Catalan leaders divided over next step after independence vote

Brussels declines to comment on self-rule poll, while British PM expresses support for unity

Catalan premier Artur Mas with fellow Convergència members on Sunday.
Catalan premier Artur Mas with fellow Convergència members on Sunday.Frederico Duarte

Despite heralding the “success” of the November 9 vote on Catalan self-rule, the two parties that make up the northeastern region’s ruling CiU nationalist bloc are drawing different conclusions from the results.

While Convergència believes that early elections are “more than likely” if Madrid refuses to negotiate on the basis of Sunday’s vote, which yielded 80 percent support for independence, Unió Democràtica would rather keep elections out of the picture for now.

Convergència coordinator Josep Rull said the group would be willing to wait a maximum of two weeks for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to agree to negotiations over a new, official and binding referendum in Catalonia.

But Rull admitted that this possibility was “remote” and that their second plan would be to hold early elections that would effectively function as a popular plebiscite, showing the level of support for Catalan premier Artur Mas.

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If that were the case, Convergència would seek a joint run with the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and other secessionist parties as part of a single “national candidacy.”

But the ERC opposes such a joint run – recent opinion surveys show that it is in a position to win early elections by itself. Party leader Oriol Junqueras has stated that he wants elections to be called as soon as possible to achieve a pro-separatist majority that would enable independence to be declared immediately.

Unió, the other half of the ruling CiU bloc, is painting a very different picture.

“Now is the time to govern, not to hold elections,” said party secretary general Ramon Espadaler. Unió wants to start negotiating a way out of the crisis with Madrid, with a longer deadline.

Meanwhile, the leader of Spain’s Socialist Party, Pedro Sánchez, has called on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to begin the process to start reforming the Constitution so as to find a new place for Catalonia within Spain. The Socialist Party rejects Catalan independence, as does the ruling Popular Party (PP), and instead supports a middle-of-the-road “federal” solution that would grant greater powers to Catalonia. The exact nature of this federation, however, remains unclear.

Sánchez also expressed “respect” for the more than two million people who voted in Sunday’s informal referendum, but noted “that there were also millions of Catalans who considered that the independence proposal is not the way to resolve the issue of how Catalonia fits into Spain.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his support for Spanish colleague Mariano Rajoy over the Catalan referendum.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his support for Spanish colleague Mariano Rajoy over the Catalan referendum.Chris Ratcliffe (Bloomberg)

Outside of Spain, silence was the prevailing reaction to Sunday’s vote. The European Commission deliberately refused to issue an opinion on the matter. “It is not the Commission’s role to express opinions on matters of member states’ internal organization,” said a European executive spokesman.

However, British Prime Minister David Cameron did express his “support” for the Spanish government, following his own experience with the independence vote in Scotland.

“I would say to my friend Mariano Rajoy and everyone in Spain that Britain is a great friend and a great ally,” he said. “We’re great lovers of Spain, we want it to stay united and we believe that referendums must be held through proper constitutional and legal frameworks, within them and not outside them.”

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