If there's one thing that the Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez knows how to do extremely well, it is to sell hot air. To switch on the fan of future expectations when it is most in need of political support in the Congress of Deputies. It does this over and over again with great skill, because the trick works over and over again. The version we saw this Wednesday was a stage-managed moment in which the justice minister, Juan Carlos Campos, announced that the Spanish government will begin processing requests for partial pardons of the Catalan political prisoners next week. Campos said nothing about the fact that he is obliged to do this, because it is what is laid down in the regulations, and that at the moment several such requests for pardons are piling up on the table. Nor that the first to appear was that of lawyer Francesc de Jufresa last December. In terms of urgency, there doesn’t seem to have been a great deal. It is another matter altogether that the Spanish government now has an interest in playing this card.
But let's not be mistaken, a pardon is not the path to follow. Here we must be clear: only an amnesty is valid. However, as we know, Sánchez moves better than anyone in making promises which look like one thing and in reality are another. He is following the same strategy with the modification of the crime of sedition to reduce the prison sentences currently contemplated by the Penal Code. That's not right either; what really must be done is to repeal it, as nothing comparable exists in the legal systems of any country around us.
In short, Sánchez presents us with a hypothetical pardon and a reduction in sentences for sedition as two great advances. The Spanish right, increasingly extreme, reacts by boiling over, in the way it only does when the subject of debate is related to Catalan independence or its supporters. And the Spanish prime minister situates himself in a false mid-point between the reasonable pro-independence requests to return to a situation that allows dialogue, and the ultra right which has absolute control of the judiciary, the power centres and the narrative on the unity of Spain.
Former Catalan president Jordi Pujol, whose great talents as an orator are indisputable, coined a phrase in an election meeting in 2002 that became famous as a way of explaining the attitude of the different Spanish governments to Catalonia. “It’s like my grandmother when she would go to the henhouse and call the hens saying, 'here, chick, chick, chick'," he explained. Today someone else who holds the same office could say exactly the same thing.
This is the problem.