The government of Catalonia is days away from a decisive test. It has a clear mandate from voters to declare independence from Spain—and a threat from the Spanish government to shut it down if it doesn’t drop the idea.
The Catalan parliament is set to meet on Monday night to discuss the results of last week’s independence referendum, held in the face of vicious repression.
This would be a natural opportunity to declare independence.
But the Spanish constitutional court, responding to a challenge by the Labour-type Socialist Party in Catalonia, has said the session must not go ahead.
Catalan officials have vowed to go ahead anyway. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said on Friday that he would address parliament on Tuesday.
Thousands of Spain’s paramilitary Guardia Civil cops are still in Catalonia, and right wing Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has shown he is willing to deploy them.
Puigdemont told the media that arresting him or other Catalan government officials would be the “ultimate mistake” for Rajoy. But it is a real possibility.
Rajoy has even threatened to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, shutting down the Catalan government and parliament.
Rajoy’s junior coalition partner Ciudadanos, a party originally founded to oppose Catalan independence, is actively lobbying for him to do so. A speech by the king of Spain this week accusing the Catalan government of “inadmissible disloyalty” bolstered its case.
Shutting down or arresting the Catalan government would be an outrage against democracy.
A statement agreed in a full session of Barcelona city council on Friday said it would be a “covert coup” and urged the government to “recognise and respect” the mandate from the referendum.
The days since Tuesday’s general strike have seen a counter-attack against independence by the Spanish establishment—and Catalan big business.
Josep Lluis Trapero, chief of Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra police force, was summoned to court for sedition on Friday, along with another officer and two leading independence campaigners.
The Mossos were supposed to be shutting down polling stations during the referendum—and in some cases they did. But Trapero had them back down where polling stations were occupied by activists, unlike the Spanish Guardia Civil that went in truncheons swinging.
As a result he could face up 15 years in jail for “preventing the application of laws”. If the Guardia Civil is sent to arrest the government, the loyalty of the Mossos will be an important question.
Another blow came from the bosses. The Sabadell bank announced that it was moving its legal headquarters out of Catalonia. Other firms, some even bigger, said they would follow suit.
This echoes the “project fear” deployed against Scottish independence in 2014 including by banks based in Edinburgh.
So far the moves are symbolic, with no jobs at immediate risk. But the threat is clear—and Rajoy is whipping it up. The Spanish government approved a decree to help speed up the relocalisations.
Puigdemont comes from the pro-business right, and his vision for an independent Catalonia is hardly anti-capitalist.
But the rich have nothing to gain from weakening the right wing government in Spain or the neoliberal, undemocratic European Union (EU). They hate the “instability” that independence would bring—and mass mobilisations such as Tuesday’s strike terrify them.
An anti-independence demonstration, including fascists, was set to take place in Barcelona on Sunday.
Puigdemont’s calls for international mediation have been ignored or rejected. Compromise isn’t on the cards—and neither the Catalan cops nor the bosses can save him.
But the popular movement seen during the referendum campaign needs to continue.
One of the unions behind the general strike has issued formal notice for another to take place for seven days from Tuesday. But it is as yet unclear whether it plans to actually call one, or if other organisations will join it.
The independence movement can only survive—let alone win—by radicalising and building on the power of working class people who have mobilised so magnificently.