Catalonia is split down the middle.
In regional elections on Thursday, parties that want to break away from Spain got 47 percent support against 44 percent for those that oppose independence. (The balance going to a party that refuses to take sides.)
These figures are line with the latest government survey, which found almost 49 percent of Catalans in favor of independence and 44 percent opposed.
Clearly neither side has a convincing mandate and with turnout at 82 percent — the highest in living memory — it’s also clear that more voting, whether in the form of a referendum or another election, will not break the deadlock.
There is another way out.
The same government survey found that when Catalans are given more than two options, and they can also choose to become a federal state of Spain or give up autonomy, support for independence drops to 40 percent.
The combined share of Catalans who are happy with the current regime or want Spain to become a federation is larger: almost 50 percent.
Only 10 percent want Catalonia to become a “normal” part of Spain with less autonomy.
Whatever their views on independence, the overwhelming majority — 80 percent, according to a recent survey — want a legal referendum to decide their future.
These numbers point to a solution: A new autonomy statute for Catalonia that gives the region more power, put to Catalan voters in a referendum.
That way, secession is taken off the table, but the Catalans still get to have their say.
It was the partial annulment of Catalonia’s existing autonomy statute by the Constitutional Court in 2010 that radicalized the nationalist movement. Before, only one in five Catalans wanted their own state.
Spain’s heavy-handed response to an independence referendum on October 1 didn’t help. Declarations of illegality and pictures of Spanish riot police raiding polling places convinced many Catalans who had previously been wary of independence that there is no future for them in Spain.
A third way
At the same time, many Catalans have friends and family in the rest of the country. Catalan businesses operate across Spain. The economics argue against independence, not in the least because it would mean giving up and reapplying for EU membership.
If Catalans are given no alternative to the status quo, in which politicians in Madrid can dissolve their institutions at will, one in two are nevertheless willing to take the risk.
Which is why there must be a third way.
The Basques and Navarrese have full control over their finances and infrastructure. They are recognized as nations within Spain. Why can’t the Catalans have the same?