What a guilty verdict for jailed leaders might bring

A national unity government, new attempts to reinstate Puigdemont, snap election, civil disobedience, and a pardon, among proposals on the table

Pro-independence leaders on trial at Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE)
Pro-independence leaders on trial at Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

September 2, 2019 05:16 PM

A million dollar question is hovering over Catalonia at the beginning of the new political year, as the country nervously waits to hear the verdict on its jailed leaders, which will be out in the coming weeks. How should Catalan society respond to a potential guilty verdict? 

The Supreme Court’s decision is widely considered to be the most important judicial ruling for Catalonia in the past few decades, even more than the Constitutional Court decision of 2010, which cut short the country’s ambitions to widen self-rule and prompted the beginning of the push for independence.

That ruling shaped the last decade in Catalonia, and the upcoming one could shape a whole generation, because unlike the previous court decision, the freedom of a number of individuals is now at stake.

Parties and civic groups are having their say on what the reaction should look like, with unionists insisting that the verdict should be “accepted” by everyone, and independence supporters seeking a joint response – this weekend a discreet summit with this purpose was held in Geneva, Switzerland. But there are already quite a few proposals on the table:

“National unity government”

Catalan speaker Roger Torrent suggested that in the event of a guilty verdict, the parties in favor of an independence referendum should come together in a “national unity government.” This would mean bringing together parties from the far-left to the center-right, amassing almost two thirds of the seats in parliament. 

For Torrent, this government would be committed to social, anti-repressive values, and would strive to democratically solve the conflict. 

Yet Catalunya en Comú, which favors a referendum but not outright independence, has already showed skepticism at the suggestion.  

New attempt to reinstate Puigdemont as president

President Torra replied to the proposal by telling Torrent that he should get ready to play his role in the response to the verdict. 

The reason: Torra said one reaction might include trying to reinstate the exiled Carles Puigdemont as president from Brussels. The speaker Torrent denied this possibility in January 2018 after the Spanish judiciary ruled such a proxy move as unconstitutional. 

Unionist parties Ciutadans and the Socialists have already said Puigdemont would not be able to be sworn in and that the proposal “makes no sense.”

Snap election

No one has really put forward calling a snap election as a response to the verdict, but the idea is up in the air; the opposition is pushing for the government to fall, and potential discrepancies within the government on how to react could also take voters in Catalonia to the polls again. 

What’s more, the economy minister has said that if no support for the 2020 budget can be found, an election might be inevitable – the spending plan debate might coincide with the verdict. 

Demonstrations and civil disobedience

What is almost guaranteed is that a mass demonstration – or several – to reject the sentence will be held. 

But the independence campaigners will want to go beyond that. A new campaign called ‘Democratic Tsunami’ was launched on Monday promoting a “disobedient and non-violent” response to the verdict. The organisers will reveal their plans in the coming weeks. 

So far, the three main pro-independence parties, the government, the parliament speaker and the two mainstream civic groups in favor of a Catalan republic have backed the initiative. 

Pardon and amnesty

Catalunya en Comú’s leader and Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, suggested on Monday seeking a pardon in the event of a potential guilty verdict, which can only be provided by Spain’s government. The jailed leaders reject this idea, arguing that this would mean “acknowledging” they are guilty.  

An alternative could be an amnesty, as pro-independence Esquerra’s exiled leader Marta Rovira has suggested. The difference is that in this case, the Spanish congress would pass a law with retroactive effects, providing that the offenses for which they are condemned are no longer a crime. 

Accepting the verdict

Unionist parties Ciutadans, the Socialists, and the People’s Party do not question Spain’s judiciary and call on everyone to respect its rulings. 

Ciutadans' head in Catalonia, Lorena Roldán, has not only demanded “accepting” the judges’ decisions, but also said that her political party is ready to respond to potential reactions from pro-independence supporters after the verdict.