I have written pieces on the Catalan situation before, but from my desk in London. From here in Spain it looks somewhat different. All my Spanish friends are unanimous in their support of the constitution (including some who live in Barcelona). They may have some sympathy with those Catalans who want a greater degree of autonomy but they have no time for Puigdemont and his party, or demands for an independent Catalonia.
I have been surprised by the strength of feeling here.
‘It happened in 1934,’ I am told. ‘During the second Republic.’ Also ‘These people ( the leaders) are corrupt.’
Artur Mas, Puigdemont’s predecessor, has just been fined by a judge to the tune of €5 million for using his position as Catalan President for personal financial gain. People cite Pujol, previous Catalan firebrand, some of whose many sons have been convicted of corruption. I have been told a ‘story’ of Puigdemont’s sons being caught carrying bin bags full of money into Andorra. I can’t substantiate this rumour, but it’s circulating, which indicates the growing polarisation.
Many people here regard the Catalan leaders and those they represent as wealthy elitist, neo-liberal racists – only ‘pure’ Catalan-speaking Catalans will have power in an independent Catalonia, not every existing citizen of Catalonia, I am told. There is some evidence for this, it is a common complaint of many of those who marched in Barcelona against independence. The pro-independence faction is certainly wealthy and privileged and their party has been running a programme of austerity which, as elsewhere, has impacted hardest on the poorest.
All the major political parties are publicly against Puigdemont, including his former friends on the far left. It is a crisis of his making in their view and invocation of S155 is down to him. Prime Minister Rajoy is not the natural ally of PSOE and those further left, but they support his position. Today at 10 a.m. is the deadline for the withdrawal of the suspended UDI. He says he will reimpose central government on Catalonia for six months before new elections.
Even other regional parties – and as a devolved state Spain has several – concur with Rajoy. Valencia, Catalonia’s neighbour, rejects Puigdemont’s behaviour. The EU meanwhile makes it plain that any ‘independent’ Catalonia would not be an EU member.
So industry is leaving Catalonia. Cordonui, makers of excellent cava, announced on Monday that it would be relocating operations to Rioja. Rioja will welcome them with open arms. Given that one of the reasons Catalonians cite for independence is money – they pay more into the Spanish central state than they get back – it would be ironic if, by its actions, Puigdemont’s party renders his region poorer, while enriching other regions.
One aspect which I didn’t expect were parallels drawn between Catalonian leaders and Brexiteers. Both want to break the existing social democratic consensus. To replace it with what? A low wage, low regulation Singaporesque model? Both are privileged and wealthy. Neither care about the majority of people. Both shout loudest. Put that way it sounds convincing.
I’ve no doubt that Rajoy will invoke S155 if Puigdemont doesn’t back down. What then? Already two Catalan leaders are in jail and there are demonstrations on the streets of Barcelona. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s inciter of unrest (and hatred).
I hope Puigdemont acts sensibly, but I fear he will not.