Political rhetoric is practical, not analytical; it is aimed at action and change. It starts from analysis, but with the pretension of action; indeed, willful action. But often the dynamic of things, by more or less unconscious mechanisms, leads political discourse down roads different from those desired by the speaker, and in contradiction to what he is saying. Since the massive pro-independence demonstration on the Diada (Catalan national day), Artur Mas and others have been talking about the need to seek agreements, despite operating as if the time for agreements had already passed.
The Spanish government has been taking two lines. On the one hand, downplaying the event as "noise;" on the other, refusing the fiscal pact, pointing to the Constitution as an immovable wall, and promising to activate all legal mechanisms against secessionism. The interference of the king, stretching his institutional role to the limit by raising his voice, has made it impossible to ignore what is happening in Catalonia. If the king feels impelled to exceptional action - however influenced he may be by mere desire to improve his tarnished image - it is because he thinks that something exceptional is going on. In Catalonia, Artur Mas behaves as if independence were a fact, facing Rajoy with a firm mandate in the form of a fiscal pact.
We must seek points of understanding, they say, but some speak of a project that is essentially non-negotiable, while others answer that there is nothing to negotiate. However, some news media insist on the need for responsibility and agreement, and important sectors of the business world are looking for a way toward a pact. Is there really such a way?
"It didn't go well," said Artur Mas after his meeting with Rajoy. Its very failure points to the next phase: that of counting votes. Only after the Catalan elections shall we know if there is room for an agreement.
For the moment, the sum of things seems to favor the demonstrating secessionists. Independence has ceased to be taboo. It has acquired a respectable status in Spanish political life and become a touchstone of political rhetoric. At the same time, it has achieved a rapid internationalization. Catalan secession is in the European media, and not to mere effects of ridicule. Some see it now as a possible hypothesis, rather than a pipe dream. At the same time, the irate reaction of some sectors in Spain, the king's intervention and the international attention have given the events a certain historic dimension that has rendered the PP's strategy of downplaying the whole thing useless. Artur Mas has a political plan; Mariano Rajoy responds with procedural arguments: untimeliness, the economic pinch, the insurmountable wall of the Constitution. Where is the common ground?
Artur Mas has to call elections to keep his political momentum in this delicate race. The conjuncture favors him. He can capitalize on the demonstration and catch the other Catalan parties on the wrong foot, especially ERC and the PSC; neutralize pressure from business to put a brake on secessionism; and leave the difficult task of approving next year's budget to the new majority. At the same time, the clarifying effect of the vote may be useful for everyone. We shall no longer be working with more or less subjective guesses about social movements, or interested intuitions as to what the Catalans really feel.
Artur Mas has to call elections to keep his political momentum in this delicate race
Every early election is risky for the one who calls it. Artur Mas is playing for all or nothing. Those who fear the public verdict prefer to remain in the terrain of confusion and ambiguity and fear, to maintain the status quo. But we need to know the real weight of each option. The sooner, the better. Let the vote show the way.