Well, so far it looks like Rajoy’s bet is paying off. Catalan officials are obeying orders; Catalan ministers are leaving their posts. Puigdemont is in Brussels when he could be in Barcelona leading a revolt. Crisis over!
Except ... no.
This was a dumb game for Rajoy to play. As I said in comments three days ago, there are only three ways to rationalize his decision:
- He did not realize that a strategy of restraint before the referendum would succeed. That, however, would also require him to be stupid, and the Prime Minister is most certainly not stupid;
- Rajoy is playing an entirely different game;
- Rajoy believes that the Catalan resistance will fold with probability 1 ... and he believes that his actions will lessen rather than increase the probability of future secessionist action in the future.
I can see why he would believe (3), but he is incorrect on both counts. Which isn't to say that the probability of the Catalans folding is zero! It ain't. It's high. But it ain't one.
His brinksmanship was stupid from the point of view of Spanish unity. Rajoy could have undercut the secessionists by playing it cool, leaving them looking silly. Instead he sacrificed certain success in the short-term in order to have a lower probability of success in the long-term. That is not a typo! The crisis could come roaring back. We are one crisis or stupid political stunt away from its return.
Put that way, his decision is still a bit inexplicable. Even if the gamble pays off, why do it? Andrei Gomberg suggests that the answer is (2): Rajoy is looking to cement his position in Madrid by playing the patriotism card. It is not a bad card to play.
But there is the possibility that the crisis will flare up again. Possibly of its own accord. But my real fear is that some overzealous Spanish judge will start arresting Catalan politicians. That would be exciting. But excitement is precisely what needs to be avoided. Thankfully Puigdemont has blinked twice now. Right now Madrid should let people calm down and vote against the nationalists in the next election. Boring.