Across Europe right-wing, populist parties are gaining ground, as economies slow and times become more unsettled and old, deeply ingrained prejudices and misconceptions re-surface. So it’s unsurprising that it’s happening too in Spain.
Vox is a new Spanish party founded in 2013, but registering on the wider political scene only when it succeeded in electing 12 deputies to Andalucia’s Regional Parliament (it already had one in Extremadura ). It is right-wing, opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and multi-culturalism, supporting greater state centralisation and has adopted anti-islamic and anti-immigration stances.
The 1978 post Franco governmental settlement in modern Spain has its faults, most notably the compromise or ‘fudge’ to allow regional autonomy – to the extent that certain regions are recognised as nationalities – but at the same time insisting that the Spanish state is indivisible. It recognises that Spain includes very different and diverse regions, each with a sense of their own uniqueness and history, often speaking a different language. There are many Spains, which makes for an immensely varied and, to an outsider, attractive, country. That the government infrastructure recognises this should be a huge strength.
Nonetheless there are independence movements, most notably Catalan and these have gained impetus, especially since the Partido Popular chose to challenge the compromise ( see Homage to Catalonia ). Rather like Brexit in the UK and Trump’s election in the US this has encouraged greater tribalism. So during the recent Catalan crisis Catalan views that prosperous Catalonia was better off without its less fortunate neighbours were widely reported and many Spaniards elsewhere in Spain found this attitude selfish and aggressive. Even in Britain the media carried stories about Catalans resentful of having to subsidise other regions, notably the poorest, Extremadura and Andalucia.* Andalucia is also the largest region by population in Spain and has the highest unemployment rate ( still almost 24%).
It’s not surprising then that this has provoked a reaction. How exactly this has manifested itself in votes for Vox I am unsure (rather like how anti-austerity feeling manifest itself in a Brexit vote, but somehow logic doesn’t quite apply). Vox is fiercely centralist, advocating the repression of autonomy, which might explain some of this, as does corruption in PSOE, the ruling party in Andalucia since Franco’s death. For the first time since then PSOE cannot form a government in Andalucia, as not only Vox, but also Ciudadanos, another right-wing party, gained seats. Voters abandoned not only PSOE but also the PP, mainly, it is thought, because of the mire of corruption scandals which beset that party too.
Almost 10% of Spain’s current population was born outside the country, although 80% of these are from Spanish-speaking South America and, historically, there has always been a recognition that people migrate to find work. Like other Mediterranean countries, however, it is vulnerable to illegal migration and this, with increasing anti-islamism linked to fear of terrorism, is tinder to the far right’s flames. It is ironic that it is in Andalucia, with its glorious Moorish past, that it had grained ground.
The question now is how will the PP and Ciudadanos react? Will they, like the Tories in Britain move to the right to appease the extremists, or will they maintain the centre ground? Next Spring’s local, regional and European elections will show whether or not the broadly progressive consensus in Spain, which has eschewed right-wing extremes following the Franco years, can see off Vox. Let’s hope the parties are talking at national level and they can unite to do so.
*Based on real GRP and excluding the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.