The two-party system which has characterized Spanish politics since the transition from the Franco dictatorship is finally over. As of now, there are at least three major parties in Spain—the Popular Party, the Socialists and Podemos—as well as a fourth, Ciudadanos, which, although not at the same level, nevertheless has a significant presence. We also have the traditional presence of catalan and basque parties, which are in the minority for obvious demographic reasons.
Given the concrete results of this election, the end of bipartisanship in this case also entails the impossibility of easily forming a government. The fractured parliament presents only two possible coalitions: either the Partido Popular and the Socialists reach an agreement, or the Socialists and Podemos will need the support of Catalan pro-independence parties to obtain the parliamentary seats needed to form a government. The PP and Ciudadanos combined do not have a sufficient share of the vote to form a government, nor do the Socialists and Podemos.
This striking paradox confers a great responsibility on the Catalan pro-independence parties, which are now faced with two options. The first is to do nothing, which in all probability would force new Spanish elections next June, given that, without the support of ERC and Democràcia i Llibertat, forming a government would entail the forging of bizarre alliances between either PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos, or Ciudadanos, PSOE and Podemos. The second option for the separatists is to help form a leftist government in Spain, if the Socialists and Podemos are amenable. It will not be an easy decision, and it will require keeping a cool head.
It is true than in the Catalan regional elections of 27 September, pro-independence parties obtained a sufficient victory to enable them to unilaterally launch the process toward independence. Both ERC and Democràcia i Llibertat have said that they will use their presence in Madrid to defend the popular mandate to declare independence within eighteen months. Now, however, they may face a political challenge of monumental proportions. If unilateralism was the result of Spain’s refusal to negotiate, what should be done if the Spanish government agrees to a referendum?
Answering this question would require having an actual offer, of course. And this depends on Podemos, which must propose a referendum, and on the PSOE, which would have to accept it.
Podemos has maintained it would require the promise to hold an independence referendum in Catalonia for it to enter into a governing alliance with any party, and it has said that it unambiguously accepts the multinational nature of the Spanish state. This should be taken seriously, given Podemos’s impressive results in the election. Podemos gained 42 representatives on its own, plus 27 more counting its affiliates in Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia, En Comú, Compromís, and Marea. If, in addition, we add to the mix the 2 representatives from the Balearic Islands, plus the 7 from the Basque Country, the results are even more impressive, as it means that Podemos obtained 36 representatives in the Catalan Countries, Galicia, and the Basque Country, compared with the 33 it obtained in Spain.
Let us imagine, then, that under this pressure from our nations, Podemos outlines the need to hold a referendum on Catalan independence within the new government’s first year in power, as Pablo Iglesias said he would if he won the election. Let us also imagine—though this might be a bit of stretch—that the Socialists agreed to it. Finally, let us imagine that, together, we are able to overcome the accusations of unconstitutionality that the PP would no doubt quickly raise. What should web do then?
We should keep a cool head. That, above all. The only question we must answer is, what do we stand to gain and to lose in any of these circumstances. If there really is a possibility of holding a referendum with Spain’s approval, this option cannot be disregarded out of hand. If the Spanish government can guarantee the freedom to vote on independence and formally agree to accept and bilaterally implement the result of such a referendum, it would seem foolish not to take the opportunity. For a very simple reason: the diplomatic recognition of the Catalan Republic by the other countries would be automatic if the declaration of independence were made in agreement with the Spanish government, and this would ease things for us.
But accepting this scenario should not mean putting our plans on hold, because then the offer would become a trap.
Catalonia now has no government. It may have one in two weeks or we may have to wait three or four months. That is when the clock will start ticking and the eighteen-month countdown will begin, during which time we will launch the process of writing a Catalan constitution, which will then be put to a referendum.
Since Pablo Iglesias’s promise was to hold a referendum during the new Spanish government’s first year in power, there is sufficient time for both things to be done in parallel: drafting the Catalan constitution while Madrid prepares to hold the agreed-upon referendum. And if what we have, in the end, are two referendum proposals, one from the Catalan government, the other from the Spanish government, it should not be difficult to agree to a single vote.
What if the proposals do not arrive at the same time? In that case, there will be no reason to wait. Because if we have not put our plans on the backburner, we will be able to simply follow our roadmap and implement it. Assuming that Catalonia will have a new government in January, the referendum should be held by June 2017. The referendum will be called regardless of the circumstances. If the day comes and the Spanish government is on board, all the better, if it is not, then it will fall on the Catalan government to call it.