“Could either of you tell me the unemployment rate in Catalonia?” Jordi Évole asked Inés Arrimadas and Marta Rovira on his TV show Salvados in what became the inaugural debate of Catalonia’s December 21 regional-election campaign, held just nine days before the vote.
“I think it’s around 19–20 percent,” Arrimadas, the leader in Catalonia of the right-wing Ciudadanos party, said before noting that it depended on whether one used statistics collected by the national organization or by the regional, Catalan organization. “I agree,” Rovira, secretary-general of the center-left Left Republican party (ERC), replied, adding that the Catalan economy had shown signs of recovery in October. “There I disagree,” Arrimadas shot back. “The October numbers have been very bad for Catalonia because the unemployment rate in Catalonia has increased at twice the rate of the rest of Spain.” Évole interjected to avoid a shouting match: “I just asked for the figure.” That figure, he revealed, was 12.5 percent.
Évole continued with his opening round of questions, asking for the number of refugees currently given asylum in Catalonia, the number of temporary buildings used in Catalan schools, and the number of Catalan women murdered by their partners in the year to date. Neither of the candidates could provide any of the answers. And that, it quickly became clear, was the point of the exercise: One issue—Catalan independence—had so polarized an entire region of Spain that many other important issues, from corruption to austerity, were being completely ignored. And the rhetoric on both sides had reached such a fever pitch that it had managed to distort the basic picture of reality.
However that picture might have changed in recent months, it has changed Catalan politics very little. The snap regional election on December 21, called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after he used Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to sack the entire regional government and impose direct rule on Catalonia in late October, effectively produced a similar result to the previous election, held in September 2015. The pro-independence parties maintained a slight parliamentary majority, despite receiving around 48 percent of the popular vote. The self-proclaimed “constitutionalist” parties—Ciudadanos, Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (PP), and the center-left Socialist Party—together received around 44 percent of the vote, meaning they have no conceivable road map to form any kind of coalition government. Stuck somewhere in the middle and losing ground to both sides was the coalition known as the Comuns (“Commons”), which includes the group behind Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau as well as the Catalan arm of Podemos. The Comuns, whose campaign had emphasized social and economic issues while rejecting the debate over independence as a distraction, slid from nearly 9 percent of the vote two years ago down to less than 8 percent of the vote.