Three years ago in Inroads, I wrote that the Spanish government's unwillingness to allow the Catalan population to decide its future had kept debate focused on whether they should have such a right rather than on independence per se. (1)
Since then, the debate has continued, with a new emphasis on whether Catalonia can become independent without any kind of agreement with Madrid. In the interval, as a result of the economic crisis, the increasing salience of the independence issue and a number of corruption scandals, support for Catalonia's traditional moderate nationalist parties has shifted toward more extreme nationalist ones. For most of its democratic history, Catalonia was governed by Convergence and Union (CiU), a centre-right alliance composed of two moderate nationalist parties which ran jointly in elections at all levels, winning between 31 and 47 per cent of the vote in regional elections between 1984 and 2012. Since then, CiU has become a marginal player on the Catalan political scene. A recent poll placed its successor party, the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), at 12 per cent.
Trying to remain relevant, in the last election in 2015, what remained of CiU at that time joined forces with the more extreme Catalan Republican Left (ERC). Together they formed a pre-election coalition (Together for Yes) for what they designated as a plebiscitary election. A majority vote for them, they argued, would give them a mandate to move toward independence without any kind of negotiations with the Spanish government.
With the support of the hardline secessionist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), the separatist coalition secured a slim majority in the Catalan parliament. They lacked a majority of the popular vote, though, having received 48 per cent overall.
The unity that previously existed among parties supporting Catalonia's right to decide its future was shattered. All the other parties --the antinationalist Citizens (Cs), the People's Party (PP), the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) and Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQP), a coalition of leftists of which the nationwide Podemos is a part--opposed unilateral secession.
While the current Catalan government is controlled by parties committed to making Catalonia an independent state, the Spanish government is controlled by a party that is strongly opposed to any talk of secession: the conservative People's Party. The Spanish right has always felt threatened by separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country. To placate them, the post-Franco 1978 Spanish constitution affirmed that...