Monday, June 19, 2006

Cataluña Is Still In Spain

So finally the long running attempt to reform the statute of autonomy for Cataluña is drawing to a close. Over 73% of those who voted in yesterday’s referendum approved the reform, the result being only slightly tarnished by the low participation, just under 50% of those eligible voted. Politics in Cataluña, and to some extent in the rest of the country, can now return to business as usual, as the debate over the statute has dominated the political scene there in the last couple of years. The participation figure in the vote suggests that a sizeable part of the Catalan population either doesn’t care that much about the issue or that they were simply fed up with it. A bit like the European “Constitution”, it ends up being an issue absorbing the energies of the political class but leaving many people bemused and largely indifferent.

Politically there are winners and losers as a result of this process. The national government, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, will be relieved that they can now concentrate on other things as the reform has been probably the issue that has cost them most in the much of the rest of Spain. This is because of a perception, encouraged by the right wing here, that the Catalans were getting privileges that other regions do not. Supporters of the Partido Popular (PP) even attempted to organise boycotts of Catalan products, leaving more champagne for the rest of us. The PP, having predicted the disintegration of Spain if the reform went ahead, now have to make a difficult adjustment. It’s hard to see them getting much more mileage from continuing their campaign against a statute that has been approved and which they will have to administer if they ever return to power.

The main winners out of all of this are probably the conservative nationalists in Cataluña who, despite not being part of the regional government that drew up the original version of the statute, have managed to get on the train and appear in the end as the party most in favour of the reform. This is because their main rivals for the nationalist vote, Esquerra Republicana (ERC), got themselves into a mess over whether to accept the watered down document that was finally approved. ERC went from being a major contributor to the original version, to initially promoting abstention in the referendum, and then being forced by their militants into campaigning for a no vote. ERC were forced to leave the coalition Catalan government because of this refusal to back what has really been the only visible product of this government, elections are now going to be called for later in the year and it will be interesting to see whether their confusing stance will cost them support. With two major nationalist parties, the competition between them both to appear more Catalan than the other means that nationalism creates its own internal dynamic maintaining constant pressure for further devolution of power from the central government.

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