Joint independence roadmap still missing three years after the referendum

Parties divided over how to pursue elusive political goal while responding to Spain's backlash

Counting votes cast during the 2017 independence referendum at the Antoni de Martí i Franquès Institute in Tarragona, October 1, 2017 (by Sílvia Jardí)
Counting votes cast during the 2017 independence referendum at the Antoni de Martí i Franquès Institute in Tarragona, October 1, 2017 (by Sílvia Jardí) / Alan Ruiz Terol

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

October 1, 2020 08:12 AM

On October 1, 2017, Catalans defied Spain's ban on self-determination by holding a referendum on independence, which went ahead despite a massive police operation that closed down scores of polling places and left over a thousand voters injured.

Three years on, that day remains ingrained in the collective memory of the independence camp as a massive milestone despite its most direct consequences being the imprisonment and exile of the movement’s top political and social leaders, as well as the temporary suspension of Catalonia's self-rule.

The infighting that long haunted the independence movement resumed shortly after the vote, with repeated calls from coalition government partners Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) and Esquerra (ERC) to restore the unity shown on referendum day while failing to agree on a common political roadmap.

The shockwaves of the 2017 referendum were long felt, and Catalonia's two ruling parties have found themselves repeatedly brawling over how to respond to Spanish court rulings against pro-independence leaders, whether they be a ban from public office or a lengthy prison sentence.

The latest judicial blow came on Monday, with the ousting of Quim Torra as president for disobeying orders to remove yellow ribbons and other signs in solidarity with jailed pro-independence leaders from government buildings during an election period last year.

"We don't have the independent Catalan republic we were committed to building together. That's how far I've come," said Torra in a televised address. "But the fact that today we're not ready to complete the path toward freedom doesn’t mean that we're any further away."

No further away, but arguably no closer: the October 1 referendum not only showed what the independence movement is capable of doing despite Spain's opposition, but also that what happened on that day was not enough to become independent.

With an election expected in the coming months, Esquerra and JxCat will again go against each other competing for dominance within the independence movement, while defending different roadmaps to achieving their ultimate goal.

While ERC, led by former vice president Oriol Junqueras from prison, opted for seeking dialogue with the Spanish government after the Socialists and anti-austerity Podemos came to power, JxCat believes that an "intelligent confrontation" is the only way forward.

In an interview with Europa Press, Junqueras said that "a confrontation with Spain in the current circumstances means that Catalonia will lose", and said that the independence camp needs to gain more support in order to force Spanish authorities to negotiate a referendum.

In contrast, Junqueras' main pro-independence rival, former president and JxCat leader Carles Puigdemont, said from exile in Belgium that Spain will never accept a discussion on self-determination.

Voters could deliver their verdict on February 7, the election date suggested by some officials, and the dilemma pro-independence parties will face then might be not that different from today's: making a pact with your rival, or risk losing power.