Catalonia Calling! #24

Pedro Sánchez and the Ungovernability of Spain - 5/03/2016

Catalonia Calling #24 is called Pedro Sánchez and the Ungovernability of Spain and covers this week's investiture debates in the Congress of Deputies in which the PSOE leader failed to get elected.

In this episode I cover what happened in the two investiure debates on Wednesday and Friday and take a look at Pedro Sánchez and PSOE's tactical objectives.

We also look at how the various parties are shaping up for what very probably looks like new elections on June 26th.


First Investiture Debate - Wednesday

The first investiture debate was held on Thursday and the strange PSOE-Ciudadanos coalition got 130 votes in favour with the 219 deputies of all the other parties voting against except the deputy of Coalición Canaria, who abstained.

In his investiture speech on Tuesday, Pedro Sánchez had talked about it being time for a government of change but this is hard to see because a coalition including Ciudadanos automatically excludes both Podemos and the pro-independence Catalan parties.

Ciudadanos are described as centre right in the rest of Spain but most people here would consider them neoliberal neo-nationalist and much further right of centre. Despite coming from Catalonia, they began life as anti-independence and anti-Catalan language lobby so no formation that includes them will get any truck from either Democràcia i Llibertat or Esquerra Republicana and the Catalan Podemos franchise, En Comú Podem, have got double reasons for voting against them.

Podemos and Ciudadanos had mutually excluded each other on ideological grounds prior to the debate and it seems that Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera really wants to see a Grand Coalition between Partido Popular and PSOE with Ciudadanos sitting in the middle.

In fact, one of the high points of the debate was when Rivera suggested that Rajoy was the reason why there had been no agreement between PP and PSOE and that he should stand aside.

Another high point was when Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said that the reason why there had been no left-wing agreement between PSOE and Podemos was because PSOE former leadership had forbidden it.

He then proceeded to lay into legendary PSOE leader and former Spanish President, Felipe González, accusing him of having blood on his hands for organising the GAL secret force that murdered a number of ETA terrorists and buried them in lime in unmarked graves.

Attacking one of PSOE sacred legends wasn't exactly the best way the prepare the ground with the socialists, who were noisily offended, but Iglesias is beginning to show his mettle as an orator and a fiery parliamentarian.

He also set up the day's social media moment when he kissed En Comú Podem's Xavier Domènech full on the lips, Madonna-Britney Spears style as he came back into the hemicircle after making his speech.

It looked like Iglesias is making his own bid to lead the left and the vote for change and it appeared that he would fancy his chances if it came to new elections.

From a Catalan and Catalanist point of view, though, the best moment was Esquerra Republicana spokesman Joan Tardà's magnificent speech in which he explained why the majority of the Catalan people had become convinced why independence was the only option, debunked some myths and explained both  PSOE and Pedro Sánchez were letting democracy down by not allowing a referendum.

It was a master class which he finished with a flourish by saying that if Sánchez became President he was sorry for anybody who still belonged to the Kingdom of Spain because the Catalans were leaving.

Second Investiture Debate - Friday

The second investiture debate was little more than a formality because everyone knew the result would be the same.

In fact, it changed slightly because the Coalición Canaria deputy voted in favour instead of abstaining, so it was 131 in favour and 219 against.

Pedro Sánchez insisted that voting for him would mean political change in Spain but reiterated his commitment to the agreement with Ciudadanos so it really didn't wash.

Pablo Iglésias was a little more conciliatory but pretty much all the speeches were the same except they were quite a lot shorter.

Speaking personally, I don't think Pedro Sánchez has a cat in hell's chance of forming a government but after the debate, PSOE spokesperson Meritxell Batet was on TV saying that a majority of well over 200 was possible if PSOE, Ciudadanos, Podemos, Izquierda Unida and the Partido Nacionalista Vasco all back the candidacy.

What's Pedro Sánchez Playing At?

So if there was never any chance of him becoming Spanish President, what on earth is Pedro Sánchez playing at?

Well, I think that Sánchez and his in-group in PSOE were fully aware of this and this week's investiture debates have been a political farce that were an attempt by Sánchez to guarantee his political survival and also marked the start of the election campaign.

After Rajoy turned down the King's offer of attempting to form a government in Spain over a month ago, although he knew it was a long shot, Sánchez and his team decided to take the initiative and unblock the political situation in Spain.

Remember that had nobody attempted to form a government, Spain would have been without a new government interminably and Rajoy and the Partido Popuar would have been in power indefinitely.

According to the Spanish Constitution, it is only once that there has been an investiture debate that the countdown begins and if no government is formed, elections have to be called two months later.

Otherwise, the situation is blocked and whoever is in power at the time, stays in power indefinitely.

So I'm sure that Pedro Sánchez, in the coming days, will take full responsibility for being the man that unblocked the situation and gave Spain the chance of having a new government.

He's also had the chance to be centre stage all this week and in the period leading up to the investiture debates and, although he's not been particularly brilliant, as relatively new leader of PSOE, he's now much better known to the general public and has kept the disgruntled elements of his party at bay, for now, at least.

He's also had the chance to define PSOE's political position as the central, social democrat reasonable left in contrast to Podemos's mad radical Marxism.

From a Catalan point of view, pacting with Ciudadanos was a dreadful mistake but I'm not completely sure what price he'll pay for that in the rest of Spain and it's worth remembering that the pact isn't permanent and a lot can change in the coming weeks.

Echoes of the Transition

It seems to me that the current situation is analogous to what happened during the transition to democracy when there were four parties - Alianza Popular on the right,  UCD in the centre right, PSOE in the centre left and the Partido Comunista on the far left with the Catalan and Basque nationalists watching what was happening from the sidelines.

The Partido Popular evolved directly out of Alianza Popular and only changed its name in the late-1980s and are definitely the traditional right-wing party.

Times have changed but they are grey and unimaginative and represent the status quo, however corrupt and rotten that might be.

Rajoy doesn't have to be inspiring, imaginative or even intelligent because they are almost guaranteed strong support from deep, still vaguely fascist, Spain so they'll definitely be a force to be reckoned with.

I don't want to insult Adolfo Suárez's memory but Ciudadanos are trying to occupy the centre right in the way his UCD party did and as was shown by UCD's disappearance in the early 1980s, this is a difficult position to be in Spain because it's not very clearly defined and the traditional Spanish conservative is much more comfortable with easy to understand fascism than wishy-washy liberalism.

The ace that Albert Rivera has got up his sleeve is that at heart he's much more right wing than he's currently letting so don't be surprised if Ciudadanos change their spots in the coming weeks and start to resemble Blas Piñar's Fuerza Nueva.

Pablo Iglesias was quite right when, during the investiture debate, he described Rivera and Ciudadanos as practising the worst kind of politics because they've really got no ideology and are just interested in power.

PSOE are still centre left social democrat PSOE and although Pedro Sánchez isn't as inspiring, by a long stretch of the imagination, he does the job in a Tony Blair kind of way.

I think Podemos are going to be a real force to be reckoned with and I've said this before but if I was Spanish, and wasn't so committed to the idea of Catalan independence, I'd definitely vote for them because they really are the only party that are offering anything new.

Pablo Iglesias is radical, dynamic and as he showed with the kiss in the first debate, he's capable of putting on a good show for the media. He's also got a clear ideological position and so far he seems to be a man of his word.

There has always been strong support for radical left-wing politics in Spain, which is one of its problems because it tends to polarise, and Podemos also have strong support amongst non-nationalists in the Basque Country and Catalonia.

It seems to me that by dismissing the idea of a Catalan referendum out of hand, PSOE are giving up on the Catalan vote, which will make future elections virtually impossible to win, and in fact, En Comú Podem are to Podemos what PSC used to be to PSOE before they sold out - an affiliated party that is close ideologically but has a very distinct Catalan voice of its own and consequently, there are points, such as a referendum, that it's not prepared to compromise on.

What Happens Next?

My personal view, after the two debates this week, is that the most likely option is new elections, which will probably be held on June 26th, because the only mathematical possibilities for forming a government both involve PSOE making too many compromises.

The Grand Pact between PSOE and the Partido Popular (and Ciudadanos, who'd pact with anyone as long as there's the sniff of power) would mean that PSOE would have appeared to have sold out and so would lose most of their left-wing voters to Podemos.

The only way they could sell this to the electorate would be if the Catalan situation gets out of hand and then they could form a short term coalition with Partido Popular as an act of patriotism to save Spain.

I think the great left-wing pact with Podemos involves PSOE breaking their agreement with Ciudadanos and giving in on their refusal to let Catalonia hold a referendum on independence and I can't see either the Old Guard under Felipe González or the Andalusian wing of the party under Susana Diaz ever allowing Pedro Sánchez to do that.

Of course, a lot can happen in politics between now and May 1st, which is the time limit before elections have to be called, and perhaps new poll results will make the four parties change their position but I can't see it myself.

The situation is not like it was in Catalonia in December where Junts pel Sí and the CUP had the carrot of independence to make a compromise possible.

None of the Spanish parties have any motivation to find a compromise so it looks to me like it'll be every man for himself in new elections on June 26th when it's quite possible that the voters will return an ungovernable Spain once again.

Of course, I might be utterly and completely wrong but we'll find that out in the coming weeks.

A Final Thought

Anyway, thanks very much for watching. Please subscribe, like and comment. Also remember that I do all this completely free. So if you want to support my work and research, you can click on an ad, buy my book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective on Amazon or make a donation a

That's it from me for this week.

Viscal el Barça! Visca Catalunya! Look after yourselves.

Have Something To Say About This Topic?

Do you have a great information to add or an opinion to express about on this topic? Share it!

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.