OPINION
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Why did Mas fail?

Overnight, everyone in Catalonia seemed to have turned secessionist; the news media, intellectuals and priests

Now, several weeks after the Catalan elections, some may still be wondering why Artur Mas fell flat on his face. Sometimes there is nothing less obvious than the obvious.

The mass rally in Barcelona on September 11, in which a huge multitude marched behind a banner calling for Catalan secession, created a political climate that the historian Rosa Congost defined with a term coined years ago by Pierre Vilar: "unanimism." That is, an illusion of unanimity, created by the fear of expressing dissidence. Vilar used this term in the description of the rise of fascist movements in the 1930s. The phenomenon is common enough, but we had not been used to it in recent decades.

Overnight, everyone in Catalonia seemed to have turned secessionist, beginning with the news media and ending with intellectuals and priests, who began preaching secession in the column and the pulpit (or at least remaining silent, keeping their heads low). True, not all preached out of conviction, but rather out of the fear of being passed over when the spoils of victory were handed out, or branded as traitors.

If a real politician were in the saddle in Madrid, he would, perhaps, propose constitutional reform and an immediate referendum in Catalonia

There were glorious moments: all the polls gave Mas a big rise in seats, even a clear majority. One poll said that 10 percent of Catalan Popular Party voters would vote for independence. Jesus! Ten percent of PP voters! Miracles never cease! No one saw anything strange in all this, and only two or three of us smelled something funny about it, or at least said so aloud.

So what was Mas's mistake? Well, he confused unanimism with unanimity. That is, to fall short in the fundamental virtue of a politician: the sense of reality, understood in Isaiah Berlin's terms: a quality that is not to be learned in universities or books; which enables certain politicos at certain times to perceive "what fits with what, what can be done in certain circumstances, what methods will be useful in what circumstances, and in what measure."

Exactly: Mas -- a man who has hardly ever set foot in the street, and does not know the country or the people in it, having never been outside the halls and corridors of power -- believed that Catalonia had changed overnight; he thought that people would blame Catalonia's ills not on him, but on Spain; that everyone had swallowed the tale that, being independent from bloodsucking Spain, we would be rich and happy, and that he might head the next rally. This is why he called the elections. And this -- not knowing the reality, and what fitted what, what he could do and in what measure - is why he lost them.

This much is true: the best that Mas could have done, after showing that he was lacking the principal virtue of a politician, was to resign. He has not done so, and is now trying to save his skin by running around in circles, like a headless chicken. Luckily for him his adversaries keep making mistakes of their own, so he may hang on. I don't know.

But it occurs to me that if a real politician were in the saddle in Madrid -- a politician with courage and a sense of reality, such as the Adolfo Suárez who, in about a year of common-sense negotiation, replaced a dictatorship with a democracy -- he would, perhaps, propose constitutional reform and an immediate referendum in Catalonia. This would pull the rug right out from under the secessionists, who would not know which way to turn. It would resolve, at least for a matter of several decades, the problem they have invented for us.

If, in a referendum to be held next year in Catalonia, the proposition of independence were to get any more than 35 percent of the vote, I promise to don the picturesque Castilian peasant costume in which seamstresses from Toledo used to peddle their embroideries in Barcelona, and wear it permanently on the streets of the Catalan capital.