Would Catalonia now be a fully-fledged independent state if something had been done differently in October 2017? No-one will ever know, of course, but Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president whose government held the independence referendum on October 1st, 2017, maintains there is one decision he made during those weeks which was an "historic error".
The date was October 10th, nine days after the referendum which despite Spain's prohibition had gone ahead, and despite the violent repression carried out by Spanish police had yielded a result (90% in favour of independence from a turnout of 43%). On that day, the Catalan Parliament met to hear president Puigdemont make a decree accepting the referendum mandate - by declaring Catalan independence. However, what Puigdemont did was to declare that he had accepted the mandate, and then immediately to suspend its results "to allow for dialogue to take place."
That decision, to freeze Catalonia's declaration of independence was "an historic error," according to the president in exile, who has said he "wouldn't do it now."
"I prioritised dialogue, that was my mistake. I would not now order the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence as I did," he explained, in an interview with LaMordaza.com. "It was very tough and painful" to freeze the declaration of independence, he said, but he did so because "there were indications and evidence there was a real will in the Spanish state to start a process of dialogue, backed by many people from beyond Spain."
El 10 d'octubre de 2017 vaig prendre una decisió molt dura per intentar privilegiar un diàleg que semblava sincer però que va resultar fals. He assumit com un error històric la congelació de la Declaració d'Independència de Catalunya. Ara no ho faria— Carles Puigdemont (@KRLS) May 18, 2020
📝 https://t.co/fRzljYqzat pic.twitter.com/D5LshG6cdD
Puigdemont's explanation in full:
"The key day was not the 27th October, 2017 [when Catalonia finally made its declaration of independence, at the same time as the Spanish government took control of Catalonia under Article 155], but it was really 10th October. I did something that was very tough and painful which I accept as an historic error, which was to freeze the declaration of independence."
"I did it because there were not just indications, but also evidence confirming them, that there was a real will from the Spanish government to start a process of dialogue which was backed by many people outside Spain. And since I have political responsibility for the whole country, not just for the people who think like me, I believed, that - if it hadn't been part of an attempt to deceive - it was the correct path to choose."
"If there was a will [by Spain] to make a movement, if they had said 'We have heard the message of October 1st, maybe there are not enough of you to win independence, but this is really happening and you have won and we have to talk about that, but we ask you not to do anything irreversible' - then, in that situation, I as the president had the responsibility to take notice of it. Later, it turned out that it was a deception. And all it did was enable the Spanish state to gain time to prepare 155 and break the moment in which Catalonia was ready to go a long way. I gave priority to dialogue. That was my error. Now, on 10th October I wouldn't order the suspension of the Declaration of Independence, I wouldn't do that."