail to make inroads into the independence bloc despite popular dissatisfaction with the ERC-JxCat government. However, given the high percentage of still undecided voters this figure should be treated with caution.
Which party will win the relative majority, won in 2017 by Citizens with 36 seats?
It is impossible to say, as polling gives the PSC, Junts and ERC between 30 and 33 seats each.
Which party, JxCat or the ERC, will get to lead the pro-independence bloc?
At the beginning of the fortnight of formal election campaigning, Junts and the ERC, both wary of confirming by their behaviour the PSC message about the impotent squabbling of independentism, agreed informally to keep their mutual criticism within bounds. This, however, was difficult, given the stakes in the struggle for hegemony within the independence camp and the two parties contradictory proposals for government alliances.
Junts was launched by Puigdemont in mid-2020 as a catch-all formation representing Catalan republicans of all political tendencies and embodying the “spirit of October”. It has the advantage of running the exiled ex-premier as lead candidate for Barcelona (but he will not take up his seat), as well as standing Catalonia’s first ever woman lead candidate with a chance of becoming premier, Laura Borràs.
In the 2017 elections, Together for Catalonia (JxCat), which has divided into Junts and PDECat at this election, overtook ERC in the last days of the campaign, a nightmare for the ERC whose repetition it is doing everything to avoid. In its fight for first place, Junts insinuates doubt about its rival’s commitment to the struggle for independence. This message is supposedly justified by the ERC’s past participation in government with the PSC, its support for the 2021 Spanish state budget after negotiating some gains for Catalonia, its championing of the stalled “table of dialogue” with the Sánchez government and, above all, its insistence on broadening the support base of the movement before restarting conflict with the Spanish state at some unspecified future date.
At the core of Junts scepticism about the genuineness of ERC’s commitment is the ERC speaker Roger Torrent’s avoidance during the last parliamentary term of any showdown with Spanish courts, exemplified in January 2018 by his refusal to accept the investiture by video link of the exiled Puigdemont.
To lock the other pro-independence parties into restarting the march towards independence, Junts has proposed that in the event of a 50% vote for pro-independence forces, the Catalan parliament formally reactivate the 2017 declaration of independence and that in coordination with the other parts of the movement carry out the preparations for making independence effective during the coming legislature.
ERC has rejected this approach. According to leader Oriol Junqueras: “We don’t want to declare independence 2000 times and have it last a couple of seconds.” For the ERC, a negotiated referendum can be forced on Madrid by mobilising and organising the 70%-80% of Catalans who support Catalonia’s right to self-determination, making the political price of continuing rejection unsustainable for the PSOE.
The ERC also presents the elections as Catalonia’s opportunity to overcome its revolving door of right-nationalist and PSC-led administrations. In the words of lead candidate Pere Aragonès: “I am convinced that we’re going to win and that this party with 90 years of history and commitment to the country and not a single case of corruption will win the trust of the citizens on February 14. After 40 years of convergent and socialist—or post-convergent and semi-socialist—premiers at the head of the Generalitat, now is the ERC’s moment. It’s the only real change that can happen at these elections.”
The ERC proposes a government composed of or supported by all pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces—itself, Junts, CUP-GC, PDECat and the Commons. In reply to the objection that the Commons and Junts have mutually vetoed each other as partners in an alliance for government, Arragonès points to the examples of Lleida and Tarragona city councils, former PSC strongholds where pro-sovereignty alliances of these forces installed ERC mayors.
For its part, Junts calls for a government of pro-independence forces, which would exclude the ECP-PEC.
Junts will find it harder to repeat its last-minute overtaking of ERC in the 2017 election because of its recent split with the conservative PDECat, to which the Spanish electoral commission mischievously assigned all Junt’s official media time and which polls are showing as winning up to three seats, provided it gets across the 3% vote threshold for winning parliamentary representation.
The struggle for hegemony between Junts and the ERC will basically be determined by whether the ERC’s probable gains at the expense of the PSC in the working-class, mainly Spanish-speaking, industrial belts surrounding Barcelona offset any losses incurred to the Junts’ scare campaign about ERC’s supposed lack of commitment to the independence struggle.
Will Junts and ERC win a seat majority between them?
That can practically be ruled out. Although a couple of polls showed the two parties with 68 seats (a one-seat majority) in early January, once campaigning began their average joint score in polling fell to 64 seats. Dissatisfaction within the JxCat-ERC government is showing up not in desertion to non-independence parties, but in an increased vote for the left-independentist CUP-GC, which the average of polling since campaigning began shows doubling its seat tally to eight.
What explains the apparent increase in the vote for the CUP-GC?
The likely explanation is that the left-independentist alliance is succeeding in combining a less rhetorical and more concrete strategy for the independence struggle with detailed proposals for confronting the deepening economic and social crisis. A central role here is given to a Universal Basic Income shown to be affordable though increased taxation of capital income and wealth.
Another factor would be the decision of the coalition to run as its lead candidate Dolors Sabater, former mayor of industrial and working-class Badalona. For Sabater, “people are dispirited after October 1 because of this legislature with so much pain and repression. They face these elections thinking that there’s no point in voting. But we’re here to say that it’s important that people vote to end this stalemate.”
Is PDECat likely to enter the Catalan parliament?
PDECat, with its extensive network of mayors and councillors, mainly in rural Catalonia, faces a life-or-death test at this election: will its traditional voters, who have not so far had to choose between Puigdemont and their traditional party (first CDC, then PDECat), remain loyal? A major goal of PDECat, which, unlike its CDC antecedent declares that it supports independence, is to provide a counterweight within the independence camp to the radicalism of the CUP. PDECat would count it as a major success if it could relieve a future pro-independence governing coalition from dependence on the CUP, which was responsible for former premier Artur Mas having to stand aside for Puigdemont in 2016. Mas is campaigning for PDECat, but without—unlike other candidates who lump Junts together with the left—attacking Puigdemont.
Polling to date shows no certain seat gains for PDECat: an important factor in its final score will be whether voters wavering between it and Junts feel they should risk weakening Puigdemont’s party in its struggle with ERC.
The role of the Commons
The ECP-PEC has gone into his election with a message that is a left echo of the PSC’s denunciation of Catalonia’s “wasted decade of conflict”. In the words of Ada Colau on the candidacy’s mass-distribution leaflet: “Catalonia needs a left government that leaves confrontations behind and carries out policies that are useful for the majority.” Although the Commons continue to pay lip service to the Catalan right of self-determination, one-time support for an independence referendum becomes in its platform for this election a vote on a negotiated political agreement with the Spanish state—effectively a new Catalan statute of autonomy.
In a February 8 interview with Ara, Pablo Iglesias who was visiting Barcelona for a Commons meeting, said: “We’ve always defended a referendum. But when different parties, in this case two governments, sit down at the negotiating table, the basic thing is to create an agreement which for sure won’t contain 100% of the political demands of all the protagonists. It has to be an agreement that allows for a democratic management of a conflict that is political.”
A clear confirmation of the Commons continuing shift away from support for the actual struggle for self-determination in Catalonia—a slide which began in mid-2019 when Ada Colau made an alliance with the PSC to govern Barcelona—is the categorisation of Puigdemont’s catch-all party Junts –which is “left wing” for PDECat—as “right wing”, while the PSC, denier of the right to self-determination and supporter of the 155 intervention, gets unhesitatingly classified as left. The Commons’ call for a “government of the left” looks to make a negotiated compromise over Catalonia easier by excluding Junts, not because it is “right-wing”, but because it is an intransigent defender of the country’s right to self-determination.
The Commons stand for turning a page on “time lost” by giving Catalonia a left government of ERC, PSC and themselves, a re-edition of the 2003-2010 tripartite administration, as if the rise of the Catalan movement and the brutal Spanish state offensive against it are to be forgotten.
On February 4, Xavier Doménech, former coordinator for the ECP, commented on the PSC version of this proposed turn to oblivion: “It seems mind-boggling to me because you can’t erase a decade, even more so a decade that wasn’t normal, from 15M [the indignados movement] to what happened here. Running a country means taking responsibility for it. Governing a country is not telling the people to forget what happened.”
The average of polling gives the ECP-PEC eight seats, the same result as in 2017.
If the polls prove accurate, the unionist right bloc (PP, Citizens and Vox) is set to fall from 40 seats to 24, as Citizens is devoured from all sides. The PSC seems set to take most of its flesh, leaving Citizens in a fight to maintain itself as the right’s lead party, and the PP to defend itself against Vox’s pretensions to “recover Catalonia” (i.e., wipe out its institutions).
If Vox overtakes the PP, the Catalan parliament will be the first regional chamber in the Spanish state where this has happened, and a sign that Spanish chauvinism is taking on an increasingly aggressive and racist character on the frontline of the struggle to preserve Spain’s “eternal” unity.
That result should be compared to the certain electoral destiny of the far-right Catalan National Front (FNC), Vox’s approximate mirror within the Catalan movement. It does not even register in opinion polling.
Analysis of the 20%-30% of the still undecided vote shows that the polling averages noted in this article could end up differing markedly from the actual vote on February 14. For example, according to Catalonia’s CEO, 280,000 voters are undecided between ERC and some other party, with 153,000 on the frontier between ERC and Junts, 92,000 on the frontier with the CUP-GC, 92,000 on the frontier with the PSC, and 89,000 on the frontier with the Commons.
Depending on voters’ final decisions, these numbers could hand ERC a decisive victory or consign it to a sad third position behind Junts and the PSC. At this point, about the only thing that can be said with much certainty is that the struggle to combine a common strategy for Catalonia’s right to decide with a decisive response to the rising tide of poverty and social misery can only become more fraught--even if the cracked castle of independentism withstands the Spanish state’s latest onslaught.
Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly European correspondent, based in Barcelona
 Up until 2012, conservative Catalan nationalism was represented by the coalition Convergence and Union (CiU), made up of the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the now defunct Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC), with Christian democratic roots. The revelations of its corruption combined with the rise of the independence movement tore apart this single political voice of conservative Catalanism, in which many different currents coexisted.
The culminating moment in this process was the split last year between PDECat—the 2016 rebadging of CDC—and Puigdemont. In insisting that PDECat as a party could not join Junts but that PDECat members had to join it as individuals, Puigdemont, who was intent on a complete break with the CDC’s past, left the PDECat leadership with no choice but to dissolve their organisation. This they refused, even though dissolution was supported by its high-profile political prisoner members Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Juaquim Forn, Along with many others, they subsequently left PDECat for Junts.