There are three key differences between the proposals put forward by president Mas and Oriol Junqueras: the date of the elections, the programme to be followed in the event of a Yes-Yes win, and the kind of list. Artur Mas is reluctant to set a date for the vote unless there is a unified candidacy and an action programme based on a declaration-negotiation-proclamation sequence. Unless these two conditions are met, CiU intends to finish the term up until 2016. ERC feels that the regional vote should be held before the local elections (in May 2015), with separate candidacies and an agreement for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) and a constituent Parliament. Everyone wonders if it is possible to reconcile these two positions and --setting aside their partisan priorities-- get things moving and take a decisive step for once.
In my opinion, holding off the elections until after the local polls --or after the summer, at the latest-- would be a mistake. The current context is reminiscent of previous historic cycles in Spain. Every time Spain entered a profound crisis (as a result of the loss of colonies, for financial reasons or a mere delegitimisation of the existing political regime), Catalonia tried to transform the existing consititutional framework in its favour. This was partly because of Catalonia’s inherent political dynamism and partly because the correlation of forces between the centre and the periphery shifted in a weakened Spain. The Catalan challenge, which weakened Spain further, inspired the emergence of an anti-system left )which had its own supporters and sympathisers in Catalonia=. This left enabled the Spanish right (devoid of any legitimacy thus far) to rally its electorate around a law-and-order platform and re-establish its dominant position. Eventually this polarised dynamic would poison Catalan politics and would abort the attempt to gain greater sovereignty. In the 20th century alone, this phenomenon occurred in 1931-39, 1917-23 and 1889-1909. Podemos’ growing support in opinion polls and the PP’s desperate histrionics, hoping to appear as the anti-chaos party, are the clearest signs that we are at the doors of a similar historic cycle. In order to avoid becoming engulfed in that confrontation, the Catalan parties must hold on to the existing political momentum by means of elections and a broad-based government following the mandate of November 9.
What is this mandate and the programme that stems from it? ERC’s proposal of a “constituent” parliament, without any delay in achieving full independence, does not strike me as convincing. The alternative (plebiscite-like elections with a declaration of independence followed by a negotiation process with Spain) has a number of advantages: it would allow for the inclusion of the moderate electorate that has converted to independence, which is a must for any eventual success; it would allow us to use the existing institutional structure in our favour (here I’m thinking about the EU); and, finally, it would allow us to respond to the changes in the Spanish political arena that are bound to occur between the local polls and the general elections. A secession process is, in fact, a constituent one. However, approving a new constitution and devising a new “social model” (in whatever shape the people choose) must surely come only once the instruments that will make these changes possible have been guaranteed. In Catalonia we tried many times to make a “revolution” first and only then win the “war”. Yet they all failed miserably, poisoned by the Spanish political dynamics I refered to earlier.
Obviously, the choice of electoral list --or lists-- is the trickiest matter of all. The date of the vote and the political tempo leading up to an eventual proclamation of independence are, to a point, negotiable. That does not seem to be the case of the list, in principle. A few days ago Jordi Graupera pointed out that there are arguments in favour of each solution. A unified list would allow the elections to resemble a referendum more closely, but so would a joint pact with separate candidacies. Yes-Yes voters seem to prefer a single candidacy: this might account for the change of tendency in the opinion polls that now favour CiU. The number of Yes-Yes votes on November 9 is greater that the total of votes obtained by CiU, ERC, the CUP and SI in 2012. Yet the truth is that we do not know which solution would maximise the number of votes: the opinion polls published so far asked about party coalitions rather than a single patriotic candidacy.
At any rate, if a single candidacy is not really an option, here is a proposal that aims to avoid a clash between “unitarians” and “segmentists”: let us replicate the logic of a unified list but with separate candidacies. All candidacies would share a basic manifesto (following the political sequence I mentioned earlier). Each candidacy would be headed by political leaders (a necessity in order to build upon the work accomplished so far), followed by members of civil society in an electoral or civil common or cross-party group of sorts. The names would have to be agreed on by the parties and the main civil society organisations and they would have to be allocated randomly (or according to their own ideological affinity) among the candidacies. Their goal would be to ensure that the parties act as one, following the common programme. In return, these independent candidates would be bound by party discipline on all other political matters.