Winners and losers: Five takeaways from the Catalan election

It’s been a rollercoaster few months in Catalonia; violence at the polls during a banned referendum, a unilateral declaration of independence swiftly followed by the imposing of Article 155 and a suspension of home rule by the Spanish government.

Winners and losers: Five takeaways from the Catalan election
It was a great result for Puigdemont and Arrimadas but not so for PM Rajoy. Photo: AFP

In an election called by Madrid that was all about the strength of support for independence and how the central government of Mariano Rajoy has handled the situation, what exactly do the results tell us?

A victory for separatists

Thursday's election delivered a mandate back to the region's ousted separatist leaders after they campaigned from exile and behind bars.

With 68 seats needed for an overall majority in the 135-seat parliament, those parties who support breaking away from Spain managed to maintain their position as the largest grouping.

The three secessionist parties won a combined 70 seats – that’s two less than they won in 2015 – but enough to prove that the fervour for independence is not on the wane.

“This is a result which no one can dispute,” deposed leader Carles Puigdemont said from self-imposed exile in Belgium.   

“The Spanish state was defeated. (Spanish Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy and his allies lost,” he told reporters.

Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia list secured the best result of the three separatist groupings, in a major upset for Rajoy.

A victory for Ciudadanos

Ines Arrimadas celebrates her win on Thursday. Photo: AFP

And yet it, the night was also a resounding victory for Ciudadanos, the centrist newcomers campaigning steadfastedly for pro-unity.

The party, which was started 11 years ago by young lawyer Albert Rivera, has grown from strength to strength and on Thursday became the most voted for party after winning the votes of those opposed to independence.

Inés Arrimadas, the 36-year-old charismatic leader of the Catalan branch, took to the stage as results came in to cheers of ‘Presidente! Presidente!”.

But despite being the single largest party in the Catalan parliament, they will likely be blocked out by a pro-independence coalition.

A victory for Puigdemont

Despite, or maybe because of, leading a campaign from self-imposed exile in Brussels, the ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has defied critics to maintain his party’s position as the most voted for pro-independence party.

Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalonia – secured the best result of the three separatist groupings, putting him in prime position to lead a coalition government.

If, of course, he isn’t arrested and thrown in jail the moment he sets foot again in Spain where he is wanted on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his part in staging the illegal referendum of October 1st and subsequent declaration of independence on Oct 27th.

But will he be able to bring together a fractious group of separatist parties? And will he return to Spain and risk arrest?

A victory for democracy

Thursday's regional election saw a record turnout at the polls of 82 percent, six points more than in 2015. That means that only 18 percent of the electorate failed to turn out to vote, a demonstration of just how strongly people in Catalonia feel about the independence issue, whichever side of the fence they stand.

A defeat for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

The conservative prime minister gambled on a snap election to quell the clamour for a breakaway state after taking the unprecended step of evoking article 155 and stripping Catalonia of its treasured autonomy in the aftermath of the independence declaration.

With the stern insistence on constitutional order and apparent refusal of dialogue, Spain attempted to shut down the separatist cause with heavy handed tactics that included sacking the government, dissolving the parliament and investigating elected leaders for rebellion and sedition.

Such a position has clearly backfired, with the regional Popular Party all but wiped out in the poll, and a resounding show of support for separatism means the push for independence will be stronger than ever.


For members


14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain