Ines Arrimadas: The young anti-separatist who could soon be Catalan president

Ines Arrimadas: The Emmanuel Macron-inspired Catalonia election candidate campaigning for unity

Can Ines Arrimadas be Catalonia's iron lady?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

To the separatists she's a sell-out. To the loyalists she's too meek and conciliatory. But Ines Arrimadas's brand of gentle compromise and youthful appeal could soon propel her to the leadership of Catalonia.

Arrimadas, for the initiated, is the presidential candidate for the centrist Ciudadanos party (Ciutadans in Catalonia) in the forthcoming Catalan elections, called by the Madrid government following the restive region's independence declaration in October. At just 36 years old, she is the youngest candidate in the elections and also the only female.

Born in Andalucia, in the heart of southern Spain, but raised in Catalonia, Arrimadas is all about compromise and conciliation, striving to provide a voice of calmness in her adopted region's chaotic maelstrom. She has pledged to create a government that represents the "cross-section" of Catalonia, inspired by French leader Emmanuel Macron, and said she feels "Andalucian, Catalan, Spanish and European." She speaks Spanish rather than Catalan in the regional parliament but regularly poses for pictures in the shirt and scarf of her beloved FC Barcelona.

Yet Arrimadas is desperate to dissuade people from thinking she is a wallflower, a glamorous piece of sticking plaster to cover Catalonia's problems. She recently told the My House is Your House television programme "everyone tells me I am a very brave girl. I receive the most spectacular hatred and affection every day." She has spoken out against sexism in politics, claiming people "talk about female politicians more for what we wear than what we say," and shared details of a hateful message in which the sender wished she be gang-raped.

On independence, she is certainly not sitting on the fence; Arrimadas is strongly against secession and has described the flight of companies from Catalonia in light of the independence debacle as "a debacle." She's said that events in Catalonia vindicate the imposition of article 155, the emergency-powers clause which empowered the Madrid government to seize control of key Catalan institutions, and she's criticised Carles Puigdemont, the independence figurehead, for his perceived reluctance to engage in debate.

Naturally, she's not been well-received by the catalanistas, who view her as a snobby arriviste who has no right to tell them how to run their region/country. She's also raised the ire of the traditional parties in Spain. Adriana Lastra, the deputy secretary-general of the Spanish Socialist Party, has said they won't support Arrimadas' presidency and criticised her for "pushing politics that benefits very little of Catalan society."

To many Spanish leftists, Arrimadas and her party, founded only 12 years ago, are nothing more than a rehash of Spain's ruling Popular Party [PP] in more attractive wrapping. Arrimadas and the party's leader Albert Rivera (who is himself Catalan) may be young and telegenic, but, the dissenters claim, they offer nothing new - simply an ultra-privileged brand of stale conservatism. The party is popular among young people, but many prefer the more firebrand left-wing policies of Podemos, the upstart socialist party which has links to Venezuela and wants to rip up Spanish society and start again.

Despite the criticism from both sides, Arrimadas's rise to the top of Spanish politics has been rapid, and it's not showing signs of slowing down. Analysts suggest she is gaining support from Catalan loyalists who view her as more palatable than the PP candidate, Xavier Garcia Albiol. Her promise to take money which would otherwise have been channelled into independence propaganda and spend it on healthcare has certainly been well-received.

Arrimadas can speak French and English fluently and wants Catalonia's children to have the similar advantages; she is actively campaigning for better English teaching. Catalonia is known for producing highly educated young people, and Arrimadas - who has two degreees from the University of Seville as well as a post-graduate qualification from the IPAG Business School in Nice - certainly fits neatly into this tradition.

Away from politics, she loves sport and often posts photos on her Instagram account showing her exercising. She also uses social media to post advice on on a healthy diet, and is said to be a particular fan of homemade smoothies.

It's all been very nice and, yes, smooth for Arrimadas so far. Whether she has the steel to become Catalonia's iron lady, and guide the region out of its current crisis, remains to be seen.