In Spain, the intelligence needed to narrow down dialogue, the ability to establish agreed principles to mitigate individual, social and national tensions, was based on the exercise of consensus.
This trait was, and is, the maxim of moral conduct and foundational awareness behind our constitution.
Since 1978, our nation has built itself around the following principles: the primacy of the individual and civil liberties on the one hand; and an identity as a community that safeguards its diversity on the other.
The excessive “judicialisation” of politics and “appeals to the Constitutional Court” have been dominating the best part of the news and discourse about the political situation in Catalonia, becoming a, comfortable and intentional, convenient truth.
That was the answer given by two professors of political science at Harvard and Stanford, the authors of one of the go-to books on governing plurinational societies.¹
In Politics in Plural Societies: a theory of democratic instability, Rabushka and Shepsle present a model of development of political phenomena in multi-ethnic nations, which they refer to as plural, analysing the behaviour of both the political elites and the population of over a dozen countries in four continents.
A nation must meet three conditions in order to be qualified as plural.
It needs to have diverse identities;
these must be organised into cohesive political sections (parties, trade unions, etc.); and
In Catalonia, we have been witnessing the socially and culturally dominant hegemony of nationalism and a regime which exerts unseemly psychological and moral influence over society for forty years now.
The recent funeral of Montserrat Caballé, held entirely in Spanish, led the popular, pro-independence tenor José Carreras to exclaim:
‘There is nothing to say –but I will say–a little bit more Catalan wouldn’t have gone amiss.’
This is just one example of many of how the constant manipulation by nationalist power groups finds its way into even the most intimately personal acts.
Even when it is not subjected to direct action of any kind, this power is exercised by simultaneously imposing certain forms of social behaviour and discrediting dissidents.
‘This book is the child of doubt.’ So begins the book by first-time author Joan Coscubiela, offering some insight into the intellectual honesty of this historical and adroit Catalan trade union and communist leader.
And they are not idle words. To acknowledge the practical failure of the two fundamental principles of left-wing politics in the last fifty years can hardly be called insignificant. I am referring to not managing to integrate migrant workers in Catalonia under the ‘one people’ paradigm and the now questioned advisability of exercising the right to self-determination (‘perhaps it is not the wisest thing to do at this time’).
He defended both policies with a passion throughout his long political career, first as general secretary of the Comisiones Obrerasunion (1995-2008), then as a member of the Spanish parliament (2012-2015) and, finally, as a member of the Catalan parliament (2015-2017).
This is no small exercise in self-criticism by a man well-acquainted with political life in constitutional Spain since its very inception. At the same time, his biography serves as a useful inroad towards understanding the development of the present situation in Catalan society and the actions of its leading political figures from a historical perspective.