Dialogue of the deaf

22nd October 2017


Carles Puigdemont – a leader for the people?

The current situation in Spain has been described as a “dialogue of the deaf” by the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) as Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, look set to go head to head over the question of the legitimacy of the current claim for independence for Catalonia.

Following an emergency Cabinet, Rajoy has invoked article 155 of the Spanish constitution in order to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances.”  This clears the way, pending endorsement by the Spanish senate, to direct rule from Madrid, with the powers of the existing Catalan government being assumed by the relevant ministries in Madrid.

Rajoy has claimed that the intervention will not be a permanent one but is based upon relieving from their duties those who have acted outside of the constitution.  On this basis the prime minister claims that fresh elections in Catalonia will be called within six months.

The mobilisation in Catalonia, which focussed upon the referendum of 1st October this year was a clear expression of frustration that the Spanish state has refused to negotiate seriously to address the concerns of a strand of nationalism in Catalonia.  However, while the pro-independence vote was overwhelmingly in favour, it was only on the basis of a 43%turnout.  It is not clear that independence has majority support across Catalonia.

The reaction of the Popular Party government to the referendum, attempting to stop people voting, arresting nationalist leaders and invoking the Spanish monarchy to condemn the referendum, while failing to oppose state violence from the Guardia Civil, has been widely condemned.  However, as the PCE point out “that cannot legitimise a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) as if it had been a Referendum held in normal conditions.”

There are question marks over the motivations behind the current nationalist push.  The Morning Star (10th October 2017) noted that,

“Puigdemont has dedicated his political life to Catalan nationalism, always showing far more enthusiasm for keeping wealth in the hands of Catalonia’s landowners and business classes than for sharing any of it with the workers and families of either Catalonia or the rest of Spain.”

There is also the apparent decline in support for Catalan independence from a high of 50% in recent years to around 41% a couple of weeks ago.  The confrontational approach taken by the Spanish government may yet buoy those figures.  The almost half a million strong pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona at the weekend suggests that there remains a substantial body of opinion in favour.

The PCE have made it clear that they do not support the actions of the Spanish state and have called upon Rajoy to, “abandon the repression, stop using the Prosecutor’s Office as the armed wing of the Government to promote the imprisonment of social leaders and admit that it is necessary to change the constitutional framework to respond to the need to guarantee by law social, democratic rights and allow the different peoples of the Spanish State to decide freely and democratically their future.”

The inflexibility of both Puigdemont and Rajoy is in danger of pushing Spain to the brink of major civil unrest with neither side offering anything which would improve the lot of the ordinary Spanish people.  While nationalism is often seen as the standard bearer of progress, with the plucky little David standing up against the bureaucratic Goliath, it can more often be the standard bearer of a new ruling class looking to carve out their own niche.

In the UK the example of Scotland is salutary.  While the Scottish Nationalist Party struck a radical pose in opposition to weak Labour Party leadership, they are exposed as little more than diluted liberals at best when set alongside the more radical option of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.  It will be interesting to see how far their vote dwindles at the next General Election.

In Spain the PCE continue to call for a federal Spain based on social rights for all and solidarity between the peoples, with the right of national self-determination guaranteed in the constitution.  That also means ditching the reactionary monarchy and returning Spain to being a republic.  How much of such a programme either Puigdemont or Rajoy support would be a measure of how much their posturing is in support of their people or their own class interests.