Socialists Miss Opportunity in Catalonia

Salvador Illa refuses to play second fiddle to the pro-independence Republican Left.

Salvador Illa
Spanish health minister Salvador Illa listens to a debate in Congress in Madrid, October 28, 2020 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

With two weeks left before snap elections would automatically be called, Catalonia’s leading separatist party, the Republican Left, still doesn’t have support to form either a majority or a minority regional government.

The Republicans floated the possibility of a minority government after weeks of negotiations with the second independence party, Together for Catalonia (Junts), led nowhere. But even a minority government would need the backing of Junts to win more votes than the unionists, who have 53 out of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament.

The dispute centers on Junts‘ desire to push forward with Catalan independence from Spain whereas the Republicans want to give talks with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez about more autonomy a chance. (Talks which have barely begun.) Junts is driving the negotiations to a head, because it thinks the Republicans have no alternative.

So if you’re a clever opposition party, you give them an alternative.


The left-wing En Comú Podem, the only party that is neither explicitly separatist nor unionist, has done just that, proposing to give Republican party leader Pere Aragonès a mandate on the condition that he refuses a pact with the center-right Junts.

But the Socialists, who would be needed for a left-wing majority in parliament, have balked. Party leader Salvador Illa, the former health minister of Spain, told Catalan radio this week, “Why should I invest a person that I defeated at the polls?”

Illa won 50,000 more votes than the Republicans in the election in February, but both parties ended up with 33 seats.


The answer to Illa’s question is that:

  1. Aragonès has an alternative (a deal with Junts) and he doesn’t.
  2. The fourth left-wing party, Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) — which would be needed in either a separatist or a left-wing coalition — would be wary of any deal with the unionist Socialists. A Socialist president would probably be unacceptable to them.

A left-wing coalition in Catalonia would make it a lot easier for the Republicans and Sánchez, who leads Illa’s Socialist Party nationally, to agree on a new division of powers between Barcelona and Madrid. En Comú Podem have taken the first step. Now Illa needs to set aside his ego — or remain powerless in opposition.