How yesterday's election debate on Spanish public broadcaster TVE started: Albert Rivera took just fifteen seconds to accuse Pedro Sánchez of talking about a possible pardon for the Catalan political prisoners. Pedro Sánchez took just nine to say that under Mariano Rajoy's government two illegal referendums (in Catalonia in 2014 and 2017) and a proclamation of independence in the Catalan Parliament had taken place. And Pablo Casado, eleven seconds to label Puigdemont and Torra as having taken part in a coup. Pablo Iglesias refrained from commenting.
That initial snapshot of the debate, how the candidates used the first seconds of their presentations and the question from the moderator which started it off on why citizens should vote for them, perfectly reflects the reasons behind the situation of deadlock Spanish politics finds itself in, which it won't leave behind after Sunday's election. Whoever might win.
Although the second point on the order of debate was on "territorial policy", it was just a euphemism. Devoid of proposals, since Casado and Rivera didn't let Pedro Sánchez leave the confines of Catalonia. They took turns speaking, or rather denigrating him and, in passing, the independence movement, for what they defined at each mention as a "coup d'état", Sánchez's photos with Quim Torra, concessions to independentists, the lack of freedom in Vic, the Spain on its knees and Torra, Rufián and Puigdemont's wishes for independence. They criticised the press conferences from prison given by Oriol Junqueras and Jordi Sánchez and promised the long-suffering Spanish they would jail the independence supporters with promises aimed at pleasing the "Go get them" Spain.
Maybe there are no longer two Spains as Machado understood them, but one that wants a permanent suspension of Catalan autonomy and the other. Now it remains to be seen who's on each side.
The prime minister defended himself rather poorly and almost asking for a time-out when he proclaimed he was Spanish, very Spanish. The leaders of PP and Cs (it was hard to tell them apart in their premium version and both Aznar and the leader of Vox would have little to improve) will have achieved a great hit in the most conservative Spain seeing Pedro Sánchez by turns distracted and disorientated. We'll have to see what undecided voters will do waiting for the second debate this Monday: the first has a loser.
Whilst they were debating Catalonia, one of the most emblematic leaders of the sovereignty movement, the president of Òmnium, Jordi Cuixart, was celebrating his 44th birthday in Soto del Real prison, having been held there or in Lledoners for the last 553 days. He did so without a shred of the resentment expressed yesterday evening, as they have every minute of every hour, every hour of every day, every day of every month and every month of every year, by Casado and Rivera (the last member of the trio, Santiago Abascal, was missing). He said: "Today I'll turn 44 and I'd love it if we could be together, especially with my partner and the kids. But my place is in prison, denouncing injustice. No sadness: let's love each other, let's continue fighting. The right to vote is won by voting".
Cuixart represents me; those from the debate don't.