Catalonia Calling #12 is the Spanish General Election Campaign, which continues as uninspiringly as ever but as its the only thing happening in politics merits another episode. Last week I listed the Catalan candidates in order of preference, starting with Gabriel Rufián of Esquerra Republicana and Francesc Homs of Democràcia i Llibertat so this week we'll open it up a bit more to include Spain and start with the candidates and parties I like least.
Most of the political action in Spain takes place in the Spanish lower house, the Congreso de los Diputados, which is the equivalent of the House of Commons and comprises 350 members. Out of these Catalonia elects 47 members so, unless the ruling party needs the votes of a Catalan party and reaches an agreement, as both Felipe González and José Maria Aznar did with Jordi Pujol's Convergència i Unió in the 1990s, Catalans have very little chance of influencing central government policy. The Spanish parties, particularly PSC-PSOE and Partido Popular, have always tended to do much better in General Elections than in elections to the Parliament of Catalonia.
As I mentioned in Catalonia Calling #10 on Independence and Social Change, one of the problems of Spanish politics is the electoral system, which is a proportional representation system based on closed lists. This effectively means that people don't really have a direct representative in Congress and don't really know who's on the list apart from the party leader and the person who is number one on the list for their province.
The picture shows Spanish President Mariano Rajoy and Number One on the list for Barcelona, Minister of the Interior Jorge Fernández Díaz. I talked last week about Fernández Díaz's strange religious faith, which smacks of Francoist national catholicism, and although he gave another weird interview on the subject this week, let's concentrate on party leader, Mariano Rajoy.
The Partido Popular won the elections in Spain in 2011 with nearly 45% of the vote, whereas they came third in Catalonia with around 20%. They're the party who have presided over most of the economic crisis and the worst corruption scandals in Spanish history, which is saying something, and Mariano Rajoy is a grey figure with very little personality but he's led the party for over a decade so he must have something going for him. Their campaign video is equally uninspiring but polls suggest that they're likely to be the most voted party with between 25 and 30% of the vote, which will give them between 110 and 120 seats. This isn't enough to form a government so they'll have to pact with someone, most likely Ciudadanos.
The big news of the week was Mariano Rajoy getting punched in the head during an election walkabout in his hometown of Pontevedra in Galicia.
Traditionally, the party that alternates in government with the PP in Spain, they have always done quite well in Catalonia and typically disputed victory with Convergència i Unió in both General and Autonomic elections. This is likely to change as a result of their lukewarm position on independence and the appearance of new parties. They're likely to poll between 20 and 25% of the vote in Spain and significantly less in Catalonia.
I ranted about the Catalan candidate Carme Chacón last week but having seen her campaign video, I have to say I loathe her even more. The videos begin with someone describing their problem and ten Chacón comes on, fresh from the hairdresser, and says something like "There's no easy solution to the problem but I know I want to help". Pathetic!
Pedro Sánchez is young and good-looking and has only been national party leader for a little over a year. He seems a little bland, although apparently did quite well in the head to head debate he had with Mariano Rajoy on TV earlier in the week.
As far as Catalonia is concerned, the PSOE proposal of a federal Spain is completely untenable because any constitutional change requires 66% of the Congress and Senate in favour, which is something PSOE never have and never will achieve. In fact, it's an empty election promise because most PSOE leaders in the rest of Spain have no interest in doing anything to appease Catalonia.
Ciudadanos are a Catalan party formed in 2006 originally as a civil society group to campaign against the Catalan Statute of Autonomy and the policy of Catalan linguistic immersion in schools. Their leader Albert Rivera is head of the party list in Spain and is candidate for the Presidency. If he wins, which is very unlikely given they're predicted to win about 20% of the vote, this would mean that the first Catalan President of Spain since 1874 would be standing on a specifically anti-Catalan ticket.
I'm diametrically opposed to absolutely everything they stand for and think they're potentially quite dangerous actually, particularly for Catalonia. However, as they have a lot of experience as panelists on current affairs programmes they have a very polished media image and come across aas being much more modern than their natural allies the Partido Popular.
I saw Juan Carlos Girauta in a head to head with Joan Tardà on 8 al dia and as usual, he came across as sincere and intelligent. I just disagree with everything he says.
They also propose constitutional reforms that could end up creating a more federal system. I think they're most like to pact with a Partido Popuar government but there's a remote possibility of some kind of three-way agreement between Ciudadanos, PSOE and Podemos.
It seems to me that Podemos are the new PSOE and EnComú Podem are the new PSC. They share common objectives as far as Spain is concerned but just like PSC used to be, EnComú Podem has a lot more freedom to decide policy in Catalonia.
The main policy as far as Catalonia is concerned is to allow a referendum on independence, which as they're unlikely to win more than 20% of the vote is pie in the sky. However, at least they have the balls to come out and say so openly so they do deserve a degree of respect.
Had I not come to the conclusion that the only way forward for Catalonia, this is who I'd vote because they're idealistic lefties and it's difficult not to like them as people. They're definitely going to attract a large percentage of the vote here in Catalonia and could end up being the most voted party.
Xavier Domènech is a historia, who has the backing of Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, whose Barcelona En Comú won the municipal elections back in May. Pablo Iglesias is a former Political Science professor at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and also has a lot of eperience on TV current affairs programmes. He's eloquent, intelligent and likeable. He even burst into tears at a rally the other day because his mother was there. However,unless they get some real power, I think their idealism will fade and they'll end up just like PSOE.
Democràcia i Llibertat are the first of the purely Catalan pro-independence parties and are a coalition between Convergència, Democrates, who broke away from Unió, and the pro-independence pressure group Reagrupament.
I saw Francesc Homs in the 8 al dia debate with Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, the leader of Unió, and I thought he came across very well. It was clear that the independence process has something to offer whilst Unió's call for more dialogue with the Spanish government is just empty rhetoric.
As a firm supporter of Artur Mas, I'd like to see them do well, and I have no doubt about their commitment to the independence process. In fact, the other day Homs called on CUP supporters to vote for Esquerra Republicana. Whilst arguing that Catalonia needs representatives in Madrid to negotiate Catalonia's democratic diconnection from Spain, I don't think they're overly worried whether they win these elections or not. They're confident that in an independent Catalonia, Convergència or their heirs will occupy the role of Catalanist centre-right party.
Being left-leaning, I'm drawn to people like me and, as I said last week in my profile of ERC's number one Gabriel Rufián, my vote would probably go for Esquerra Republicana. In fact, I was at their rally for about an hour and a half on Montjuïc last Saturday. I'd arranged to meet friends so I had to leave early but what I saw I liked very much.
The atmosphere was festive and moderate with people of all ages but a predominance of folks in their late-40s-early-50s like me. I've already talked about how important it is that independentism goes beyond linguistic boundaries and this is why I like Spanish-speaking Gabriel Rufián. However, for me the real star of what I saw was Ana Surra, a Latin American Catalan, who talked about why it was important to make her adopted country the best it could possibly be. In very different terms, she expressed pretty much the way I feel myself. People have treated me well and I'm going to spend the rest of my life here so let's get involved and make it a better place to live in. Both of us show clearly that the Catalan independence project is inclusive and focussed on making a better society for its citizens. Brilliant.
As I mentioned earlier, I saw Joan Tardà's face off with Juan Carlos Girauta and also like what I heard for very different reasons. He's a straight-talking ex-communist with the sarorial elegance of a Catalan peasant - and I don't mean that at all disparagingly. He talks sense and I like him. He's the kind of bloke I can easily imagine spending an afternoon with eating, drinking, watching football and talking politics.
So my vote's with Esquerra partly for their political position but also to a great extent because I identify with the people they attract and who represent them.