Nationalists triumph in Catalan elections

But lack of clear mandate for leading party casts doubt on prospects for independence referendum

Catalonia's nationalists were the clear winners in yesterday's crucial regional elections – but a significant drop in support for Artur Mas's conservative nationalists the CiU raises serious doubts over their central campaign issue of a referendum on Catalan independence.

Boosted by a major increase in backing for a breakaway state in polls since Spain's recession began in 2008, and Catalonia's biggest ever pro-independence rally on 11 September, the CiU (Convergence and Union) had adopted a far harder nationalist line in recent months.

But although the CiU remains by far the biggest political grouping in the Catalan parliament with around 50 seats, and will almost certainly form a minority government – with Mr Mas thereby gaining a second term as Catalonia's president – any chances of a referendum will now involve negotiations between CiU and the left-wing nationalist republican party, ERC, which has more than doubled its representation.

"It's evident that we are a long way off that exceptional majority we wanted, as well as clearly below the results of [the elections] of two years ago," Mas admitted, although he insisted what he called 'the process' would continue, "its been two very difficult years." "These elections haven't solved anything," Catalan political analyst Germa Capdevila told The Independent.

"Mr Mas is going to need the ERC for a referendum if he wants support for his budget, but even if the nationalists have won, it will be very hard to reach an agreement. It's a clear majority in favour of the referendum, but they're not homogenous.

"Meanwhile Madrid will be able to say that the CiU have not received the backing they were hoping for."

Participation in the regional elections was the highest since 1998, with postal votes up by 45 per cent and by early evening voting was up by 8 per cent on 2010.

Virtually the entire campaign had centred on the referendum. Other issues that would be staple electoral fare in most of Spain's 16 other regions – such as unemployment, up in Catalonia by 170,000 in the last two years, or its government's request for a €5bn bailout to stave off bankruptcy, have been barely touched upon.

With the cuts and ailing economy seemingly brushed safely under the carpet, expectations of an excellent result were high amongst the nationalist camp, with Mr Mas claiming these would be the last elections in which Spain would have a key influence.

However, unconfirmed – and strongly denied – charges of corruption in the CiU by the right-leaning Madrid-based media in the last week, along with cold feet amongst pro-independence electors about the prospect of Catalonia having to regain entrance into the European Union after any breakaway, may have taken their toll amongst potential CiU voters. With 84 per cent of the votes counted, the party was due to lose around 12 seats.

The referendum remains feasible, given the ERC has not ruled out supporting Mr Mas and his minority government, and another left-wing non-nationalist party, ICV, has said it will support it. However, the ERC is likely to demand reductions in the cutbacks in local government spending, which will make for difficult negotiations.

"If they rectify their economic policies, we will govern with them. If not, then definitely not," ERC's Oriol Junqueras warned last week.

Yet for all the backing the referendum may receive in Barcelona, the question of Madrid's resistance remains. Mariano Rajoy's ruling Partido Popular (PP) has expressed its opposition to a Catalonia-only referendum, which it states would be constitutionally illegal. The PP stopped a similar vote in the Basque country through the courts in 2008 and blocked an increase in autonomy for Catalonia through legal action in 2010.

Mr Mas had expressed a desire to hammer out some kind of deal with Mr Rajoy similar to that agreed in the UK over Scotland's vote on independence in 2014. But given Mr Rajoy's stonewalling of the referendum – "nobody is going to take the Catalans out of Spain or Europe", he claimed last week – the chances of that happening appear to be slim. The question marks over the referendum will also be likely to reawaken doubts on Catalonia's economic prospects if it became independent, particularly given its financial dependence on Spain. It accounts for 20 per cent of Spain's GDP. Spain receives around 45 per cent of Catalan exports, and could well veto Catalonia's possible application for entrance in the EU.

Mr Mas's opponents were scathing, in any case, about what would appear to be an important, whilst by no means definitive, setback for his project of independence. "He has failed in his objective of turning these elections into a personal plebiscite," the Socialist spokesman Dani Fernandez said.

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam