The Right to Decide
By Àngel Ros
The debate in parliament on the right to decide and sovereignty has been at the center of Catalan politics over the last few months and, in addition, it has brought two important issues to our attention: one —the deepening of democracy—we could observe though our actions, and the other —the current social and economic changes— was brought to our attention due to its omission from the debate.
In the Parliament two proposals for the resolution were defended: one by the PSC (which obtained 20 votes) and the other by CiU, ERC and ICV-EUiA (approved with 85 votes in favor). The two had common elements and a common denominator: the right to decide. They could have been agreed upon by all the groups that shared the basic principles of Catalanism. A Catalanism that today, 127 years after the publication of the work by Valentí Almirall, incorporates the concepts of the right to decide and the new framework of Europe, which was an inexistent political unit in 1886. But the original Catalanism incorporated concepts that continue to be valid today: the respect for our language, culture and identity, federalism, and the will to develop our historical institutions.
Nonetheless, the parliamentary debate ended without an agreement despite this common denominator, as the political maneuvering of the parties and the different interpretations of the text made it impossible to reach an agreement. Many members of parliament (and many citizens) would have liked to have seen them reach a wider agreement, especially because this agreement exists in Catalan society.
The right to decide was and continues to be a common denominator if we look at the voting results. It is present in the electoral programs of the seven political parties. And, above all, it is present in the imaginary and in the aspirations of an ample majority of Catalan society. Despite the lack of an agreement, this agreement can —and must— still be achieved through moving to better exercise a right that today we associate with this new form of Catalanism. It is a right that some will perceive as a step in the direction of a new state, while for others it will be the most effective way to build a new relationship between Catalonia and Spain based on federalism.
The parliamentary debate also revealed two fundamental elements. One, manifested in the deepening of democracy (which could be seen in how some members of parliament chose to vote against their party line). The other –brought to our attention because of its omission— was the social and economic change in our society. Regarding the first of the two elements, political parties are the foundation of participation in politics (although they are not the only form of participation). Notwithstanding, we members of parliament participate in politics by way of political parties and, in consequence, we are participants in a collective project that we owe our existence to and, thus, must be faithful to. When we wish to deepen our democracy —which is what our society is calling for— this does not mean that we have to be faithful to just one aspect, but instead we need to be capable of harmonizing the party’s decisions, the interests of the citizenry, the institutional framework and individual convictions. The art of politics and good practices should help us to align these four aspects because only by being faithful to all of them will we obtain the best result. When this is not possible, only the prioritization of individual and collective criteria will resolve the conflict and, inescapably, this will come with high political costs.
This is what happened in the Catalan Parliament during the voting of one of the two resolutions. In the course of the history of democracy this has happened in different frameworks, situations and political parties. Only the development of new internal normatives, electoral laws and good democratic practices allow us to minimize and manage the conflicts of interest and vision for the future. And inescapably, the solution will have to come from looking to the interests of the citizenry and putting these interests at the heart of any new normative that regulates participatory and electoral democracy.
Finally, the debate reflected —due to its omission— the reality of a social and economic change in our society. Although the debate may have had the objective of defining the frameworks of sovereignty and how to exercise the right to decide, this does not mean that we can build a national project without a social and economic project at the same time. One is impossible without the other. We need the right to decide because this will allow our citizens to decide on an institutional framework and relationship that ensures individual and collective economic and social progress while guaranteeing social cohesion. These are the only guarantees for the future of a national project.
There has only been a parliamentary debate so far. The future still has not been written. Catalonia deserves a grand common project that the vast majority of its citizens can identify with.
Àngel Ros is the Mayor of Lleida and a Member of the Parliament of Catalonia