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The trial of the Catalan pro-independence leaders is the most important since the restoration of democracy in Spain

Press Association

The trial of the Catalan pro-independence leaders is the most important since the restoration of democracy in Spain

The verdict of the trial of the twelve Catalan pro-independence leaders is expected on Monday. They are accused of rebellion, sedition, disobedience and misuse of public funds. Nine of them have been in jail without bail for two years.

This is the most important trial since the restoration of democracy in Spain. The verdict is expected to be harsh and could result in sentences of more than 10 years.

There are widespread concerns in Catalonia about the impartiality and fairness of the Supreme Court. The view that it is unfair to have the independence leaders in jail or exile polls at almost 70 per cent among Catalans.

Pro-independence supporters see the trial as political and illegitimate – their leaders are political prisoners and Spain is engaging in state repression against the independence movement.

What will the case mean for the future of the Catalan independence movement?

The ERC, a centre-left party which is the ideological equivalent of the SNP, sets out a pragmatic roadmap. But while they are open to supporting a socialist government in Madrid, the centre-right JuntsxCat and the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy still defend a unilateral path to independence

Support for independence remains stable around 45 per cent, similarly to Scotland, while a negotiated referendum continues to poll at 70 per cent. However, the path forward is unclear.

The Catalan movement has been reactive to judicial blows and there is a lack of leadership to chart a new course, partly because all the main leaders are in jail or in exile.

There are also divisions. Unlike in Scotland, where the SNP dominate the case and timing for independence comfortably, the Catalan movement is led by two parties of similar size, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Together for Catalonia (JuntsxCat). These parties do not always share strategy and interests, nor do they share a vision of independence

The ERC, a centre-left party which is the ideological equivalent of the SNP, sets out a pragmatic roadmap. But while they are open to supporting a socialist government in Madrid, the centre-right JuntsxCat and the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) still defend a unilateral path to independence. Neither party is consistent in its discourse.

Politically, it remains to be seen if the ERC and the JuntsxCat, who form the current Catalan government, can agree on a common institutional response. The former have suggested calling a snap election or the formation of a government of national unity including the pro-referendum force Catalonia in Common-We Can.

While the UK Government of David Cameron was amenable to negotiating a Scottish independence referendum, the successive Spanish governments have continued to oppose one

The verdict is a double edge sword for the independence movement. On one level, it will represent another major grievance that will reenergise its supporters, but at the same time, social discontent and frustration will run high and a key challenge for pro-independence leaders will be to channel these feelings productively and to manage the resulting political capital wisely.

A very harsh sentence is likely to strengthen those defending a unilateral path and civil disobedience. They call for ‘confrontation’ but it is not clear yet what actions they will take after the sentence. A less severe sentence could result in more moderate protests.

The atmosphere has been tense in recent weeks, with seven activists arrested last month accused of terrorism and 1,000 Spanish police officers transferred to Catalonia ahead of the verdict.

Another possible consequence of the verdict could be the reactivation of the European Arrest Warrant against the Catalan leaders in exile, including Clara Ponsatí in Scotland and Carles Puigdemont in Brussels, on the same day the verdict is announced.

In Spain, where the fourth election in four years will be held on 10 November, positions on Catalonia have hardened. The centre-right Popular Party and Ciudadanos battle each other to be seen as the greatest defender of state unity. The emergence of the far-right VOX, itself a partial consequence of events in Catalonia, has accelerated the radicalisation of the Spanish right vis-à-vis the ‘Catalan threat’ and ‘those who want to dissolve the nation’. These parties entertain the idea of permanent direct rule by Madrid in Catalonia.

The Socialist provisional government led by Pedro Sánchez has favoured dialogue with the Catalan Government ‘within the Constitution’ while ruling out an independence referendum. Their campaign so far has been tough on the independence movement and, along with right-wing parties, they share the view of Spain as a single nation. The leftist Podemos have also toned down their defence of a referendum in Catalonia.

With Spanish parties in constant campaign mode, they have few incentives to soften their position on Catalonia. In Spain, unlike the UK, the national question is a salient electoral issue and a matter of party competition at the state level.

The management of the verdict and its consequences will no doubt be central in the election campaign and a potent issue for the next Spanish government. The Spanish Socialists are expected to gain seats after the election in November and a key issue will be whether they can form a majority government without the Catalan pro-independence forces.

Overall, Catalonia and Scotland share key similarities on independence. Both have pro-independence governments, which enjoy parliamentary majorities owing to the support of smaller secessionist parties. Around 45 per cent of Catalans and Scots support independence and both nations see persistent demands to hold independence referendums.

Yet, there are many differences, and a crucial one has been the way Spain and the UK have responded to these demands. While the UK Government of David Cameron was amenable to negotiating a Scottish independence referendum, the successive Spanish governments have continued to oppose one. These different state responses by Spain and the UK have, in turn, resulted in markedly different political dynamics in Catalonia and Scotland.

Daniel Cetrà - Research Fellow at the Centre on Constitutional Change, Edinburgh

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