The left gets its act together in Euskadi

In this post back in February I wrote about Sortu, an attempt to build a new political group in Euskadi that was unequivocally nationalist, but on the left of the political spectrum.

As expected, the Spanish State immediately ruled that this group was illegal, even though the party's constitution specifically rejected violence and committed itself to securing Basque independence by peaceful, democratic means only. Yet there was a Plan B, and immediately following that decision another broad left pro-independence group was formed – this time centred on Eusko Alkartasuna, Alternatiba, Araba Bai (a split of Aralar) and some independents – called Bildu.


Eusko Alkartasuna and Aralar are long standing parties which the Spanish State have not banned, and indeed EA are Plaid Cymru's partners in the EFA group in the European Parliament.

Of course the Spanish State immediately banned Bildu as well, but this proved to be the straw that finally broke the camel's back. As we can read here, the centre-right Basque nationalist party, the EAJ-PNV, withdrew its support from the minority Spanish government at the beginning of March in protest at the decision. Then, as if to prove to the world that all these decisions to ban left wing nationalist political groups have been taken for political rather than judicial or constitutional reasons, the Constitutional Tribunal promptly overruled the Supreme Court decision at the beginning of this month, as we can read here.


What was at stake was the ability of the pro-independence left to field candidates in the municipal elections which took place yesterday. The result was astounding. Bildu swept in to become the largest party in terms of seats, and second largest in terms of votes.

The newly-formed Basque nationalist coalition gained second place in the election race being the second party with most votes and the first party with most seats


A newly-formed Basque nationalist coalition called Bildu became the political party with most seats and second in number of votes in local and regional elections in the Basque Country.

Bildu also won seats in the town halls of three of the region's provincial capitals. The new Basque coalition won 907 seats and 25 percent of the vote. Basque nationalist party PNV gained second place in the election race with 822 seats, but a greater percentage of the vote, 29.9 percent.

EITB, 23 May 2011

The centre-right nationalists, the EAJ-PNV, were second in terms of seats won but still ahead in terms of the percentage of the vote; but this result means that there are now two large pro-independence parties with just short of 55% of the vote between them, with other smaller pro-independence parties picking up some votes and seats too.

The losers in this election were the Basque socialist PSE-EE, essentially just a regional branch of the Spanish socialist PSOE, committed to keeping Euskadi as part of Spain.


This is very significant for those who want to see Euskadi become independent, for it shows that left-leaning voters are now prepared to make a wholesale shift from the pro-Spanish left to the pro-independence left. In this sense the pro-independence left can finally be said to have got its act together to become a major, unified force in Basque politics, rather than a loose collection of different factions that fought amongst themselves, thereby allowing the PSE-EE to be the main political force on the left.

The nature of politics in Spain means that the municipal election results have a very significant effect on funding. This means that Bildu are now in a very strong position to mount an effective campaign for the elections to the Basque Parliament in a couple of years time. Having achieved this level of support—and, to put it bluntly, the respectability that goes with it—we might well see the PSE-EE completely crumble as the main party of the left, leaving Basque politics as a left-right contest between pro-independence parties.

I'd be willing to bet that a comfortable majority of deputies in the next Basque Parliament will have been elected on a pro-independence mandate, and that the Spanish will not be able to stop them achieving the independence they have wanted for so long.

Bookmark and Share


Owen said...

"In this sense the pro-independence left can finally be said to have got its act together to become a major, unified force in Basque politics, rather than a loose collection of different factions that fought amongst themselves....."

One hopes this can happen closer to home. ;)

MH said...

That's why it's important to keep an eye on what's happening elsewhere in Europe, Owen.

Euskadi, Catalunya, Flanders and Scotland all provide us with examples which we in Wales can learn from.

Labour in Scotland can be said to be in the same sort of position as the PSE-EE. Labour crumbled in the face of the SNP, the PSE-EE might crumble in the face of Bildu. So let's learn from it. Welsh Labour can crumble in the face of Plaid ... or Welsh Labour can survive by becoming a pro-independence party, as Adam Price hinted here.

Anonymous said...

Sorry MH I think your interpretation is giving the optimistic 'people want to vote left wing if they only knew it was good for them'.

This vote isn't, as your title implies, ['left gets its act together in Euskadi'. It was a simple pro independence vote, with, if anything, the more radical independence-supporting PNV voters moving to Bildu.

The right wing PP vote incrase, if my googletranslate is correct. That implies that a section of the Spanish nationalist vote which had been with the Labour party moved to the conservative - that happened across the Spanish state last night. It wasn't Labour Spanish naitonalist voting for a pro independence Basque party - that would be like Labour voters in NI voting Sinn Fein (if that analogy could be losely made).

No, this was a story of shift within the two nationalist camps in Euskadi. Spanish nationalist (banal nationalists) voting PP; Basque nationalists voting PNV and increassingly Sortu.

It was nothing of the sort of your optimistic: 'This is very significant for those who want to see Euskadi become independent, for it shows that left-leaning voters are now prepared to make a wholesale shift from the pro-Spanish left to the pro-independence left.'

There is never going to be a 'realignment of the left' or 'progressive forces' or a left wing love in.

The vote in Euskadi was a straightforeward nationalist vote. That's the lesson for Plaid Cymru.

Plaid needs to become a strong Gaullist party - a strong Welsh nation state which will stand up against capital where need be. The left wing is dead. Labour will go (Brit) BlueLabour for the next Westminster election. The only way to implement left wing policies is through a strong nationalist narrative - Scotland with the SNP and Iceland.

The Left is dead - get over it.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your resourceful postings MH. It can be hard to get accurate data from the Spanish state.

In terms of the pro-independence left we might draw parallels with Sinn Fein's increasing success in Ireland.

On a more depressing note the pro-independence lefts in Catalunya (ERC) and Wales (Plaid) both slipped back in their most recent national elections- incidentally both having been in coalition with the equivalent centre-left Unionist parties.

Let's hope that the Spanish state now doesn't now grow scared of the Abertzale Left and outlaws them again, based on their electoral threat.

Anonymous said...

Ramblings - this was not a vote for left wing policies, the vote in the Basque Country was a vote for nationalism. Sartu won because they were a strong nationalist party.

Likewise CiU did well in Catalonia. The SNP did well in Scotland.

The defining message is that people will congregate around the stronger and most 'realistic' nationalist party. There was surely an element in the Basque vote of people wanting to teach Spain a lesson for banning Bildu and also wanting to consolidate the 'peace process' which the independentist left has undertaken. It wasn't a vote for left wing ideology, it was a vote for nationalism with the nation (nation-state) taking the rôle which people may at one time (if ever?) believed the left wing movement would undertake.

It's now a debate between differing national narratives over who is best equipped (and most solid) in fighting to retain jobs and create wealth. In the Basque Country the nationalist Baques have won, likewise in Scotland, likewise too to some extent in Catalonia.

Wales is only different in that the Labour party took a part of this narrative - nation fighting for its rights - from Plaid Cymru. Of course, the politics of Wales, is cultural. Labour embody the concept of Welshness closer to the 'norm' of more people than Plaid.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update, MH. I was looking on the BBC and the Guardian sites for some info of course with no success. Hope over experience.... I was in Euskadi a few weeks ago taking part in the Korrika sponsored relay race and talking to various friends there. I asked one whether she would welcome independence without Navarra and she answered that that was a "very difficult question".

Anonymous said...

....and there were Bildu posters all over the fact a very vibrant political street art in general (although I'm told it was even more so a decade ago).

glynbeddau said...

I would disagree that CiU is a "nationalist" party. They are more of an autonomy party being somewhat ambiguous on independence.
As Ramblings pointed out it is difficult to get accurate details of this and. I'm sure someone in San Sebastian and Barcelona would find it difficult to extrapolate from the results in Local authority elections in the UK.

However it sorry to see the Republican Left losing out in Catalonia.

As far as Macen's point. I have no interest in a Nationalist movement that does not offer people a more equal and progressive future in an independent Wales.

As James Connoly wrote

"After Ireland is free, says the patriot who won’t touch socialism, we will protect all classes, and if you won’t pay your rent you will be evicted same as now. But the evicting party, under command of the sheriff, will wear green uniforms and the Harp without the Crown, and the warrant turning you out on the roadside will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic. Now, isn’t that worth fighting for?"

Anonymous said...

Glyn - can we get away from these cliches? Lef wing good, right wing bad bla bla bla.

The Basque Country is one of the most prosperous areas in Spain. Moreover, the differences in wages between the best paid and lowest is much small than the UK (under the 'left wing' Labour party), unemployment is smaller, manufacturing is larger. It's been run by an alliance of Labour-Tory for the last 2 years because they gerrymandered to keep out the radical nationalists. But since devolution in 1980 it was run for 30 years by the PNV - Basque nationalist Christian Democrat. Not socialist, Christian Democrat nationalist.

Not a left wing party - but one which delivered economic prosperity, social cohesion and a nationalist agenda. Bildu won because it was more nationalist not because people wanted a more left wing government.

CiU - 'nationalist lite' maybe, a sort of party Ieuan Wyn I'm sure would be happy for Plaid to become. Not so much from the policies but as a party which was mainstream to Catalan society and got short-term aims - it's almost Welsh Labour in that respect. But unlike Welsh Labour it is a proper independent party. It's a non-Spanish, Catalanist, Catalan self-government promoting party. It won because it wasn't left wing and because it was seen to stand up for Catalonia (whether that is true or not).

The Left is dead - people don't like Left wing politics, they don't trust left wingers either. In a period of recession people don't trust a party which is going to spend even more of their money.

People have transfered the defence of their interest from class to nation. That's the politics of the next generation. It's an ideal opportunity for Plaid. But if Plaid believes Left Wing Policies with capital letters will win it votes, it's barking up the wrong tree.

Like in Scotland with the SNP, left wing policies can be implemented (and implemented successfully) if it goes hand in hand with a nationalist narrative. That's what Bildu offered.

Nationalist won votes, left wing politics didn't. People don't trust the Left Wing.


Anonymous said...


Article from the Guardian (good left wing credentials) about the success of the Basque Country - yes, 30 years of Christian Democrat, Gaullist nationalist party:

It's a nationalist Christian Democrat party which delivered this not 'socialism'.

The same could be true in Wales if we had the power to raise and keep out taxes - it would force Welsh politicans and voters to stop talking in cliches and class nationalism.


glynbeddau said...


Thanks for the link but it is about the co-operate movements. Which is a peoples led idea not that of the Basque government and the article also states that co-operative initiatives like Mondragon were inspired by Robert Owen who was a Welshman who it is believed used the term Socialism to describe his ideas.

We need a Mondragon in Wales but where ids the party to promoteit?

It doesn't seem to be in the eyes of the Plaid leadership.

I always believe that there are too many Nationalist who associate Socialism with the Labour Party. It s time this ended and we proudly use the the word a fellow Welshman gave to us and the world

Anonymous said...

The problem with Macsen is his obsession with labels. Labour may be a 'socialist' party but the industrial relations promoted by the PNV (a centre-right party) are much closer to social democracy than anything we experienced under New Labour. Basque conservatism isn't really conservative in the economic or political sense, it is more culturally conservative- it is similar economically to conservative or Christian Democratic parties in France and Germany- they give the state a larger role (and pay higher taxes) than a British Conservative or even Labour party would. They also pride themselves on equality (as Macsen himself recognises), and promote regulation of the markets as a way to safeguard that. The Mondragon co-operative is a case in point- it's about as close to socialism as you can get without a revolution, the workers owning the means of production. Not a PNV idea (as Glyn says) but in government they consistently supported it and championed it.

Finally, Macsen's idea that people don't trust people who are perceived as left-wingers is a fantasy- look at the SNP victory in Scotland, Bildu in Euskadi, Labour in Wales, Sinn Fein gains in Ireland (in both states). All of these parties claim to be left of centre. Resisting cuts was part of the SNP's message- as was resisting privatisation.

Macsen's analysis can't be trusted as it is full of holes and prejudices, but he is completely right that taxation powers for Wales would bring a more dynamic and less cliched politics.

Anonymous said...

You're right that socialism doesn't = Labour and maybe I'm guilty of placing labels.

The whole point is that I don't agree with a lot of these labels - as Glyn and Anon 14.19 point out. So, when Glyn or MH say 'it's a victory for socialism or the left wing' I think, erm, no it's not.

The votes of the SNP, Labour in Wales, Sinn Fein and Bildu have much more to do with a cultural/ethnic/linguistic vote manifesting itself through a party which many people feel represents their cultural and political aspirations.

The left wing parties in Europe which don't have a nationalist narrative are in decline. It's the nationalist narrative which is giving credibility to the left wing policies, not the other way round. (Labour in Wales is different in this).

I don't think people vote SNP, Sinn Fein, Bildu because they're left wing parties, they vote for these parties becaus they are nationalists parties which also have left wing policies. The nationalism is the central part.

The point about PNV is that when Glyn talks about 'socialism' then we have people talking about 'right wing' and, as Anon points out, the PNV are in many ways more 'left wing' than Labour and certainly better at creating jobs and infrastructure. I'd argue that nationalism, working for a (small) nation helps in this respect - it's a point Adam Price tries to make.

I don't think that I would disagree with a lot of what Glyn and Anon believe in. Certainly not in the case of Mondragon. However, I do disagree with Welsh nationalists taking the wrong conclusion from the vote in the BC. It was nationalism which won in Euskadi, not left wing. There was no 'realignment of the left' or any such movement. It was more people felt safe to vote for a more radical, nationalist Basque party now that ETA had stopped killing people.


MH said...

I think you haven't really understood the point I was trying to make, Macsen. I certainly wasn't making a point about left being better than right.

Those people in Euskadi who regard themselves as nationalists have a range of political opinion on everyday political issues. Some are left of centre, some are right of centre. The point I didn't think needed repeating was that the right of centre nationalists have "got their act together" ... and indeed have been in that position for some time. As you say, the EAJ-PNV have formed the government of the BAC for most of the post-Franco period, and they are only out of power now because of the most bizarre coalition between the PSE-EE and PP, the equivalent of Labour and the Tories forming a coalition to keep out Plaid Cymru or the SNP ... and of course the last minute ban on other nationalist parties.

Because of the EAJ-PNV's dominance of the right hand side of Basque political spectrum, the main Spanish right-wing party, the PP, has been marginalized. This means that if you want to vote for a right of centre political party in Euskadi, the obvious and natural choice is to vote EAJ-PNV rather than PP. People only vote PP if they are particularly pro-Spanish.

The same is true, although not for so long, in Catalunya. CiU has become the natural right of centre party in Catalunya, squeezing out the PP and leaving it marginalized. This is very different from next-door Valencia, where the PP is the main right of centre party, and has taken on the mantle of protecting specifically Valencian interests. However, because the PP is a Spanish unionist party, it means that Valencian cultural and national interests are always placed within an overall Spanish context. That is why there is virtually no pro-independence movement in Valencia.


Going back to Euskadi, the same has not been true of the pro-independence left. Largely because of ETA, and the arguments over pursuing independence by violent or exclusively peaceful means, the left has historically been fragmented. A whole host of different parties has risen up over the last few decades, but none of them has been able to attract widespread support. Either they have been seen as too radical (and therefore associated with ETA, with the result that they get banned) or as not radical enough to be distinctively Basque.

In such a situation, many voters on the left of the political spectrum have been more inclined to vote for what they see as the "mainstream" party of the left, the Spanish Socialists, rather than for one of the smaller nationalist parties that were seen as still carrying the baggage of the past and constantly squabbling with each other over the best way forward.

But what now seems to have happened is that in Bildu they have found a mix that is, as Goldilocks would say, just right. It is radical enough to have attracted voters who would previously have supported parties more aligned to ETA, but far enough removed from the contamination of any sort of association with ETA. That's what I meant by saying that the pro-independence left has finally got its act together.

If things manage to hold (and we can be sure that the Spanish will be looking for any excuse to break this group up again) it means that the major parties of both the right and the left side of Basque politics will be Basque rather than Spanish. The PSE-EE has now slipped from being the biggest party of the left and Bildu has taken its place. A tipping point has been reached, and this makes it likely that more people on the left of the political spectrum will now vote for Bildu rather than for the PSE-EE. It will have become the "mainstream" party of the left.

To be continued ...

MH said...


I would take issue with you on one point you made, Macsen. The growth of Bildu has definitely not come from EAJ-PNV supporters moving to them. As I've shown in the graphics from Gara in my latest post, the EAJ-PNV's share of the vote actually went up rather than down. However the number of seats they won went down, which is probably where any confusion lies.

In rough terms the combined vote of the pro-independence left has been at about 10-15% for years. Now it has jumped to around 25%. The only party that has really lost out in these elections has been the PSE-EE. Therefore the inescapable conclusion is that Bildu has drawn votes from the PSE-EE.

Politics is not usually about constitutional issues. For most people, everyday politics is all about left vs right, liberal vs authoritarian, and decentralism vs centralism ... but the biggest of these is left vs right. That is what makes it possible for people in Euskadi to make a fairly seamless switch from voting PSE-EE to voting Bildu.

In Spain, the current Socialist government is deeply unpopular and the municipal elections elsewhere in Spain showed a big swing from the PSOE to the PP. What seems to have happened in Euskadi is that instead of the general swing from left to right, voters on the left have swung from one sort of left (the Spanish left) to another sort of left (the Basque left). In some ways this is a mirror of what's just happened in Scotland. Previously we might have expected Labour to sweep up on anti-Tory sentiment because of the coalition in Westminster, but instead of a swing to Labour (the British left) the vote swung to the SNP (the Scottish left).

Of course this didn't happen in Wales, but it could.

Anonymous said...

"The left wing parties in Europe which don't have a nationalist narrative are in decline."

This again from Macsen is incorrect. Social democracy is in decline in Europe because of its complicity in the financial crisis and social democracy's inability to do anything about the effects of the crisis and of austerity- i.e not being left-wing enough.

The Left Party in Germany, the parties to the left of PSOE in the Spanish State, the Left in Portugal, the Socialists and independents in the Irish Republic, the Scottish Greens, Greens in the British state are all examples of non-nationalist parties to the left of Labour and social democracy who have either increased their votes or held up their votes in recent elections. There are many more examples, but generally the centre-left in Europe is in decline but the sensible left- parties to the left of Labour/social democracy but that are not revolutionary, is generally not in decline.

If there is to be correct analysis we need to avoid sweeping generalisations. MH tends to avoid them which is why he is right that the Basque left has made a breakthrough.

Some of the other things Macsen says are worthwhile though.

Anonymous said...

Just seen MH's latest posting with actual results, and I bow to his immense ability with figures, the Basque language and ability to remembers the acronyms of Basque micro-parties!

Yes, it seems that votes moved from PSOE to Bildu - I am very surprised by that. That's a lesson for me.

I also see now what MH is getting at by 'left' in his title - the Basque 'independence left'.

I think Anon 15.51's comments are true, but I don't see the 'alternative' left (if I can use that term) making a breakthrough to the same extent as the 'nationalist' left has in Scotland and the Basque Country.

Despite the huge financial crisis these nation-state parties have mostly not broken through. The exception possibly is in Germany with the Greens and I'd argue that the Green vote in Germany is very much a cultural one which is quite specific to the peculiar German 'achtunsechtiger' ('68 generation).

I still retain though that the Bildu vote is a nationalist vote and the way it's protrayed in the Spanish, German and UK press suggest that that's how most people will read it. In the same way the SNP's breakthrough (brought by Tory and LD votes more than Labour) is a 'nationalist' rather than a left wing victory.

What I think we're seeing in Western Europe is something which we saw in the East is people investing their economic future through the nation, or aspirant nation, rather than state or class. That is, nationalism is seen as a greater guarantor of economic safety than class.


Anonymous said...

PSE-EE have lost votes to Bildu mainly in Gipuzkoa. Donosti has lost the charasmatic Odon Elorza as PSE mayor and the PSE have imploded there - votes have gone from PSE to Bildu all over Gipuzkoa but these will be critical years for Bildu because this intra-left voting will have a time line as I suspect that many PSE switching voters will want to see just how much Bildu claims to be redistributionist. The last - and only - time they (as the much narrower Basque Left less EA etc) were in government was under Euskal Herritarrok in 1999 and there may exist a sneaky feeling that redistributionist policies may now under a new generation need to fight for priority within the Basque Left (sounds crazy, huh) whenever Bildu splits 12-18 months down the line. Watch what Bildu does with the 0.8 billion in Gipuzkoa's Foru Aldundia where the local government cash is (that is, if PNV and PSE don't join forces to make 24 against Bildu's 22 seats).

The PNV continues to be mainly Bizkaian and centre-right dominated but there is a strong tail in Gipuzkoa which is more orientated to redistributionism, as per Catholic cooperativist Mondragon. I do not think it can currently be said to be pro-independence in any shape or form. The spirit of Ibarretxe and the Gipuzkoan rump is weak.

MH said...

I'm not that good, Mascen. I'm afraid I rely very heavily on GoogleTranslate ... and a lot of guesswork.

To Anon 23:29, I wouldn't be so hopeful of Bildu breaking up in the next 12 or 18 months. After success like this, the momentum will be there to carry them into the BAC Parliament elections in 2013. That is the real prize. This win gives them the base on which to fight that election.

The situation is going to be very similar to Scotland, in that the political focus will now be on either independence or a Free State arrangement. I think Bildu's success will force the EAJ-PNV to renew their desire for it.

The other factor is that Spain is in very dire economic straits. If they slip yet further, particularly if they are forced into accepting a bale out, the Basques may well feel that further separation from Spain is absolutely necessary, rather than just desirable. These next two years are going to be interesting and exciting.

Anonymous said...

... meanwhile nothing will happen in Wales.


Anonymous said...

Some insightful comments from Macsen. Is it a coincidence that the PNV and CiU, centre-right 'nationalist' parties in Euskadi & Catalunya, are also weak on independence or don't even want it, whereas the national left in both those nations are consistently pro-independence? Maybe the 'nationalist' centre-right sees that Euskadi & Catalunya are already prosperous, developed capitalist economies within the Spanish state, so why bother being more independent? Left-nationalists meanwhile see independence as a means of pushing their redistributionist policies. In Wales the perceived left of nationalism is almost always pro-independence, the perceived right or centre is usually considered or at least perceived as being more for federalism.

An exception is the centrist NVA in Flanders who don't seem to have dropped independence in the way PNV or CiU have. NVA is the exception rather than the rule though.

It's also worth remembering that in Euskadi there is the Abertzale concept which means patriotic left, for whom their socialism & independentism are not separable. Bildu contains the Abertzale left and other softer centre-left elements like the Plaid sister party. At least part of the appeal is for social justice sitting alongside the nationalism. Especially the appeal of finding thousands of candidates and activists to win so many seats.

MH said...

I don't think there's any evidence that the EAJ-PNV have "dropped" independence, Anon. They were the ones that proposed the Ibarretxe Plan and if they get back into power, they will probably try it or something else again.

As for the CiU, I don't think they've ever advocated independence before now. But the majority of their supporters want it, and their leader voted Yes to independence in the recent referendum. So things are moving in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

"They were the ones that proposed the Ibarretxe Plan and if they get back into power, they will probably try it or something else again."

And when the Plan was rejected they sat on their hands rather than take on the Spanish state because they didn't want to upset their nice prosperous middle-class Basque vote. But I appreciate the point.

MH said...

The mind boggles at what sort of things you might be thinking of when you say they should have "taken on the Spanish State", Anon.

Post a Comment