Catalonia, a prosperous region in the northeast of Spain, seems still to be largely associated with Barcelona, holidays, football and sun by the outside world. This may change, however, because of the region’s divisive political moment. The central issue is that of Catalan independence from Spain. The Catalan society is fairly evenly split on the issue. Many locals feel strongly about their particular views and this is unlikely to change regardless of any political process, which makes coherent action targeting the rest even more important. Independence is being aggressively pursued by the regional government in Barcelona and vehemently opposed by their national counterparts in Madrid. The issue is by some distance the most controversial and emotionally charged one in Spanish politics.
Political divisions in Catalonia are quite clear. Pro-independence parties have a majority in the regional parliament. They include the liberal-left Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) coalition and the far-left CUP. They have wanted to hold a binding referendum on independence for a while but they have been repeatedly thwarted by Madrid. What complicates matters for the central government is that the right to a referendum is seemingly supported by the majority of Catalans of all political persuasions. The National Pact for the Referendum is a platform which has been gathering support, including from the world-famous Barcelona football club.
On the other side of the debate are several political parties and one NGO, the Catalan Civil Society. They hold rather divergent views on many issues, including the referendum, but they agree about opposing the independence. The parties include a new left-wing party called Un Pais en Comú (A Country in Common), liberal Ciutadans (Citizens) and traditional socialists, PSC. They may wish to steer clear of the conservative PP, which is the ruling party in Spain but nowhere near as strong in Catalonia, and quite unpopular.
Working closely together or going into some sort of coalition to oppose the independence movement should be a logical next step. Whatever their differences, they are surely of less importance than the common goal of keeping Catalonia in Spain. These parties and other actors also need to work together in order to create a level playing field for themselves; they sometimes seem a bit underrepresented in the local media, if only for a lack of momentum. And they need to raise their game; apart from one protest march organised by Catalan Civil Society, there does not seem to be a lot of cooperation between anti-independence forces and this clearly needs to change.
Crucially, those opposed to independence need to agree on an alternative which would appeal to the majority of Catalans. Pointing out obvious flaws (e.g. no EU membership) in the independence argument is not enough. What is needed is a positive vision for the future and something which could sway the argument their way. This could mean negotiating more autonomy for Catalonia within Spain, a move towards federalism or something entirely new. They also need to think carefully about what to do about the referendum, because simply opposing it may undermine them in the eyes of many Catalans.
If anti-independence forces do not start working much more closely together they all stand to lose, one way or another. The time to act is now.
I am passionate about politics and the good it occasionally does and should do much more. In Europe and throughout the world we are facing an unprecedented wave of dangerous populism. We must fight back with facts, vision and a firm commitment to liberalism, pluralism, justice and solidarity.