Catalonia and the Spanish State

Jorge Tamames reviews Spanish nationalism, the ‘regime of 1978’ and prospects for constitutional reform in Spain towards a pluri-national state. He sadly notes: “Podemos is paying the price for its role as the political force bridging the unionist-secessionist divide in a time of growing polarization.”

In 2015, Podemos’ General Secretary Pablo Iglesias gave the King of Spain a present – the DVDs of the TV-series ‘Game of Thrones’.  In Iglesias’ view, this was to remind the king, that ‘in a democracy everything is possible’, maybe even overcoming the monarchy. With the election in Catalonia on 21 December 2017 approaching, another TV-series is regarded as emblematic by some pundits: who will govern that entity afterwards?

The current thrilling template seems to be Borgen. In that popular Danish fictional ‘political drama’, the leader of a minority party (Birgitte Nyborg) became Prime Minister – because the bigger parties in Denmark blocked each other from gaining power. So the leader of the Socialists in Catalonia (PSC), Miquel Iceta, and also Xavier Domènech of Catalunya en Comú Podem (CatEPC) pledge to be the real Borgen-style candidates against the pro-independence parties and the neo-liberal wing of the Spanish ‘unionists’ (PP and C’s). For a quick overview on the contending parties in Catalonia, see here. Dick Nichols of green left weekly takes a closer look, identifying three competing blocs: pro-independence, unionist, and possibly a transversal and thus ‘hybrid social coalition’ (ERC, PSC, CatEPC) made of formations of both camps.

ERC and also PDeCat (as the social-liberal and the more firmly ‘bourgeois’ representatives of Catalonian independence) interestingly both declared that they would no longer promote ‘unilateral secession’ from the Spanish State, but rather go for a dialogue with central government and the EU on a ‘guaranteed new referendum’ etc. Only the CUP sticks to the unilateral declaration of independence (DUI) of 27 October 2017. So, finally, the two bigger pro-independence parties watered down their former stance (most probably in the face of repression and juridical persecution from the Rajoy government), and now ‘officially’ campaign for ‘the right to decide’ and a ‘negotiated settlement of the Catalan question’. These positions are close to what Unidos Podemos always argued for in the past years.  Opinion polls show a quite volatile picture of voter preferences. Both the anti-capitalist CUP and also the regional Podemos-alliance CatEPC seem to have problems to repeat their scores of September 2015. So, maybe buy a DVD set of Borgen, wait till X-mas or later, and see what will be happening (in the electoral game) …

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If you think that such a comment is perhaps too saricastic: well, look at this – the economic divergence of Spanish regions, only regarding GDP 2017 and the respective unemployment rates.  This economic and social reality is behind the Spanish nationalist mobilisation drives of the neo-liberal Ciudadanos and the PP mentioned in Jorge Tamames’ thoughtful piece on Jacobin. One of the central slogans of the Catalonian independence movement and parties always was: Spain robs us! Why should a poor worker e.g. in Extremadura or Andalusia support giving more fiscal leverage to Catalonia and the Basque Country (meaning enabling those already relatively rich regions to keep more taxes for themselves)?

This item might backfire on Podemos’ regional electoral alliances – the troubles with Compromis in the autonomous region of Valencia are an illuminating example. That formation (composed of moderate Valencian forces such as El Bloc – the biggest component of that alliance – and  IU, Podemos etc.) voted with the neo-liberal Ciudadanos against an agreement of Rajoy with the regional government of the Basque Country (a coalition of the social-catholic PNV and PSOE) on the financing of that autonomous region for the next five years (called the ‘Cupo vasco’). Also, PSOE and UP voted in favour of the ‘Cupo‘. The PP, because Rajoy needed the Basque PNV for getting the Spanish budget for 2016 adopted and hopes for such support further on; the PSOE, because they are the PNV’s regional coalition partner; and Podemos, because Iglesias hopes to win over the PNV and similar regionalist parties to support an ‘alternative government’ of PSOE and UP along the ‘Portuguese model’.

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However, Compromis claimed that this deal was further strengthening the already rich Basque Country, leaving not much room for the poorer regions of Spain in the projected talks on the reform of revenue sharing/fiscal equalisation in the Spanish State. El Bloc openly discusses whether to continue the Valencian coalition with Podemos and IU.

That the different ‘minority nations’ or autonomous regions in Spain support each other in ‘solidarity’, has always been a myth. Competition between them for central state funds has been the rule since the transition, and this has been a historically in-built feature of the concept of an ‘integral Spanish State‘. Currently there is mainly a fragile alliance between the richer regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country concerning negotiations with the central government on more (financial and cultural) ‘self rule’. The concept of a pluri-national-state is fine. But without concrete conceptions for overcoming that economic divide between Spain’s regions (fiscal re-distribution and more), the Spanish right will be in a good position to divide and rule further on, to play the game ‘worker against worker’ etc. …  On that issue, unfortunately, there is not that much coming from the Unidos Podemos camp – despite all their components’ reflections on the centrality of the ‘social question’ – be it the anticapitalistas ‘class struggle’ or Iglesias ‘transversal plebejan mobilisation’ à la Laclau or Chantal Mouffe.

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