Could these Catalan elections be more important for the Spanish nationalist parties than for those which support independence? I am sure that this is not the case and that the results that come in on the evening of February 14th will prove me right. But ahead of that day, a little more than two weeks away, the Madrid-based parties have been pouring in the resources with the same momentum as they did in 2017, when, on the back of Article 155 and the suspension of Catalan self-government, they thought they would have an easy task to take the reins away from an independence movement starved of economic means, cut off from the support of major media groups and decapitated through the persecution of its leaders, with the Catalan government of the day half in exile and half in prison. Back then, it was Mariano Rajoy (PP), Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) and Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos) who were the ones responsible for imposing a level of repression and an uneven electoral playing field whose advantage could only be reversed by an unprecedented mobilization of Catalan society at the polls. But it is obvious that the deep state has not changed its goal and that a little over three years later it continues to pursue the same objective.
Of that 2017 team only Pedro Sánchez remains in the front row of Spanish politics, with Rajoy having left his place to Pablo Casado and Rivera to Inés Arrimadas. The importance given in Madrid to these elections is exemplified by the fact that this Thursday night, Sánchez, Casado and Arrimadas will all be in Barcelona for what was once the traditional postering session and now has changed format to become an online rally, which ends up achieving a similar result, since television, digital media, radio and social media have emerged as the real media platforms for a campaign in the midst of a pandemic. The three of them will arrive with the lesson well learned and, above all, ready to mobilize their people because, in the end, apart from running on their management record, which only Sánchez can do and it is better that he doesn't because it is disastrous, Casado has a political party which just can't get off the ground and Arrimadas will be the great electoral victim since no one will lose as much as Ciudadanos on February 14th.
Joint photos will not be taken as they were in the past, since occupying the Moncloa government palace, and presiding over an executive that defines itself as the most left-wing in the history of Spain, is incompatible with celebrating alongside your Article 155 allies in public. But maybe they wouldn’t repeat what they did back then? Has any of the three considered it a mistake to suspend Catalonia's autonomy, provoke the imprisonment and exile of the Catalan government and generate the greatest repression in the recent history of Catalonia? We are a long way from a situation in which they would take that step. They have caused permanent tension in Catalonia's political life, they have suffocated it financially and have removed another president from the Generalitat, in this case for having hung out a banner, in order to force the collapse of the legislature. And now they think it’s time to reap the fruit of what they have sowed, to talk about reconciliation, to auction off some pardons which in autumn they offered to fulfill at the start of this year, and hope that people will vote forgetting the recent past.
This will be the real battle of the upcoming election: controlling the campaign narrative. Giving it a spin that will mobilize the most voters in an election in which low turnout is thought likely, although that assumption only comes from reviewing other countries in which there have been recent elections. The latest of these, last Sunday in the Portuguese presidential elections where turnout was around 36%. Although the coronavirus distorts everything and it is more difficult than ever to analyze, the Catalan parties have never failed to mobilize in greater numbers in Catalonia's own elections than the parties dependent on Madrid. This has been an historic truth since the first autonomous Catalan elections in 1980. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then but the dynamics have never changed. In particular when the electorate perceives an aggression from the central government or the Spain-based parties as great as the current one.