Both sides are digging in for a political war of attrition. That was the prevailing mood this weekend following Thursday’s landmark election in Catalonia that saw voters reject Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s attempt to neuter its independence movement.

“As a minimum, we’ve won the right to be listened to,” insisted Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan leader at a news conference in Brussels, where he has taken up self-imposed exile following his dismissal by Rajoy in October. “Whether you like or not the topic, you have to have a dialogue,” Puigdemont added. “More than 2 million people are in favour of Catalonia’s independence,” Puigdemont continued. “Recognising reality is vital if we are to find a solution.”

For his part Rajoy insisted he was ready to negotiate, but for now at least there was scarce mention of doing so with Puigdemont, such is the enmity between the political leaders. The stand-off between the two sides is now certain to enter a new, equally contentious phase.

“We’re now in a more polarised society that is at loggerheads,” said Oriol Bartomeus, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “The possibility of agreeing on a solution is more remote now than a year ago.”

With turnout at a record high of 82 per cent, Thursday’s election handed a mandate back to the region’s ousted secessionist leaders after they campaigned from exile and behind bars.

But while the secessionists kept a majority, it was reduced. The secessionist parties’ history too of squabbling won’t make it easy for them to put together a cabinet.

In a clear indicator of the huge gulf over independence afflicting Catalan society, anti-secessionist centrist party Ciudadanos (Citizens) won the biggest individual result with 37 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament though this was not enough to catapult them into power.

If one thing at least is certain following the outcome of the election it’s that the result represents a damaging blow to Prime Minister Rajoy.

Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) came last in the election with just three seats, compared to 11 in 2015, a major setback by any standards.

While the PP has never been popular in Catalonia, the victory of Ciudadanos indicates that the youthful centre-right party could steal PP voters nationwide across Spain spelling trouble ahead for Rajoy. Rajoy has been at the helm of a minority government since 2016, reliant on the support of Ciudadanos.

Now in Catalonia not only does he face on-going confrontation with a secessionist coalition once again in power in Barcelona, but also critical scrutiny for gambling on the snap election.

While keen to stress that what was needed was a “new era based on dialogue,” Rajoy in the wake of the election, remained implacable on the question of Puigdemont’s dismissal.

Asked whether Puigdemont’s arrest warrant may be rescinded to begin the dialogue he had mentioned, and other Catalan leaders freed from jail, the Prime Minister was adamant. “These are judicial matters unaffected by the election and politicians need to stay within the law,” he said, adding that, “any government which is formed must be subject to the rule of law”. Over all, eight of the 70 separatist politicians elected on Thursday are either awaiting trial in jail in Madrid or in Belgium.

On Friday, adding to the already bitter animosity this has caused, a Spanish judge widened the investigation to include more separatist politicians.

Many analysts say that getting out of the current political stand-off will require considerable compromise on both sides, especially on behalf of Rajoy.

“Negotiating isn’t a sign of weakness,” says Sonia Andolz, a professor of politics at the University of Barcelona, who specialises in conflict resolution.

Rajoy “must come to view an adversary who wins half of the votes in Catalonia at least as a legitimate interlocutor,” she added.

The problem remains though that both Rajoy and Puigdemont continue to make clear they are working off different sets of presumptions for a potential dialogue.

The seemingly unbridgeable political chasm between the two sides is also fuelling a crisis that threatens to sow instability not only in Catalonia but also throughout Spain’s entire politics and economy.

Further economic tremors, could also further undermine the secessionist claim that independence would increase the wealth of Catalonia. So far the drive for independence has hit Catalonia’s dynamic economy hard. As uncertainty persists, tourism has cooled, as have employment and spending. More than 3,100 companies have moved their legal headquarters away, and the continued uncertainty won’t help.

According to Moody's Investors and Ratings Service, the regional economic outlook is expected to deteriorate further, with knock-on effects for the national economy unless growth in other regions can compensate.

“No-one is going to invest in Catalonia until the situation clears up,” says Jose Carlos Diez, Professor of Economics at the University of Alcala in Madrid.

Right now far from abating, Spain’s worst political crisis in decades seems set to enter another festering uncertain round.

According to Fernando Vallespin a political analyst and academic at Madrid’s Autonomous University, multiple unresolved issues cloud the immediate future of Catalonia, including the legal issues and whether the pro-independence parties can find common ground. “It really is an unknown situation,” he said.

Despite all the political upheaval however, Barcelona was calm as it prepared for Christmas. On Friday morning many people were finishing off their shopping or sitting glued to the television to find out how they had fared in the annual Christmas lottery, El Gordo one the of the world’s biggest lotteries. For the time being at least Catalonia’s political future too remains something of a lottery.