Catalonia is facing a deeply uncertain future – whether inside or outside of Spain

by Sebastian Balfour

Catalonia is about to embark on an extraordinary adventure. The government that emerges from the autonomous elections of 27 September will be committed to initiating an 18-month unilateral process of disconnection from Spain. By any standards this is a leap in the dark, a measure of the desperation (some might say, determination) felt by many Catalans from different parties, classes and ideologies as a result of the failure of Madrid to recognise their grievances.

Sebastian Balfour

The complications it may give rise to regarding membership of the EU and the euro, international relations, debt, tax, banks, diplomacy, defence and so on are multiple. To add to the uncertainties, the configuration of politics in Spain is likely to change substantially after the general elections of 20 December in ways few can predict.

The Catalan elections of 27 September

The independence movement had cast the autonomous (regional) elections as plebiscitary elections intended to determine the relationship between Catalonia and Spain. Two of the three major parties in Catalonia, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), had agreed on a single slate, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), without clarifying what programme they might adopt beyond independence, partly because they occupy different ends of the ideological spectrum.

By any definition, a plebiscite, like a referendum, asks voters to choose between two options of constitutional importance. In these elections a vote for a party or a combination of parties had been framed by the independence parties as a vote for or against independence. Without the constitutional right to hold a referendum, the Catalan government used the autonomous elections, as it had used a ‘popular consultation’ in November 2014 (declared unlawful by the Constitutional Tribunal), to rally nationalist opinion and demonstrate to the rest of Spain that Catalans wanted to form their own state.

In the event Junts pel Sí won 62 of the 135 seats in the Catalan parliament and 39.57 per cent of the votes. Together with the 10 seats won by the small anti-capitalist, separatist party, Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), which stood independently, they won a majority of 72 seats but only 47.8 per cent of votes. Any plebiscite or referendum needs a majority of votes, whereas an election is customarily won through a majority of seats. On the basis of this procedural ambiguity, Junts pel Sí claim that the separatist parties have a popular mandate to prepare Catalonia for independence.

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