Last week Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, gave a speech in which he laid out his plan for holding a referendum that would be early Parliamentary elections in the form of a plebiscite since Spain will not allow a legal referendum, and if the vote favored independence, what that parliament would do to set up and declare the new state and how long it would take them to do it.
He proposed that those in favor of independence would run on a single list of candidates on the pro-independence ticket. In that way, there could be no misinterpretation of the results of the election. This would be important, if independence wins, in the resulting negotiations with Madrid, the EU, and in gaining international recognition for the new state when independence was declared.
In addition to politicians from various political parties, that list would include a number of professionals who would lend their expertise to the setting up of the new state. This parliament would set up all the mechanisms of a new state within 18 months at which time new, normal parliamentary elections would be held. Mas would not run in those subsequent elections and neither would the professionals nor a majority of the politicians who had served in this interim period.
President Mas said his proposal called for generosity. It meant putting individual and party aspirations aside to work together for the single, unifying cause. He said he would be willing to be first on that ticket or last. His speech was an inspiration to the leaders of the grassroots organizations that have been organizing the massive demonstrations these last three years, and to the public.
Evidently, it was not an inspiration to Oriol Junqueras, President of Esquerra Republicana Catalana, (ERC, the left-wing Catalan party). Junqueras is a university history professor who has put aside his academic work to serve for some time in the Catalan government, and he gave his speech this week. Junqueras proposed that each party run separately but under an umbrella with a common name, such as xx Party for Independence, so it was clear which were the pro-independence parties. He claimed that this would win more pro-independence votes.
I think the general reaction to this was dismay. I saw it on the faces of Carme Forcadell and Muriel Casals, the leaders of the two big grassroots organizations, as they sat in the first row on the audience. And I could read it subsequently on the posts of my friends and many media commentators. What people want now is unity – not several parties, each vying for votes, each with its individual platform.
Artur Mas thinks that it is important to show a unified front to Madrid and to the rest of the world (and to the Catalan public!), as has been shown up until now. That political parties spanning the spectrum from left to center right can sit down and work together as they have done is a great part of the strength of the independence movement. When President Rajoy came to Barcelona last week, he made a snide comment about the unified list saying it was a ridiculous idea and to please show some respect to the Catalans. That alone should be enough to get ERC and the alternative left (further left) CUP to join up.
Junqueras had some good ideas. He said independence should be declared at the start and not the end of the process, thus allowing negotiations to take place between equals and not dominant and subject parties. And he saw no reason to hold a referendum at the end of the 18 months in order to confirm what had already been voted on in the plebiscite. Rather, that referendum should be to ratify the newly drawn up constitution.
Some people think Junqueras wants separate lists because that would give him the possibility of being elected president. I hope that his idea of separate tickets is his bargaining chip so that his other proposals get accepted. Because Junqueras wants independence probably even more than Mas does, they will probably come to some mutually agreeable resolution to this discrepancy. Neither one wants to bring the trajectory of the independence movement to a halt.
As one commentator wrote, what is needed is a strong, united political base that will work with vision and strategy, coordination and intelligence.
But my friend Trini said it best: “We have a president who wants to make history and an historian who wants to be president.”