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Death of the salesmen

Once upon a time (well, 2005) a group of Catalan intellectuals – most of them university professors - together with the odd Spaniard put their names to a ‘Manifesto In Favour of a New Political Party in Catalonia’.

A year later, a new political party duly appeared in Catalonia: ‘Ciutadans’ (Catalan for ‘Citizens’ and often abbreviated in the media to ’C’s’); it quickly became apparent that it was a single issue outfit, the issue being the supposed imposition of Catalan - especially in Catalan state schools - by ‘nationalist politicians’; Ciutadans was there, so its leaders said, to make sure that the linguistic rights of monolingual Spanish speakers – apparently under threat - were safeguarded. (The party leadership didn’t know or didn’t care that just over a century earlier, only 5% of the Catalan population knew any Spanish at all).

Its opinions on any other matter were hard to nail down. For instance, in 2006, I coincided with two of the three Catalan MPs Ciutadans had at the time, during a week when Catalonia’s nuclear power stations were very much in the news; one of the MPs said he was in favour of them; another insisted she was against. Neither was aware of the opinion of the other.

In 2008 the party, now with the Spanish name of Ciudadanos, went state-wide, fielding candidates in every single electoral district but failed to get a single MP into the Spanish parliament. In 2012, however, they tripled their number of MPs in the Catalan elections, obtaining nine. In 2014 they got three MPs into the European parliament. In the 2015 state elections, the number of its MPs in the Spanish parliament shot up to forty, and in the elections ditto of April 2019, it went up to 57; but in the state elections that took place in November of the same year it shrivelled down to ten. The party’s top banana, a Catalan lawyer called Albert Rivera, whose gift of the gab had been partly responsible for its success, threw in the towel. In Catalonia, Ciudadanos was still doing pretty well, with 36 MPs, but under the local leadership of Carlos Carrizosa, a man with slightly less charisma than a tax form, the 2021 Catalan elections pared his number of MPs down to six.

Many voters assumed it was a liberal, centrist party, even though it often voted in tandem with the right-wing Popular Party (to which Albert Rivera and several other Ciudadanos luminaries had once belonged). Its only clear policies continued to be linguistic, as it campaigned not only against an increase in the use of Catalan but also against Basque and even poor little Asturian (spoken by just 110,000 people). At all events, its swan song started to be warbled last month in the regional government of Murcia, when it voted, unusually, with the Socialist Party in an attempt to unseat the ruling Popular Party. The Socialists and Ciudadanos lost their vote of no confidence, thanks to the opposition of the far-right party Vox and, logically enough, that of the PP, helped by its sudden acquisition of three new MPs who had absconded...from Ciudadanos! This disaster resulted in the resignation of various Ciudadanos MPs, both in Murcia and further afield. In the Autonomous Community of Madrid, the majority party – the PP, again - ended its coalition with Ciudadanos and dismissed all the local Ministers belonging to that party. In a nutshell, the writing is on the wall for Ciudadanos, which shouldn’t come as a surprise: if you found a party on a purely negative basis (in this case, a linguistic phobia and a highly nationalistic and centralist form of ’anti-nationalism’) and do nothing but sell smoke – as the Catalan expression goes – when you talk about any other issue, sooner or later people are going to wise up to what is little more than an ideological scam. And given that C’s have tended to favour an aggressive, obstreperous form of parliamentary rhetoric (especially in Catalonia) with speeches laced with twisted information and cheap hyperbole, there are now more than quite a few of us who can’t wait to see the back of them.

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