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Pro-independence parties in Catalonia have won the majority of seats in yesterday’s election. Jack Sherwood explains what this means and what the movement should now be doing.

Catalan independence forces have won a 5-seat majority and 47.5% of the vote in Parliament on a 82% turnout and against the full political force of the Spanish state which as tried every tactic they could to delegitimise and destabilise them. Unionist parties garnered 43.5% of the vote.

This is a major victory that puts independence firmly on the front foot and leaves Spanish PM Rajoy and his governing Tory party humiliated, after they illegitimately imposed these elections for unionists to get an absolute majority. They suffered their worst ever result and a massive fall in support – down from 11 seats in 2015 to 3 in this election, with just 4.2% of the vote.

It would be a huge error for independence forces to do anything but advance immediately in implementing the Republic, demanding the immediate release of the four political prisoners by the Spanish state and the withdrawal of all criminal charges against public officials and campaigners relating to independence activity. For all this there needs to be immediate initiative in the streets and communities by the grassroots movement – notably the Republic Defence Committees – to lead in pressing these measures and demands with an all-important mass popular base.

This movement must also encompass calling on international bodies and the nations of Europe and beyond to offer prompt opposition to any continuation of attempts at direct rule from Madrid.

The radical left has a decisive role to play in all of this, in mobilising the movement and in using the public political platform it has maintained in these elections to argue these points clearly, forthrightly and with strong exhortation to immediate action.

However, there is also a strong note of caution in all of this as the largest pro-independence platform has re-emerged as the centrist one of Together for Catalonia, directed by the centre-right Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDeCat) of the President Carles Puigdemont. Not only have they been supporters of neoliberal policies, but their leadership in the independence movement has been prone to vacillation and a seemingly infinite appetite for unrequited attempts at conciliation with the repellent Spanish establishment, which betrays an inherent opportunism in their support for independence, which only fully emerged in the last ten years.

They have undoubtedly regained support in the campaign from the centre-left ERC party, a strong leader in the polls only six weeks ago tipped to assume the presidency and now only the third party.

Moreover, the significant decline in electoral support for the anticapitalist independence party the CUP is concerning, thought they still hold a very significant role in maintaining the pro-independence majority with their 4 seats (down from 10 in 2015). They have said they would only offer support to a government willing to implement a Catalan Republic.

Their downward turn likely reflects that they have not succeeded in carrying through a leading role in recent events of the independence movement and political debate, along with a lack of sufficient social content in their campaign to distinguish themselves and cultivate appetites which might have been ready for radical ideas. A more dynamic and open electoral campaign across the movement, embracing mass political debates in communities, like the final phase of that of the Scottish referendum, would also have advantaged this turn. A combination of political pessimism and the pressures of repression brought about a quite inward-looking and closed campaign generally instead.

In spite of all this, CUP leaders and activists have always privately said that the social movement is always their priority and that parliament is only a platform to promote their agenda. The fall in their conventional political leverage is not a good thing for the left, though on the whole they will surely be looking forward to pushing on the independence process and ensuring a Constituent Process for the Republic from below and across society.

However, the major story aside from independence victory is the worrying rise in support for the populist right Ciutadans party which gained a quarter of the vote share and 37 seats in parliament, a huge improvement on their 17.9% / 25 seats in the 2015 elections. They have been arguably the key political driving force of repression during the election campaign – lobbying the Spanish state electoral board for numerous outrageous prohibitions, and making aggressive statements, all designed to take the far right vote, which they indeed have done, along with much of that of the Tory party it would seem. On their vote share it is clear that they have the support of a significant minority section of the Catalan working class. Their vituperative propaganda and collaboration with the far right must be seriously countered at every turn, on a class basis.

A more serious mass anti-fascist movement embedded in working class communities also needs to emerge rapidly, to counter forces which have been greatly more active in recent times and which will be both encouraged by the advances made by Ciutadans and frustrated by the majority for independence.

It looks certain to be a continuing period of turbulent political struggle in Catalonia, as well as a significantly deepened crisis for both the Spanish state and Spain’s governing Tory party. The left and minority militant unions also have a particular responsibility for raising the social struggle and level of debate at this time, in order to work to achieve the crucially important radical break with the very conservative Spanish state and socio-economic model, to maximise democratic, civil- social-labour rights and progressive economic advances for the working class.

Another clear loser in the elections has been the ‘middle way’ party of Catalonia En Comu / Podemos which has lost 3 seats and 2 percent of its vote share on 2015 results. Though Spanish PM Rajoy may well be tendering propositions of dialogue for a restored autonomy settlement, these cannot be taken seriously given the history of his government’s position (sabotaging the 2006 Statute of autonomy and any prospect of negotiation since), and any position short of implementing independence demobilises the progressive movement (the combined left parties were the biggest force in these elections) and plays utterly into the hands of a still determinedly repressive Spanish state.

The movement for political sovereignty and liberation in Catalonia cannot afford to let another historical opportunity pass here – as was the case following both October 1st and October 27th. As ever, it will be up to the people to ensure it is not otherwise.

Visca Catalunya lliure!

Jack Sherwood

Jack Sherwood has been an organiser in the People's Assembly and Stop the War. Based in Bristol, he coordinated the largest demonstrations and public meetings in the city 2014-2019: against austerity, in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of Labour, over the Junior Doctors' struggle and against the British bombing of Syria.

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