Friday, 2 December 2011

Living in Vilanova, yet not foreseeing the collapse of Spanish and Catalan socialism

Given the continuing force of the crisis, I guess that quite a few socialists here are happy that PP now take over the responsibility to govern Spain. That does, after all, give PSOE a chance to take a leading role in the protests against austerity policies which we will see within shortly. But while it might feel nice to reunite with old friends from the trade unions, let it be clear that demonstrations do not solve the real problem for the Spanish "workers' movement". Please, just have a look at my native Sweden, where the Social Democrats - during decades a symbol of strength for the European left but now living a second term in a row as opposition – are weaker than ever although there are things to be upset about also in Swedish society.

Without any intention to minimize PP’s election victory, let me stress that what above all happened in Spain on November 20 was that PSOE (PSC in Catalonia) lost their support. This is easily illustrated with figures: During Zapatero's last term as Prime Minister, PP won the vote of 552.683 people (in 2011, 10.830.693 people voted for them compared with 10.278.010 in 2008). In fact, that number of votes is lower than what PSC lost here in the province of Barcelona alone (they went from 1.309.171 votes in 2008 to 725.669 this time – a loss of 583.502 people!) To make things worse, only a few days before the elections, PSC’s top name in this constituency, outgoing Defense Minister Carme Chacón, was full of hope that this would be the only socialist stronghold to remain more or less intact. Instead the opposite happened. Why?

Was it because of Zapatero’s and his government’s lack of action in handling the galloping unemployment rates or his overoptimistic predictions (2008, -09, -10 and -11!) that the seasonal improvements which Spain sees every spring were indeed the brotes verdes of a turning point? Or was it the tragic comic situation which we observed earlier this year when the socialists in Catalonia accused the CiU government for making too tough budget cuts, while their comrades in Madrid demanded even more? Or when PSC was the only Catalan party to vote against CiU’s request that the Spanish government pay out the so called fondos de competitividad?

Or was it Zapatero’s promise that Catalonia would have a new Estatut such as the Catalans had approved it in a referendum, but then rapidly accepted how the Spanish Constitutional Court diluted it? Or Carme Chacón’s celebration of the form the Estatut finally got – publically manifesting her personal point of view although it was out of line with PSC’s official position? Or can it have been the funny little detail that the same Carme Chacón - only two days before the final election debate was about to take place in Catalan 8TV and when we all (including all the other candidates) were truly looking forward to it - decided not to participate, although she had received the invitation two months in advance?

Although I personally have had a growing list of areas where I have been irritated with Zapatero, I must admit that I never foresaw that the punishment would be so heavy. And that bothers me since here in Vilanova i la Geltrú – a former industrial town of some 65.000 inhabitants – we live in the middle of the change. In 2008, a record 50,22% (!) of the local electorate voted PSC - this time only 30,24% did so. From the figures we can guess that half of them opted for other parties - CiU, PP or ICV-EUiA (in that order) - but we can also assume that the other half simply stayed home (like in the rest of the province of Barcelona the participation dropped, here from 71,24% to 66,43%).

But in the end, here I spend time reflecting over why things went so totally wrong for the Spanish and Catalan socialism, although I am anything but sad it did. For PSC’s and PSOE’s many professional politicians, however, this is a question about their very reason to exist. Many of my Vilanova neighbours know the answer. I wonder if anyone will bother to ask them.

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The fact that PSC lost more votes in Barcelona than what PP won on the state level, does not mean that PSOE-PSC could have stayed in power, had only the Catalan socialists repeated their 2008 results. One of the peculiarities of the Spanish election system is that a vote in the big provinces (especially Madrid and Barcelona) does not have the same weight as one in the small ones.

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The full Vilanova i la Geltrú results in the November 20 elections were: PSC 30,24% (50.22%), CiU 28,27% (19,93%), PP 17,95% (13,16%), ICV-EUiA 9,04% (5,80%) and ERC 6,88% (6,90).

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A few interesting links:
CAT - Ara: Eleccions 220-N, dades
SPA - LaVanguardia: Fernando Ónega - PSOE, tienes un problema
SPA - LaVanguardia: El PSC rompe el frente catalán en el Congreso
SPA - LaVanguardia: Rafael Nadal - Moneda de cambio
CAT – Ara: La sagnia del PSC alimenta totes les opcions
SPA - LaVanguardia: La Junta Electoral Central da la razón a 8tv en el recurso por el debate boicoteado por Chacón

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