WHAT next for Catalonia and the Spanish state? The man with the biggest political headache this weekend is Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. He gambled that forcing an early election for the Catalan Parliament would derail the independence movement while boosting support for his own neo-nationalist Popular Party. But the biggest loser in the election — which saw a record turnout — was Rajoy’s PP, which saw its local vote share halved. Meanwhile, the pro-indy bloc was returned with a parliamentary majority despite every effort by the Madrid regime to rig the results.

The party that made the biggest gains was Ciudadanos, the misnamed Citizen’s Party. Think of a creepy, Spanish version of Blairism and you will get the picture. Ciudadanos was formed in Barcelona in 2006 by a group of fiercely anti-Catalan, pro-Spanish intellectuals. Currently, they provide the votes in the Spanish Parliament that keeps Mariano Rajoy’s rickety PP government in power.

Citizen’s represents a modernising wing of Spanish big business and its professional middle class. They are fed up with the PP, which represents the legacy of the old Franco regime. The trouble with the PP is that it is irredeemably corrupt, financially and politically. And I mean corrupt on a mindboggling scale. Spain’s Council of Economists issued a report in June which estimated that tax fraud is costing the economy a staggering 16 per cent GDP every year. Sustaining and protecting that graft is the historic mission of the local PP.

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Enter the Citizen’s Party as a reformist, free-market current which aligns itself more with Macron in France and Merkel in Germany than the dregs of the old Francoists or the thugs of the Guardia Civil. But beware. The C’s are neoliberal wolves in anti-PP sheep’s clothing. They are also militantly anti the right of the Catalans and Basques to self-determination. If anything, Ciudadanos politicians have been more vitriolic in their rhetoric against the Catalan independence movement than the Spanish semi-fascist right.

Meanwhile, Rajoy and the PP have the experience to run rings round Ciudadanos. They will play the Spanish nationalist card. Expect a new wave of repression from Spain’s heavily politicised judiciary aimed at fining and imprisoning Catalan political leaders. The EU may be taking action against the Polish regime for politicising its legal system but it has always turned a blind eye to Spain’s courts, which are unreformed since the days of El Caudillo Franco.

The strong showing of the Catalan pro-independence parties on Thursday is a tribute to the mass mobilisation of the civil movement in the days following the declaration of the Republic on 27 October. For the blunt truth is that Puigdemont and the political leadership of the main indy parties has proved remarkably poor. Having marched the movement to the top of the hill, and declared independence, Puigdemont and half his Cabinet disappeared overnight to Brussels. The rest of the Catalan Government went home meekly. There was no Catalan Republic in anything but name. Ordinary independence supporters were left flummoxed.

During November and December, the independence movement has been driven forward only by the grassroots Committees for the Defence of the Republic. Hundreds of these CDRs have sprung into existence — organising meetings, holding rallies and ensuring the general strike in early November was a major success. But now the danger is that the focus of activity will shift back to the Catalan Parliament. The problem here is that it is by no means clear what strategy the main pro-independence parties will follow.

The election saw Puigedemont’s European Democrats (PDeCAT) win the most seats in the pro-indy bloc, overtaking the Left Republicans led by the imprisoned Oriol Junqueras. But PDeCAT is just the rebranded name for the old, centre-right Convergence Party that dominated Catalan politics since the fall of Franco. The party changed its name to shed the corruption scandals surrounding a previous leader, Jordi Pujol.

Undoubtedly, PDeCAT won support because of the popularity of President Puigdemont, though it is not clear he will be allowed to take his seat. Puigdemont himself has a lifelong commitment to Catalan independence. But the same is not true of Artur Mas, the political godfather of PDeCat. With Puigdemont in Brussels, Mas is very influential. He is more a devolutionist than a convinced supporter of independence — especially if independence opens up a social revolution that threatens the more conservative elements in Catalan society.

Unless there is pressure from below, it is unlikely that PDeCAT will press on with a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Instead, Puigdemont and Mas will continue their futile attempts to get the EU to mediate with Madrid. It is conceivable that Ciudadanos and the Socialist Party (whose Catalan franchise won modest gains on Thursday) might promise to reform the Spanish constitution, should they ever displace Rajoy’s PP. That would open the prospect for greater devolution for Catalonia within the Spanish state — provided PDeCAT promises to behave. Such a vague deal might persuade Artur Mas to return to the constitutional fold, though it would betray ordinary Catalans.

As for the Left Republicans (ERC), they have suffered a major defeat. The ERC has always been pro-independence and it was their iconic leader, Lluís Companys, who declared an earlier Catalan Republic in 1934. The social democratic ERC had hoped to be the largest pro-indy party but a poor campaign saw it lose ground to PDeCAT. The truth was that ERC voters were confused as to what its leadership wanted: UDI or vague posturing. ERC leaders claimed UDI was impossible because it would provoke a violent response from Madrid. But then why declare the Republic in the first place?

The biggest losers in the independence camp were the far left CUP, who lost six of their 10 seats. There is a lesson here. Separating independence from the social struggle will not work. In Barcelona, the old left Socialists and the new left Podemos won nearly a quarter of the vote. This represents trades unionists in the big multination plants in the suburbs, and disaffected youth and immigrants in the Barcelona slums. Neither group much supported the independence parties. Yet the continuation of direct rule by Madrid has rolled back a whole series of progressive social measures introduced by the previous Puigdemont administration (under pressure from ERC and CUP).

It is imperative that the pro-indy left creates a vision of a Catalan Republic that is socially progressive and reaches out to those parts of Catalan society that feel isolated or crushed by the austerity policies pursued by the Rajoy government. One way of doing this is to turn the grassroots Committees for the Defence of the Republic into campaigning groups to pressure the incoming Catalan administration to expand its progressive policies — even if it means direct confrontation with Madrid.

It is also vital the Catalans extent their struggle into the rest of the Spanish state, rather than let the PP isolate them. They need to go on the offensive against the Guardia Civil, calling for the abolition of the paramilitaries, in a joint campaign with the Basque government. And they need to mount an international campaign to free Catalonia’s political prisoners. That way, the Catalan Republic will have meaning for ordinary Catalans.

Visca la Republica Catalana!