The Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy, made it clear, once again, in October this year that any sort of public consultation in Catalonia on the issue of independence would be illegal. When it went ahead anyway on November 9, (9N) in spite of his warnings, he described it when the day dawned as “neither a referendum nor a consultation”, rather a day of “participation” with no legal effect. However the Supreme Court responded after the event by accusing the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas and other government members, of misleading administration, obstruction of justice, severe disobedience, and the misuse of public funds. The case continues
Unsurprisingly the day was hailed as a total success by the independence movement and a useless exercise in participation by Madrid. However, as has been pointed out by some political scientists the figures are very seriously flawed. If the figures have any validity at all they record a turnout of 37%,considerably lower than the turnout for the last three European elections, normally regarded as a reflection of the lack of Spanish interest in the European Parliament. By contrast the Scottish official referendum on independence turnout was 85%.
With 2 out of 3 voters staying at home in Catalonia, can this be said to be a success for the “day of citizen participation”? Probably not. Before 9N international opinion seems to have sided largely with the right of the Catalans to decide their own future: “to be free you must vote” Lady Gaga exhorted her audience the night before the vote and figures as well-known as Ken Loach and Archbishop Desmond Tutu publically supported the right to vote. The day after, the New York Times described the results as “an overwhelming success” for those wanting independence, as did The Wall Street Journal and the business daily Bloomberg appeared with the headline “Catalonia votes to split from Spain”. In Britain the Guardian newspaper and the BBC reported that over 80% of Catalans voted for independence. Although not a valid interpretation of the results, it makes a good headline.
Why international comment, especially in the United States, is so gung-ho about Catalan independence, is a puzzle. The fact is that it is still not known what the majority of people who live in the region, actually want. Certainly the “day of participation” cannot be understood outside the context of possible political corruption within the oldest independence party in Catalonia, the Convergencia I Unio (CiU). The CiU is a right-wing independence party now governing Catalonia and lead by Artur Mas. Many Catalans had made it clear they would not vote on 9N as they felt manipulated by the political interests of the party that is losing support and is not expected to do well in the 2015 elections.
The scandal around the founder and ex-leader of CiU, Jordi Pujol, and President of Catalonia for 23 years, may also have affected the turnout. Evidence has been mounting since the summer that the Pujol family has reputedly been for years involved in the misuse of public money. Jordi Pujol himself was summoned to explain his position before the Catalan Parliament on September 22. In spite of joining the queues, with his wife, to vote on the day of participation, he has had to return once again to answer questions. With corruption cases again exploding in the face of all political parties, all over Spain, there is a legitimate doubt as to how far the attempt by the Catalan Government to square up to Madrid was genuine. The case continues.
In late October Mariano Rajoy was asked to comment on allegations of corrupt practice on the part of two senior members of his own party: Angelo Acebes, Home Office Minister in the Aznar Government, and Rodrigues Rato, ex-presidential candidate for the “Partido Popular” (PP). Rajoy came up with the phrase: “unas pocas cosas no son España” (a few minor incidents do not make up Spain). Two days later he was forced to apologise for the even higher level of corruption in his own party as politicians, businessmen, trades-union members were detained and questioned, a few sent to preventative detention, in a new sweep against political corruption named “Operación Púnica”.
The operation was carried out by the anti-corruption squads of the civil police, at the behest of Judge Eloy Velasco of the “Audencia Nacional” the top court in Spain and turned into an extraordinary week of disclosure, a “tsunami” of corruption cases at the heart of government. At the top of the wave the number two in the Madrid Autonomous Government run by the PP, Francisco Granados, has been sent to prison along with, amongst others, the President of the Government of Leon, also PP, and town mayors falling like nine-pins before corruption charges all over the country. With the Catalan vote taking place against his express orders the head of the Government of Spain seemed to be between a rock and a hard place, keeling under a further blow to the heart of his party’s promises of transparency and the regeneration of democracy in Spain. In the latest parliamentary debate on corruption, which opened with the resignation of the Minister for Health, Ana Pato, accused of benefiting from the long running Gurtel case of corruption within the PP, Prime Minister Rajoy himself was exhorted by several opposition parties to resign. The case continues.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Spanish electors are looking for change, not only in Catalonia. They appear to be considering a break with the traditional two party system, the conservative PP and the socialist PSOE, who in effect have been taking turns to govern for over 30 years. The polls taken in the first week of October by the Centre for Social Investigation (CIS), importantly before “Operación Púnica” and before the Catalan “day of participation” showed that 17.6% of the Spanish electorate intend to vote for the new left wing party “Podemos”, 14.3% for the traditional left party the PSOE, with only 11.7% prepared to vote for the conservative PP in the 2015 elections. A poll by the daily paper “El Mundo” reported that as of late November, the figure has risen to 28.3% of the electorate who intend to vote for “Podemos”; that would mean the new party could lead in the next Spanish parliament.
“Podemos” appeared on the TV screens in January this year, as the world now knows, as a small left-wing group, university based and young. They claimed to be ready to convert the indignation felt and expressed by many since 2011 through the 15M movement and multiple, massive street demonstrations, into political action. They stormed into the European elections in May, gaining 5 seats and 1.2 million votes. Treated at first by the right as nothing more than an ephemeral protest vote, they have shifted the Spanish political scene at breath-taking speed as the current polls show. They have published a 70 page document on what they intend to do for the economy, and if they stand at the municipal elections in May there could be yet another shock for both the PP and the PSOE, whose nervous attention must be rising as the general elections are less than 12 months away. The presence of a party at those elections, planning to offer the electorate a clear alternative to a 40 year old political system which was founded on impunity and lack of transparency, say “Podemos”, will give the voters a new perspective. Did Spain establish the democratic rules of the game in 1982? No, according to “Podemos”. They insist that the true transition to democracy starts here, in the build-up to the elections in 2015. The case continues.