The brief but subtly worded letter follows the secret meeting Mr Mas held with Mr Rajoy on 29 August. In it Mr Rajoy seeks to assuage the more extreme centralists in his party without at the same time burning the few bridges that remain between Madrid and Catalonia. However, the letter has been interpreted as a longer way of saying “no.”
“For my part, the dialogue can’t have a cut-off date when we are dealing with matters that affect all Spaniards and, therefore, all Catalans,” Mr Rajoy wrote this weekend, effectively ruling out a consultation next year. He added that “we could not break the ties that bind us without enormous financial, political and social costs. We should work to strengthen these ties.
“I believe that together we all win and separated we all lose … and that we should work together to answer the real needs of the Catalan people.”
Francesc Homs, the Catalan government spokesman, responded yesterday by confirming the consultation will go ahead in 2014, saying: “We will explore Mr Rajoy’s offer of dialogue but we are not naïve and we won’t accept delays.”
Mr Homs said the Catalan government was disappointed by the letter, having hoped for something “in the style of Cameron,” a reference to the British prime minister agreeing to the holding of the Scottish referendum.
Mr Rajoy also reminded – effectively warned – Mr Mas not to act outside the law “which binds and protects us all.” The government and the constitutional court both say that any sort of referendum or consultation is illegal under the constitution while the Catalans insist this is not the case.
Mr Homs complained that the government had ignored the five possible legal routes proposed by the Catalans.
Mr Mas has called for “a unitary, joint and consensual” political front in response to the letter. Ultimately, he said, “it was not just a letter but a position paper on the part of the state institutions and, above all, the Spanish government”.
The Catalan socialists are key to achieving any united front and may welcome a way of putting themselves back on the political map. Their fence-sitting on the autonomy issue has left them on the margins of political debate.
However, they would be more willing to stand under a banner that called for “the right to decide” than one demanding independence, which few of its voters support. Pere Navarro, the Catalan socialist leader, has even suggested that he could act as a mediator between Mr Mas and Mr Rajoy.
The secessionists, led by republican Left Esquerra, are unlikely to sign up to anything that doesn’t include a consultation next year, preferably on independence and not some vaguely worded right to decide.