The Socialists wants to be on both sides of the negotiating table
The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) aspires to be on both sides of a future "negotiating table" that addresses the Catalan question. This is the spirit of the move that has led the hitherto Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, to resign from office in the midst of the pandemic to become the party's candidate for the presidency of the Generalitat in the most atypical elections since the recovery of democracy, and which, in parallel, has placed Miquel Iceta as Minister of Territorial Policy and Public Function with the obvious task of piloting the difficult Catalan portfolio. This is a move designed by Iceta himself with the essential endorsement of Pedro Sánchez. The Spanish president owes a lot to the Catalan socialist leader, who supported him when he was at his weakest within the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). And Sánchez has bought into Iceta's dual strategy of reducing tension in Catalonia and seeking a way to break the hegemony of independence in the Catalan parliament and society. The same idea of pardons for political prisoners, launched three years ago by Iceta without being entrusted to the central party, has finally been adopted by the Spanish president as well. But in all this strategic game, Sánchez also plays his own cards: for some time now he has been looking for a replacement in Catalan socialism that would allow him to control the PSC even more firmly, by placing people who owe him direct loyalty
All of this is party politics. But the Catalan conflict cannot be addressed solely from a perspective that, however legitimate, falls short. Catalonia's political disenchantment is a historical and poisoned question that calls, from the State's point of view, not only for strategy or tactics, for which Sánchez has shown ample capacity, but also courage and a project. And it is here that the socialist challenge is not clear, nor is that of a Spanish government with two visions that clearly do not coincide: when Iglesias sees in Puigdemont a political exile, the PSOE's hair stands on end. And it is also difficult to know where the middle ground is for an Iceta that in a few years has gone from defending the right to self-determination to defending the application of direct rule from Madrid.
The result of the Catalan elections, if they are finally held on 14 February, as they now appear to be, will no doubt condition the actions of the new Minister of Territorial Policy when it comes to dealing with the Catalan dossier. Iceta is a politician of dialogue, pragmatic, with a double loyalty: in this order, firstly to Hispanic socialism and secondly to the Catalanist tradition. From this point of view, his background and attitude are suitable for setting up a highly complex negotiating table which, in order to be truly operational, would have to be accompanied by genuine gestures of détente, of an end to the repression of the independence movement. It will not be easy. But neither the PSC is Ciudadanos nor is Iceta Arrimadas. Moreover, the independence movement has painfully discovered what its limits are and what mistakes it cannot make again. In any case, Iceta will surely be on one side of the table, and the elections will decide who sits on the other.