Bailout here, bailout there, a government swamped by circumstances, in the prime minister's own words. And heavy pro-independence votes in Catalonia and the Basque Country. Under the bad weather of crisis, politics are back on the boil. How to explain in this context the expansion of the pro-independence vote in Catalonia?
The electoral success of independentism stems from its being a clear political plan at a time when these are scarce. It offers the construction of a different future. While austerity shuts doors on the citizen, independence offers the expectation of political enthusiasm. While governments de-politicize anti-crisis policy with a (so far useless) technocratic response based on "there is no alternative," independence has the attraction of a positive, unembarrassed project.
How can the bailout of Catalonia via the Regional Liquidity Fund be made compatible with rhetoric about independence? The bailout - requested by the Catalan government - will surely mean a restriction of autonomy, and stricter control of the region's economic policy by the central government.
In these cases nobody gives anything for free, and the giver never admits he may be in debt to you for the taxes you may previously have paid him. The Catalan government's claim that it will not accept conditions is just playing to the gallery, like Rajoy's claim that Spain would have an EU bailout without conditions. The conditions came even before the bailout.
The Catalan nationalist party is flaunting Catalan nationalism, being a past master at turning failures into opportunities for patriotic rhetoric
Yet the Catalan nationalist party CiU, under Artur Mas, is flaunting Catalan nationalism, the party being a past master at turning its failures into opportunities for patriotic rhetoric. The bailout-independence contradiction is easily ignored, because in Catalonia independentism is the only political growth industry, in which Mas is seen as a key figure. It will not be easy for him to tiptoe along a road in which there is no happy medium between glory and ridicule. Talk of independence is a fine train to board, but there is no plan, and no homework has been done, so the risk of derailment is rather high.
The Transition after Franco's death was a political project shared by almost all the parties (conditioned by the fear of a coup from the extreme right), which left important questions unresolved. So was the project of a European Union, and Spain's incorporation into the Union's social project of welfare-state capitalism. So, too, in its own way, was Aznar's project - which, like that of Bush, combined economic liberalism with very reactionary positions in cultural and social matters.
With Aznar, the right regained ideological hegemony in Spain. Zapatero's ephemeral moment of "plural Spain" and expanded civil rights was the last thing remotely resembling a political project, but it dissolved like a sugar cube.
Political projects have dissolved, or been camouflaged in the submission of politics to economic orthodoxy. It is suspected of the ruling Popular Party (PP) that it wishes to dismantle the system of regional autonomy, but its leader has never dared to propose this as a clear-cut objective. Meanwhile, in the measures being taken against the crisis there are good reasons to suspect a covert hankering to dismantle the welfare state; yet the right has not had the courage to make this an openly declared project. No one ventures to explain clearly an idea of the future of Spain, or of the society that is to emerge from the crisis. Right and left alike hide behind the screen of day-by-day events, avoiding any real political debate.
Only the creed of regional independence has broken this implicit pact. And in Catalonia it is all the rage. People want to feel they have a role and a voice in projects that arouse their enthusiasm; that they are not just cannon fodder for the impotence of politics in the face of money.