The wind is a gentle breeze

by Lorenzo Piccoli

A landmark election takes place in Catalonia today. I have written an article on the topic for Unimondo a few days ago. But there is something else you might want to read. Guillem, who is also a Ph.D. researcher at the European University Institute, has recently shared some thoughts on the matter. I asked him if I could publish this on my blog and, well, here you go.

Over the past weeks a few curious people have asked me about the situation in Catalonia in view of tomorrow’s elections. For as long as my rational side has been in control, I have tried to give a balanced opinion on the matter, often playing the devil’s advocate when the argument required so. Allow me to share my thoughts before the big day tomorrow.

Ok. Forget about arguments concerning the costs, advantages or even legitimacy of independence. Surely that can be a fascinating debate that touches upon the pillars of democracy and modern nations-states, if discussed coherently. The consuming frustration over the situation that I’d like to discuss here —and that I share with at least a handful of people— comes from elsewhere.

For the past few years we have seen an economic, social and political quake that has exposed the unsustainable model that Spain —amongst many other countries— was pursuing. I am not exaggerating when I say that 16-year old construction workers earned double than secondary high school teachers back in 2005. The causes for the end of this delusionary model were many and overlapped: problems with institutional design of the EU, the role of domestic elites, the lack of financial regulation, the contagion effect from the financial crash in the U.S., and so on. The consequences are painfully well-known: massive unemployment, increased poverty, growing inequality, etc.

What most strikes me is that despite such an exceptional situation the political debate in Catalonia, especially during the campaign, has been almost exclusively (if not entirely) centered around identity issues on an emotional level. The recurrent analogy has been that of a love affair with difficulties: “We don’t love you anymore”. “It’s not you, its me.” “Oh, baby, let me go my way”. The imaginary of national identity has nullified any relevant policy debate.

Let me give you a delirious example. Only yesterday, during the annual festival of Barcelona (La Mercè), pro and anti independence parties staged an embarrassing spectacle in which there was literally a “flag war” from the balcony of the town hall. Some were hanging the Spanish flag. Others were hanging the Catalan independence flag. People screamed and cheered. I cannot think of a better way to describe what is happening. No discussion on welfare. No discussion on health care. No discussion on redistribution. No discussion on public transport. No discussion on environment. No discussion. Populism.

I wonder, how banal can politics be?

Addendum #1: the title of this post comes from here.
Addendum #2: an excellent overview on today’s elections has been provided by my Scottish-based friend Dani on the LSE blog. There is one particularly important excerpt: What is significantly different from the Scottish referendum debate is the extent to which the implications of independence are being discussed. There is a complete lack of any informed debate about the issue, and the campaign is more focused on mobilising the voters from each respective side than on contrasting views about the benefits and costs of independence. Read the rest of his article here.