I’m writing this column on Thursday, as Catalans vote for their next government in
an election called for by Mariano Rajoy last month. In normal circumstances, it would
be a tricky piece to write, because I know that these words will be published tomorrow,
when the result is known; yet I must write them today, while the outcome is still
in the future.
We’re not living in normal circumstances, though - we’re living in Spain at the close
of 2017. I can therefore say with certainty that whether the majority of Catalans
voted for anti or pro-independence parties yesterday, or whether the election eventually
results in a hung parliament, there is no end in sight to the Catalonia debacle.
At the time of writing, polls indicate that the vote is evenly split between pro
and anti-independence parties and that both sides will struggle to gain a parliamentary
majority if victorious. In other words, the Catalonia saga is about to reach new
heights of complexity and, potentially, animosity.
As a result, the Bank of Spain is erring on the side of caution in its analysis of
the Spanish economy’s medium-term future. According to its latest predictions, which
were released a few days before yesterday’s election, Spain’s GDP growth next year
will be 2.4%, down from an original forecast of 2.5%; the bank also lowered its projection
or 2019, from 2.2% to 2.1%. These slight downward adjustments were made because of
uncertainty surrounding the Catalonia situation.
Even if secessionist parties form a government after yesterday’s vote, they will
still disagree on how to proceed in talks with Madrid. Esquerra, the largest pro-independence
party, favours dropping the campaign for outright independence and negotiating with
Rajoy instead. The anarchist-communist party CUP, meanwhile, continues to support
a full split from Spain.
Pro-independence feeling in Catalonia has undoubtedly been increased by Rajoy’s ham-fisted
attempts to quash the secessionist project since October 1st: it will not simply
disappear if anti-independence parties form an administration following yesterday’s
election. But that’s assuming they even get that far, which is by no means a given.
Centrist newcomer Ciudadanos looks set to become the strongest anti-secession force
in Catalonia, yet it requires the backing of other parties to lead the region’s next
government. It can forget the support of the leftist Catalunya en Comú Podem, a party
that’s ambivalent about independence but steadfastly anti-Ciudadanos. This may make
kingmakers of the region’s Socialists, who are anti-independence but have their differences
So whichever way yesterday’s vote plays out, it looks like we’re in for a miniature
version of the Spanish general election in December 2015, which left Spain without
a government for ten months. Indeed, the farce that was Spanish politics last year
showed us that, in present day Spain, elections create more problems than they solve.