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Why fewer people attended the National Day demonstration

600,000 people turned out for the 2019 pro-independence rally, with lack of unity among political parties one of the possible causes for the drop in participation 

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12 September 2019 04:36 PM

by

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

Some 600,000 people took to the streets to demand independence on Wednesday on Catalonia's National Day. 

While no doubt many social causes around the world would very warmly welcome these figures for a rally, the day after the demo in Barcelona the debate has focused on whether the independence movement is losing momentum. 

The reason? Since the National Day mass marches first began in 2012, the attendance figures have ranged from 875,000 (2016) to 1.8 million (2014), which makes Wednesday's protest the lowest to date. 

Political commentators and media outlets in Catalonia and Spain have focused on the reasons for the drop, although on Thursday, the parliament speaker downplayed it: “The figures aren’t as interesting as the underlying movement and its resilience,” he said. Here are some of the possible causes for the drop: 

1. Eighth National Day rally in a row

The mass pro-independence demonstrations began in 2012, attracting 1.5 million attendees. It peaked in 2014 with 1.8 million, and ever since has been on a downward trend. 

  • "The figures aren’t as interesting as the underlying movement and its resilience"

    Roger Torrent · Parliament speaker

With eight such rallies on September 11 so far, and with the aim of independence still not being reached, some might have experienced “fatigue,” as the Socialist senior MP Eva Granados suggested on Thursday. 

2. Usefulness compared to elections

While the first National Day rallies prompted political parties to react by calling a snap election or organizing votes on independence, some campaigners might have doubted the usefulness of such events compared to an election. 

In fact, in the three Catalan elections since September 11, 2012, the vote on independence has always gone up, unlike the attendance of the rallies. 

3. Internal disputes in independence camp

One of the most likely reasons contributing to the drop are the internal disputes among the pro-independence parties, which have so far been unable to find consensus on several issues, such as whether to prioritize negotiations with Madrid, how to respond to the upcoming verdict on the jailed leaders, and what should be the way forward for the movement. 

Opposition MP Granados said that the “leadership confrontation” among those in favor of a Catalan Republic is to blame for the drop. 

“The speeches made [by campaigners] during the demonstrations were calling for unity of strategy,” she said. 

The pro-independence government spokeswoman, Meritxell Budó, said that the rally was “a tipping point” for finding unity and consensus on the way forward.

4. Warm-up for the Supreme Court verdict

Some have argued that the September 11 demonstration was “irrelevant,” such as political commentator and writer Rafael Nadal, on the RAC1 radio station, and therefore fewer people attended. He said that what will be really crucial is how many will attend the potential protests following a likely guilty verdict for the jailed leaders over the 2017 referendum. “It will be the thermometer for knowing how far people’s reaction will go,” he said. 

Indeed, the National Day might have been only a warm-up for the demonstrations likely after the Supreme Court’s decision is revealed, especially if the judges accept the prosecutors’ request of prison sentences of up to 25 years for the defendants.

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  • Aerial view of the 2019 National Day independence demonstration on September 11, 2019 (by Andreu Puig)

  • Aerial view of the 2019 National Day independence demonstration on September 11, 2019 (by Andreu Puig)

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