Catalonia impasse demands challenge to Rajoy

Submitted by Matthew on 10 January, 2018 - 10:56 Author: Martin Thomas

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has scheduled the first session of Catalonia's new parliament for 17 January.

Elections on 21 December gave a result similar to 2015. The pro-independence parties won a small majority of seats in the parliament (70/135 this time, 72/135 in 2015) with a slight minority of the votes (47.3% this time, 47.8% last time).

Only now several of the leading pro-independence MPs are now held in Spanish jails for sedition, or self-exiled in Brussels for fear of being jailed if they return to Catalonia.

On Friday 5 January Spain's Supreme Court refused bail to Oriol Junqueras, leader of the second-biggest pro-independence party, ERC.

There is talk of some of the exiled MPs renouncing their seats so that they can be replaced by colleagues to give effect in the chamber to the notional majority.

Catalonia's main pro-independence parties, JuntsxCat and ERC, have signalled no appetite for another attempt at a unilaterally-organised referendum or declaration of independence. Their immediate focus will be on a series of justified democratic demands: the lifting of charges against their leaders, the ending of Article 155 (direct rule from Madrid), negotiations with Madrid, and a path to a recognised independence referendum. The immediate prospect is for stalling by Rajoy, and exacerbated, sullen tensions.

When Catalonia's regional government called an independence referendum, in October, Rajoy condemned the referendum as "unconstitutional", and sent cops to Catalonia to obstruct it, sometimes by violence.

His bid to scare off voters from independence has failed, even though aided by thousands of firms anxiously moving their head offices from Catalonia in the meantime. He is still on the same track, though.

The election results showed a slight shift to the right. The leftish coalition Catalonia in Common, including Unidos Podemos, which opposed both unilateral independence and the Madrid coup, went down from 8.9% of the vote to 7.5%.
In the pro-independence camp, the left-wing CUP did much worse than in 2015. The figures should cool down the talk from Socialist Appeal and the Socialist Party of the Catalan independence movement being a sort of incipient socialist revolution.

Yet Catalonia has a right to self-determination. It has a right to choose, even if the people of Catalonia do not as yet link that choice with a drive for social advance. Even if we may think that the rise of the independence idea represents a search for "realistic" ways of escape from the economic plight of Spain since the 2008 crash, and a diversion and distraction (in fact unrealistic) from socialist politics.

Money wages in Spain have stagnated since 2010. With inflation at about 2% a year, real wages have been steadily dwindling. They were 9% behind 2009's level by 2013. The official unemployment rate stands at 16%, and 38% for young people.

There were big social protests in the city squares in 2011. Some of the energy from them went into a new left-wing movement, Podemos. Launched in 2014, it quickly and briefly led opinion polls in Spain, and got about 20% of the vote in Spain's 2015 general election. But, despite absorbing the Izquierda Unida movement into itself, it has so far proved unable to consolidate the impulse for social change into a solid advance based on the working class.

Its promises of super-democracy inside the new party have proved illusory; it has lost some of its never-very-sharp radical edge; and its opinion-poll rating, though still sizeable at 15%-18% across Spain, is down rather than up on 2015.

Little wonder that many people have turned to Catalan independence as a more tangible prospect of change, even if they do not believe that Puigdemont's rootedly conservative, and historically corrupt, party will bring much social relief.
Spain-wide, Rajoy's is a minority government. He has been able to pursue his thuggish policy towards Catalonia, and his social cuts across Spain, only thanks to the complaisance of the Citizens' Party and the PSOE in Madrid.

Opinion polls across Spain signal weariness rather than polarisation for an alternative. Rajoy's PP is at 30%, down from 33% in the 2016 election. The Citizens' Party is up from 13% to around 20%; the PSOE is up a fraction at around 22% to 26%. The opposition parties have made no loud call for a new election.

Socialists should support the justified democratic demands, while at the same time pressing for political mobilisation to oust Rajoy and create paths towards constructive socialist change.