The Catalan government could be hours away from declaring independence—and from the Spanish government trying to take it over.
Both the Catalan parliament and Spanish government will continue potentially decisive sessions on Friday, after a day of frantic manoeuvres on Thursday.
Right wing Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is just one senate resolution away from being able to trigger Article 155 of the Spanish constitution. This would strip the Catalan government of its powers and dissolve the Catalan parliament for new elections.
But Catalan president Carles Puigdemont also left the door open for a declaration of independence after failing to placate Rajoy. Alarmed by Puigdemont's wavering and hesitation, protesters on the street and MPs in his government coalition are pushing for this.
Earlier on Thursday Puigdemont’s government told the press he was preparing to call elections himself, though without abandoning the call for independence.
A speech was scheduled. But the apparent climbdown provoked fury.
Several MPs in his European Democrats of Catalonia (PDeCat) party went as far as saying they were stepping down ready to contest the election.
Tens of thousands of students were protesting in Barcelona as part of a two-day student strike against Spanish repression.
Student Marina Morante told Socialist Worker, “Everyone was very angry when we heard the news.
“We went to the central square Plaza de Sant Jaume to watch Puigdemont speak. People were shouting ‘independent republic’ and ‘Puigdemont resign!’”
There were chants of “The people will not forgive” and “We have voted, apply the result”.
This had an echo at the top.
Puigdemont’s centre-right party governs in coalition with the reformist Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and smaller parties, with the external support of the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidature (CUP).
The CUP slammed the moves—and so did MPs on government benches.
One prominent ERC MP, Gabriel Rufian, condemned Puigdemont’s treachery with a popular tweet saying “155 pieces of silver”. Antoni Castella of the smaller right wing party Democrats, vowed that it “won’t turn its back on the people” even if Puigdemont had.
At the same Rajoy gave Puigdemont the cold shoulder, refusing to suspend the moves to apply Article 155.
Puigdemont was acting on an attempt at mediation by his Basque counterpart Inigo Urkullu and a group of Catalan bosses.
The bosses wanted a return to “stability” in Catalonia, while the Basque government hoped to use the Catalan crisis as leverage to win reforms that boost its power within the Spanish state.
They suggested a deal where calling elections would lead to Article 155 being repealed.
Puigdemont agreed. But Rajoy clearly didn’t.
His party’s refusal to compromise came at the same time as a special court refused to release Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of the independence campaigns Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural. They were jailed last week pending trial for “sedition”.
Under immense pressure, Puigdemont cancelled his announcement of new elections.
Puigdemont told parliament, “I thought about calling elections in the normal way, with guarantees. But there are no guarantees.” He added, “No-one can accuse me of not trying to reach agreement.”
This is certainly true. His strategy ever since the referendum held in defiance of Spanish repression on 1 October has been to call for negotiations with an enemy determined not to negotiate.
David Karvala, from revolutionary socialist group Marx21, told Socialist Worker, “Puigdemont is caught between different incompatible forces.
“On one side the pressure from the state, big business and the right of his party. On the other, a large part of his party, most of ERC, Omnium, ANC, the CUP and the street.”
Puigdemont left it up to parliament to decide how to respond to the end of home rule.
David said, “It means they still might go ahead with independence. The pressure and mobilisations today might have tipped the balance back towards independence.”
As MPs debated, both sides outside upped the pressure.
The students in Plaza de Sant Jaume, now joined by other protesters, marched to near parliament and chanted “Independent! Independent!” Rajoy’s party refused to rule out sending in the army.
The parliamentary session started on a fiery note.
First there was a standing ovation for political prisoners Sanchez and Cuixart. Then the parliamentary leaders of both the government coalition and the CUP made strongly pro-independence speeches.
The coalition’s lead MP Lluis Corominas said that in the face of Rajoy’s attempts to impose Spanish unity “through blood and fire”, Catalan MPs would “set a new course for our country”.
But Thursday underlined that if Catalan independence can be won, it won’t be by its wavering elites. Defeating Rajoy’s repression will take massive civil disobedience from below, protests, strikes and occupations.