"The 'no' celebration of the referendum [in Catalonia] is excellent news", said Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy in an event hosted by the Financial Times early this morning. Rajoy had good reason to be happy: Parties supporting the self-determination vote, scheduled for 9 November, met on Monday in Barcelona and decided to cancel the consultation, which had been temporarily suspended by the Constitutional Court and wouldn't have enough democratic guarantees.
Catalan leader Artur Mas replied to Rajoy's comment later in a press conference to map out an alternative consultation. The president of Catalonia's Generalitat told reporters that "sometimes excellent news last just a few hours", and explained that the independence vote will still be carried out, but within different parameters.
The Catalan government will hold the vote on the same day, and will provide premises, ballot boxes and ballot papers. A total of 20,000 volunteers will be called and citizens willing to participate will have to register on the same day with their ID.
But the game has definitely changed for everyone and Artur Mas faces new challenges. ERC, the left-wing independence party and the Catalan president's main ally, announced yesterday that it does not back the alternative and that the next step should be early elections and a unilateral declaration of independence. After three "summits" in 10 days between the six political parties supporting the self-determination vote, their best weapon, unity and cohesion, broke down.
"We're moving forward, not as united, but forward," said Mas. "Although consensus is broken, I know for sure the real adversary is the Spanish state, which does everything it can to keep Catalan people from voting. We now need more people than ever, we are a bit more alone."
The main difference between this new "alternative consultation" and the mass pro-independence rallies that has taken millions of people to the streets asking for the right to vote for independence is that, this time, it will be organised by the Catalan government, and there will be ballot boxes and ballots involved.
You can call it the 'failed referendum', a 'decaf consultation' or Artur Mas trying to avoid problems with the international community. In reality, this is just an inevitable backwards step for the most legal 'consultation' possible: plebiscitary elections. And Artur Mas knows it.