The dire uncertainty has deepened in Spain. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s gamble, to nip the Catalonian independence movement in the bud, has backfired with last Friday’s victory ~ wafer-thin though it was ~ of the pro-independence parties. The triumph can be attributed in part to the robust jingoism, in part to its violent suppression, and no less crucially to the arrest and exile of prominent leaders. And yet that triumph ought not to be perceived as a mandate for Catalan independence; nor even for the status quo. Hence the country as well as the restive swathe may be in limbo for some time yet. As a year of stirring history draws to a close, it would arguably be useful for both sides to reflect whether one side had provoked the other.
While the government in Madrid mobilised its forces against the movement, there is little doubt that the separatists had defied the central authorities by organising an illegal referendum. The rest is history. Was it really necessary for the Rajoy government to go on overkill by unleashing violence, jailing political leaders, and imposing direct rule in Catalonia? It is now pretty obvious that voters have not readily concurred with the official counter-mobilisation. Hence the psephological swing with the vote for the ruling party declining by half. The trend of voting suggests that the electorate has generally favoured the decidedly centrist unionist party, called Citizens, which ranks as No. One in the election tally. The success of the party’s leader, Inés Arrimadas, must seem remarkable in Spain’s polarised political scenario.
Given the overwhelming uncertainty in the aftermath of the result, it is imperative that parliamentary politics resumes in quite the most fractious country in Europe, which has been grappling with an economic crisis for the past several years. A patchwork quilt could at this stage be a viable option. The government in Madrid should revoke direct rule and ensure amnesty for jailed and exiled Catalan leaders, including Carles Puigdemont. Markedly, the exiled President won the vote from Belgium, a fact that makes his achievement still more impressive. At another remove, the separatists should accept that the 1 October independence vote is null and void. The three parties in the Opposition are deeply divided and this has made the result rather quirky ~ the secessionists have won in terms of seats, but have suffered a loss of votes.
The two sides must negotiate in order to ensure a more rational form of devolution for Catalonia, a region that showcases Spain’s diversity of identities. An agreeable formula towards a halfway house needs urgently to be devised. The outcome has been a major embarrassment for Rajoy, but with only 47.5 per cent of the votes, the separatists are scarcely in a position to form the next government in Barcelona. Spain cries out for a compromise based on firm principles… as never since the days of Franco.