Deep divisions in Catalan politics still obvious five years after independence vote

All parties in parliament view the 2017 referendum differently and take varying conclusions from it

The Catalan parliament during the 2022 annual general policy debate
The Catalan parliament during the 2022 annual general policy debate / Catalan Parliament / Sergio Ramos Ladevesa
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

October 1, 2022 01:06 PM

October 1, 2022 03:24 PM

There are currently 8 different parties in the Catalan parliament. Some are in favor of independence, Esquerra, Junts, and CUP; some are against it, the Socialists, the People's Party, Vox, and Ciudadanos; and is pro-referendum but one does not align itself with either side of the independence question, En Comú Podem. 

To each party, the 2017 independence referendum meant a different thing, and each takes its own conclusion on what position Catalonia now finds itself in five years later. 

Check out our podcast published exactly 5 years after the vote:

Esquerra: "Going to prison has clearly made us stronger"

Esquerra, who are leading the current government in Catalonia under Pere Aragonès, are in favor of negotiating with Spain to convince them to agree to a referendum. On Tuesday, the president proposed a new potential roadmap toward an agreed referendum, likening it to Quebec's Carity Act. 

ERC's party president, Oriol Junqueras, Catalonia's vice president at the time of the 2017 referendum, explained to Catalan News that he believes the fact he and other former officials went to jail for organizing the vote has made the independence movement stronger than ever. 

"The fact that we went to prison has helped open more doors for us than have ever been open, internationally too," Junqueras said. "Going to prison has clearly made us stronger because the independence of Catalonia also depends on international recognition."

Junts: Biggest mistake was "to trust the Spanish state"

Negotiating and reaching a deal with Spain on holding an agreed referendum is a point of view that Junts per Catalunya, the other main pro-independence party, does not share. Their party president, Laura Borràs, told Catalan that the movement has to "learn from all our mistakes," with the biggest mistake being "to trust the Spanish state." 

This differing viewpoint on how to pursue independence is key to understanding the crisis that's engulfing the two mainstream pro-independence parties at the moment. "The Catalan referendum on the 1st of October was legal, it was signed by a president of the Generalitat. We want to build from that on," Borràs added.

CUP: "We must know how to maintain this power the day afterward"

The third pro-independence party represented in the Catalan chamber is the far-left, anti-capitalist CUP. They acknowledge that many lessons can be drawn from the time of the vote. 

Their candidate for Barcelona mayor in next year's municipal elections, Basha Changue, told Catalan News that "when we fight for power against a state like Spain, we must know how to maintain this power the day afterward, and we did not do that at all." 

Socialists: Pro-independence voters feel cheated

On the unionist side, the Socialists, who are now in government in Spain, say now is the time to reach agreements. The central Spanish government, led by Pedro Sánchez, have been open to engaging in dialogue with the Catalan pro-independence government, and have held numerous 'dialogue table' meetings to try to solve the political conflict.

Divisions in Catalan politics still obvious five years after independence vote / Cillian Shields / Alicia Egorov

"We understand that there are people who went to vote for independence that feel cheated or even frustrated by that situation because nothing that their government said would happen has happened," their MP in the Catalan parliament, Esther Niubó, told this outlet. "So we think it's the moment to reach agreements, not divide again."

People's Party: Pro-independence parties playing with the dreams of Catalans

The conservative People's Party, who were in power in Spain at the time of the referendum, criticized that pro-independence parties are playing with the dreams of Catalans who want independence. 

Alejandro Fernández, leader of the Catalan branch of the party, said during the general policy debate that Pere Aragonès had "finished off the mandate of the 2017 independence referendum," by introducing the new idea of the Clarity Act, which points toward another future potential referendum. 

"You said before we were looking at a definitive and binding referendum, and now you're saying it was only a rehearsal, and now it's time for the real deal," he criticized. "We don't know what date it will have, but this will be the correct one," he ironically said.

Ciudadanos: "Catalan government has tried to violate and hurt more than half of Catalans"

Unionist Ciudadanos compared the referendum with an act of violence by its organizers, when asked by Catalan News. "The Catalan government has tried to violate, to hurt more than half of the Catalan people," their MP Anna Grau said. "We are not for independence, we are not for leaving Spain, we don't hate Spain, and we are Catalan too, perhaps even better Catalans than them." 

Vox: The referendum was a "coup d'état"

Alberto Tarradas of the far-right Vox called the referendum a "coup d'état against the Spanish government, against the Catalan people, and against the rule of law" when asked by this outlet. Vox was not in the parliament at the time of the vote, but Tarradas points out that the party "was fighting in the streets and fighting in the courts." The far-right group acted as the private prosecutor during the trial of the referendum organizers in 2019.

En Comú Podem: "The mistake was the creation of high expectations for the population"

En Comú Podem, the only party in favor of a referendum but not aligned on the independence question, want all sides to use dialogue to find solutions to the political conflict gripping the country. 

"For us, October 1 was a huge mobilization, we supported that referendum," MP Marc Parés told Catalan News. He also pointed some criticism at the organizers of the vote, for failing to prepare adequately: "It was not a mistake at all [to hold the referendum], but the mistake was the creation of high expectations for that population." 

En Comú Podem "welcomed" Pere Aragonès to the proposal of the Quebec-style Clarity Act during the week, an initiative they brought to the table during the peak of the independence crisis. "We have to find solutions that go beyond 'yes' or 'no' to independence," Parés said.