Politics 01/10/2021

How parties views on the 2017 Referendum have changed

All pro-independence parties used to say it was binding; now, only a minority

3 min
1-O voting in a school

BarcelonaOn 1 October 2017, Catalans won "the right to have an independent state constituted in the form of a Republic". The then president of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, had no hesitation in validating the referendum results despite warnings from the Constitutional Court, police interventions and aggressions, the absence of an Electoral Commission (threatened by the Spanish courts) and the participation of 43% of the census. All pro-independence forces agreed: 1-O was a valid referendum and, in Puigdemont's words, the institutions had the "duty" to implement it.

Four years later we know that things did not go as planned that day. Prisoners, exiles, suspension of home rule and hundreds of people under indictment is the recipe the State has followed during this time, and only now has a new stage of dialogue begun. There are still those who defend the validity of the 2017 Referendum, but none of the main actors are planning to implement it with the current strength of the independence movement. This is despite the fact that, for the first time, in 2021 pro-independence parties received over 50% of the vote in the elections. The Catalan National Assembly (ANC) is only firm defender of unilateralism left. Their president says "referendum has already been held".

Change of strategy

It is the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) who have most clearly championed the strategy of dialogue with the State. It was also the Republicans who had pushed the hardest to pass laws to prepare for independence and implement the result in 2017. The change in strategy has taken place in phases: in the electoral programme of the elections held in December 2017 they still committed themselves to "work to make the recognition of the right to self-determination exercised by the people of Catalonia in the referendum of October 1 effective".

At the national conference in the summer of 2018 they opened the door to an agreed referendum "without forgetting the 1 October", and in the the 2019 conference they stopped making explicit reference to an eventual unilateral declaration of independence. That same year they recovered their proposal for a referendum in their manifesto for the Spanish elections, five years after the last time it was included. Among its leaders, Marta Rovira acknowledged that the 2017 Referendum lacked "internal legitimacy", and recently Oriol Junqueras defended "the path of the agreed referendum" because other options "are neither viable nor desirable insofar as they distance us from our goal".

The validity of the mandate of the 2017 Referendum is so unspecific that, despite the new Republican strategy, this Thursday they have voted alongside Together for Catalonia (JxCat) to consider it legitimate if there is no agreed referendum. It is a declaration of intent which lacks effective consequences – at least in the short term – and also exemplifies the JxCat's evolution in recent years.

Unilaterality without concreteness

Puigdemont validated the outcome of the referendum, but a few weeks later he wanted to call autonomic elections in the face of the impossibility of applying the commitments made to the citizens. The situation would turn 180 degrees quickly: from exile, he himself led a candidacy that presented the December elections as "an opportunity to strengthen and reinforce the result of October 1". Puigdemont's successor, Quim Torra, was invested, in fact, in order to "culminate" independence. This did not prevent him, in the first meeting with the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, to demand an agreed referendum and to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling against the leaders of the Independence bid. JxCat today defends 1 October 2017 as a foundational moment – the Council for the Republic is its institutional side – and, at the same time, accepts – without much faith – giving dialogue with the State a chance. In the absence of specifics, "civil disobedience and intelligent confrontation" are the party's bets.

And what about the CUP? The anti-capitalists flirted with the idea of not running in the 2017 elections, imposed by the Spanish government after suspending Catalan autonomy. Instead, they demanded the "materialisation of the Republic" and the deployment, among others, of the Transition Law, a document that four years later only some nostalgics invoke. Over time they also began to nuance their position on October 1st, which they no longer consider binding ever since they began to demand another one. This week this was the CUP's star proposal in Parliament, but neither Junts – no need for another referendum – nor ERC – only an agreed referendum will be valid – have seconded it.

The only parties which have not moved an inch from their opinion on the Referendum are the ones that have been more belligerent: Cs, the PP and Vox continue to speak of "coup d'état" or "coup to democracy". The Socialists reject its validity and only speak of a "referendum" because it was held under Mariano Rajoy's government, and En Comú define it as a "peaceful mobilisation".