You, Me and the Independentistas | Edward Anderson
A surprisingly positive performance for BNG and the ongoing European Council talks adds to PSOE’s woes.
Although expected to do well, the surprise second placing of the Galician National Party (with PSOE unable to recapture any votes from their national coalition partners) now means that Galicia joins the ever-expanding list of regions with a fully fledged ‘Independentista’ movement, and continues the worrying trend for the two national parties of Spain.
For most of the last decade, Catalunya was the difficult child of modern Spanish politics, with other regionalist movements in Navarra or the Basque Country largely content with their economic and social settlement. Now, it seems no region wants to feel left out. In the last election, regionalist parties who lean towards more autonomy or outright separation from the Spanish state made up 39 of the 350 deputies elected. In the 1996 election it was just sixteen, as CIU (the forerunner of Junts Por Cataluntya) would actually vote for PP in the Investiture to deliver the first PP government in Spanish history, a situation that would be impossible today. In 1996, PSOE and PP combined for 75% of the vote; by November 2019 it was only 48% (which was actually an increase on the 45% that they combined for in April 2019). In short, Spain may not have a stable third party, but it is inevitably a three-party system.
Of course, it is worth pointing out that the regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country had remarkably low turnouts (49% and 50% respectively) and that there has been a small move back towards national parties at national elections, but the outlook still appears bleak for PSOE and PP. PSOE is now third in Galicia to a regionalist party, have secured their second-worst result in their history in the Basque Country (their worst being at the previous election), and may be at risk of their partial recovery in Catalunya evaporating by the time the next election roles around.
Nor is this only a problem for PSOE. Although PP have turned Galcia into a fiefdom, this is not a victory that the party can claim at a national level. Meanwhile in the Basque County, where the central leadership effectively took over, they again lost seats and ended with only five deputies. Not since 2001 – six elections and the best part of 20 years ago – have PP increased their representation in the Basque Country. Combine this with their lockout in Catalunya, andit seems overwhelmingly likely that they will struggle to hold any national authority if – by some miracle – they find themselves as the largest party following a general election.
Added to all this is (at the time of writing) the ongoing Special European Council, which is trying to perform the impossible task of squaring the post-Covid circle. The big diversion is whether the money given to Italy and Spain comes in the form of grants or loans (loans which would have to be tied to economic reforms).
There is an election in The Netherlands in less than nine months so unless Mark Rutte wishes to commit electoral suicide there is no chance of grants but for Spain, loans would be the removal of any traces of political control, and add more fuel to the burning fire of the Independentistas. If it is to be loans, then the regions that would be expected to bear the hardest burden in subsequent tax increases would be Eusakdi (The Basque Country) and Catalunya. These regions, already resentful of subsidising Spain, would only react with hostility to the central government and the national parties.
The fact that Catalunya still has to hold their elections, and is a region that is one of the most Covid-damaged in Spain (with the current regional government asking citizens to accept a voluntary second lockdown), only adds to the potential for the country’s national unity to crumble.
A little bit of regionalism in politics is no bad thing – but when it becomes impossible for a major party to form any sort of lasting government due to the incompatibility of competing regional claims, you end up with the inherent instability of the modern Spanish state. Perhaps by the time you read this the heads of EU Member States have given Spain a perfect deal – but I doubt it. What is more likely is that Spain is faced with the stark reality that, at a time when it desperately needs unity, it is ready to tear itself apart.