With the election of Salvador Illa as the first secretary of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) to replace Miquel Iceta, the party closes a long era during which the latter, current Spanish minister of culture, was head of the Socialists in Catalonia. Iceta, who was an emergency solution after the failed leadership of Pere Navarro (2011-2015), who in turn had replaced José Montilla after the defeat in the Catalan elections against Artur Mas, has in his CV the feat of having prevented the disappearance of the party after the sudden growth of Ciudadanos (Cs) led by Albert Rivera and Inés Arrimadas. It is true that he did so by swinging the wheel around in a way that in many respects makes the party unrecognizable, but he does leave Illa a better organization than the one he received and this in politics is no small thing.
To be fully accurate, although the change in first secretariat was made official on Sunday, Illa has been commanding the organization at least since he accepted the challenge of running in the Catalan elections on 14th February. The election result certified his leadership and made him, probably alongside Oriol Junqueras, the politician who is least questioned in his organization and has most decision-making ability. That would obviously also be the case of Carles Puigdemont if he had accepted the presidency of Together for Catalonia (Junts) which he effectively has when it comes to leading the organization, but the president in exile has long prioritized the Council for the Republic and has delegated to Jordi Sànchez the day-to-day party management.
Illa, who comes from the post of organizational secretary, is following the same design as previous Socialist leaders: a strong and cohesive party without major strategic and ideological debates. When things are going well, you follow the inertia and don't complicate things, and it is quite obvious that the power currently held by the Catalan Socialists is very significant: town halls, the Barcelona provincial council, Spanish ministries and a major network in Catalonia on the coattails of the Spanish government and the Catalan party's position as the largest group in the Catalan Parliament, which although in practice serves as not very much, allows them to show off the result as well as having a preferential relationship with the moderate Catalan business elites.
Illa's way ahead thus appears clear and settled once the disappearance and digestion of Cs is completed, something that will happen at a local scale after the next municipal elections. In the interim, Illa will have to decide which political card he wants to play and which of the former leaders of the PSC he wants to imitate: Narcís Serra, Pasqual Maragall or Raimon Obiols. The doors to being a new José Montilla are closed, because, as he proved in the elections of February 14th, victory at the polls does not lead him to the Generalitat palace since the pro-independence majority seems assured. The tripartite is impossible to articulate, because as long as the PSC wins the presidency, they will not give it away and if the Republican Left (ERC) gains ground, it will not be so easy either.
Hence the Barcelona option, which Illa always denies is tempting and attractive at the same time. The PSC's cold approach to such decisions does not allow it to be categorical, as was seen by the withdrawal of Iceta at the last moment. The truth is that, as of Sunday, Illa has gained the authority to make any decision. And that, in politics, is everything.