The declaration. The declaration proposed by pro-independence coalition Junts pel Sí (“Together for Yes”) and far-left CUP should come as no surprise: putting it to a vote was the first electoral promise made by both groups, and their joint majority allows them to pass it.
Up until now, all prior parliamentary declarations on the sovereignty of the Catalan people had been merely symbolic, and the Catalan authorities had only carried out "preparatory acts" (such as commissioning the CATN (1) reports), which Spain’s Constitutional Court (TC, or Tribunal Constitucional) deemed constitutional in the same ruling that annulled the January 2013 declaration. This new declaration, however, lays out a specific action plan (including a calendar of new legislation) and an explicit affirmation of sovereignty before the TC.
This latter clause is likely what has stirred up the most criticism in Madrid and among the unionist parties. It should be emphasized, however, that even if it had not been explicitly included, it would still have formed a part of the intent --or animus-- of the declaration; otherwise, the declaration would have had no credibility from the start (and thus would not have lived up to the electoral mandate received on 27-S). In any case, we must not forget that the declaration ends with a clearly stated will to negotiate. Ideally, this should be the starting point that both the Spanish government and the Catalan groups who oppose it ought to use.
The reaction. Unfortunately, the response has been quite the opposite: a closing of ranks and full-on confrontation. This might be regrettable or a cause for concern, but it is hardly surprising. We would not be where we are today without this complete denial of the Catalan reality. The joint reaction of PP-PSOE-Ciudadanos, --so far, tactical and influenced by the general elections on December 20th (20-D)-- holds all kinds of danger for the three parties. We cannot rule out that the mini-summits in Madrid(2) might be the result of internal party politics: the support of other parties may allow Rajoy to contain the more radical, repressive wing of his own party, at least until December. But it has boosted the stature and electoral recognition his fringe, extra-parliamentary competitors, reinforced the plebiscite nature of 27-S, and revealed a Spain that is more fragile than he used to claim.
The radicalization of Albert Rivera, Ciudadanos’ leader, appears to be an attempt to penetrate the strongholds of the PP. The Spanish electoral system, where small constituencies are over-represented, penalizes newcomers. That is, in turn, pushing Ciudadanos to reach out beyond the urban middle class voters that support the party in the polls to become a significant force in the Spanish parliament. Now this radicalism and its intent to declare unconstitutional the proposal of a declaration before it has been even voted, which is in itself a legal absurdity, strengthen Ciudadanos as an anti-system party in Catalonia, removed from the political center and unable to build any real alternative to the existing pro-independence majority. As for the PSOE, their meeting with Rajoy simply confirms the Socialists’ inability to offer anything specific: the economic crisis and demographic changes destroyed the alliance between Andalusia and Catalonia brokered by Felipe González many years ago.
The No front is unlikely to hold together beyond 20-D. Cutting the legs out from under each other is the national sport in Spanish politics. However, if it stays united, its denial of Catalan demands will not resolve the crux of the question. The No bloc will fail to get rid of the secessionist majority – the latter may only decline through a negotiated agreement. And it runs the risk of destroying Spain’s democratic legitimacy: every blocking maneuver (not to mention the tone used by Spanish media and the elite) reinforces the picture of Catalans as second-class citizens in Spain.
The execution. As specific as it might be, a parliamentary declaration only has value provided there is a parliamentary majority standing behind it and, above all, a government to carry it out. To keep the Mas government in place until new elections in February or March is a bad solution: it would make the declaration worthless (unless there was a disproportionate reaction from Spain). The parliament must vote a new government capable of maintaining the "Yes" coalition united. This should be in light of three main considerations.
First, the European left has long overcome their revolution/democracy dichotomy, which split the socialists and the communists in 1917. The only path for change involves elections, not storming winter palaces (as some in the radical-left CUP part dream of). And in order to have elections, the country needs an orderly political transition. Second, Faism --the political doctrine of the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and its 1930s slogan of “revolution before war” actually destroyed Catalonia, the FAI, and the Republic. Third, Catalanism historically has only been successful when it has received the support of the large middle strata of Catalan society, a support that can never be taken for granted. The No bloc know all this very well and are looking to drive a wedge between the forces that support the declaration in any way they can.
Given that Artur Mas, the incumbent president of Catalonia, has had the ability to lead the process this far; tha he has signed the draft declaration; that --to turn the CUP’s metaphor on its head-- Mas has effectively pulled out the huge stopper set by Duran and the more lukewarm elements within Mas’ own party; and that he has promised to step down once the transition is over; that and he is clearly an asset abroad, I find illogical not to vote him in again for the new period coming up. In exchange, it must be possible to negotiate a program and a government that satisfies all the parties involved.
(1) N.T. in Catalan CATN stands for Advisory Council for the National Transition, a committee of experts who advise the Catalan government on matters to do with the ongoing political process in Catalonia.
(2) N.T. Spanish president Mariano Rajoy recently held high-profile meetings with the leaders of the PSOE and Ciudadanos to discuss the secessionist declaration.