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The string is breaking

Mas’s strategy of force-feeding the public the pro-independence option is falling apart

The ongoing debate in Catalonia about the autonomous region's "right to decide" in a referendum on whether to secede from Spain has — in the hands of the two regional government parties CiU and ERC, of the right and left, respectively, but both Catalan nationalist — drifted onto a course that leads inexorably toward independence. The string that connected other political groups to this fiction broke on Monday, in the "summit meeting" of parties and municipalities convened by the regional premier Artur Mas — precisely to rally support for the referendum, and to define its agenda.

Far from having the appearance of a compact front, the summit showed up an ever more obvious fact, that the pro-independence bloc has been tendentiously utilizing the process to advance in the direction of independence — an objective that is far from enjoying the same degree of support.

The latest CIS opinion poll reveals that two-thirds of Catalans do not favor independence. Yet the regional premier, with clear regard for the post to which he was elected, is acting not as if he were the premier of all Catalans, but only of the small percentage that want independence. While making a show of building underlying consensus with the aim of holding a legal referendum, as the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) is demanding, at the same time he is using all the means at his command to make it clear that the plebiscite can only serve one end: independence.

In recent weeks the Catalan regional government has been profuse in gestures that are highly charged with symbolism but short on legality, aimed at building a state of its own, to give structure to that independence.

This is the maneuver from which two parties, the PSC and Iniciativa per Catalunya, distanced themselves on Tuesday. Both stuck to the positions expressed in the parliamentary resolution on the right to decide, supported by 107 of the 135 regional deputies, but berated Mas' underhanded exploitation of this relative consensus, thus distracting attention from his deficient management of the crisis. Even in the most favorable of possible scenarios — that the PP government allow him to enlarge the deficit limit to 2.1 percent — the drop in tax income has been so sharp that he will be unable to avoid new cutbacks. And the ERC has already said that any further cutbacks mean it will not vote for the budget.

Mas's edifice is crumbling on every front. The pact with ERC does not even guarantee a breathing space, yet it obliges him to cover ground quickly on the road to sovereignty, at a politically suicidal speed. In the face of this, the PSC's federal proposal looks like an alternative without any concessions to the secessionist adventure of the CiU and ERC.

The shrill off-note came from Carme Chacón, in the form of an open letter to the PSC chief Pere Navarro demanding that the Socialists walk out of the meeting because to stay in it was too submissive to the independence project. Chacón is thereby making it clear that her mind is more on her own career in the national branch of the Spanish Socialist Party than on the PSC's difficulty in coping with the challenge of Mas within Catalonia.

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