With all of the 4.1m votes counted, the two pro-secessionist parties, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) and Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), have won 72 of Catalonia’s 135 seats, giving them a majority. On paper at least, the two secessionist parties have the numbers they need to advance their pledge to declare independence within the next 18 months. But although the vote was billed as a plebiscite on independence, it was a regional parliamentary election. In such systems the legitimacy and mandate of any government comes from having a majority in parliament. For example, the People’s party (PP) of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has a majority in the national parliament, having won 44.6% of the vote in 2011. In Britain, the Conservatives command a majority in the House of Commons with 37% of the popular vote. However, the slim margin of victory on Sunday means the two pro-independence parties, which have little in common apart from the desire to break away from Spain, will struggle to put together a stable government – and any administration they form is unlikely to last a full legislature.
The two pro-secessionist parties won 47.8% of the vote on Sunday. But it would be erroneous to imply from this that 52% of Catalans are content with the status quo. More than 1.9 million Catalans didn’t simply vote for pro-independence parties, they cast a ballot for two parties that have pledged to unilaterally declare independence outside the domain of what is constitutionally and legally allowed.
Polling in fact reveals that among those against independence, voters are split down the middle between those satisfied with the existing state of affairs and those who want a new relationship with Madrid, for example through a federal arrangement.
What’s critical here is the trend. In the 2012 Catalonian election, the parties that make up Junts pel Sí and CUP won a combined 1.74m votes. In the informal consultation on independence held in 2014, 1.8 million people cast a ballot in favour of an independent Catalan state. On Sunday, 1.95 million people cast a ballot for the pro-independence parties. Five years ago support for independence hovered around 25%. Now, nearly one in two Catalans is in favour of secession.