The Collapse of the Centralist Left

Before it becomes old news, I'd like to draw attention to the latest political opinion poll in Catalunya, as published in El Periódico last week.

The most notable thing about it is the remarkable surge of support for ERC, the Catalan Republican Left, the only party in Catalunya to have consistently supported independence. They are Plaid Cymru's sister party in the EFA Group in the European Parliament.


•  ERC - Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya ... left, Catalan
•  CiU - Convergència i Unió ... centre-right, Catalan
•  PSC - Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya ... centre-left, Spanish
•  ICV - Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds ... eco-socialist, Catalan
•  PP - Partido Popular ... right, Spanish
•  Cs - Ciutadans ... left, Spanish
•  CUP - Candidatura d'Unitat Popular ... left, Catalan

The result of the election in November 2012 is shown in the inner ring, and my thoughts on that result are here. In the negotiations after the election, CiU had wanted to form a coalition with ERC, but in the end formed a minority government without support from any other party. They were able to do this because there is no way that a right wing, anti-independence party like the PP would ever see eye-to-eye with left wing, pro-independence parties like ERC and CUP, and would never vote the same way on any issue. Therefore the PP's 19 votes are effectively cancelled by 19 of the votes from ERC and CUP deputies, and with 38 votes effectively "paired" CiU can just about govern on their own.

ERC did, however, commit themselves to not vote against CiU on no-confidence issues that could bring down the government and force an early election, provided that sufficient progress was made on moving towards independence. This seems to be happening, and there will almost certainly be a referendum on independence in 2014.


In one sense, the swing away from CiU shown in this poll is only to be expected. Having to preside over a programme of austerity (forced in the sense that the Spanish government has required the Autonomous Communities cut their deficit much more stringently than central government has had to do, but not forced in the sense that CiU are a right-of-centre party that would make those sorts of cuts anyway) is hardly likely to make any government popular. So the swing from right to left is no great surprise.

What is interesting is that the swing has not benefited the pro-Spanish PSC, which had always been the largest party of the left until last year's election. The swing has instead gone primarily to ERC who have all but doubled their support and are now the largest party, but with ICV and the Cs also making gains. In other words, it has gone to parties which have unequivocal views on the matter of self-determination. The lion's share has gone to the pro-independence and pro-right-to-decide parties, ERC and ICV, but some has gone to the unequivocally pro-Spanish, anti-independence Cs. The PSC has been squeezed out because it has tried to sit on the fence. It has tried to be pro-Spanish to the Spanish and pro-Catalan to the Catalans, but it can't have it both ways.


I think there are lessons to be learned from this, and from what happened in the election in Euskadi. In both countries support for the major Spanish left-of-centre party (PSC in Catalunya and PSE-EE in Euskadi, but both are no more than local branches of the centralist PSOE) has collapsed, with the majority of their support switching to nationalist left-of-centre parties instead.

What is happening in Spain is also happening in the UK. The Labour Party, even though it tries to market itself as having Welsh and Scottish versions, is essentially monolithic. It will always gear itself to policies tailored to win support in the UK as a whole ... and this, of course, means England, because about 85% of the UK's population lives in England. By definition, this means that the Labour Party cannot stand up for the interests of Wales and Scotland on matters where our national interests differ from those of England. It can't have it both ways, and once this simple fact becomes clear to the electorate, voting patterns that have been ingrained for decades will suddenly shift from the centralist left to the nationalist left.

It has happened in Scotland with the SNP. It has happened in Euskadi with EH Bildu. It has now happened in Catalunya with ERC ... and exactly the same will happen in Wales with Plaid Cymru.

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Anonymous said...

"and exactly the same will happen in Wales with Plaid Cymru."

For this to happen we need Plaid to stop being afraid of Labour and to start educating the electorate.

lionel said...

Whilst the bulk of the newspaper reading Welsh public continue to read English newspapers and large parts of the country watch Points West for their news, things won't change drastically here. Many people think Michael Gove is in charge of education in Wales!

MH said...

I don't think Plaid are afraid of Labour, Stu. It is certainly true that some elements in the party used to see Plaid's place as simply being Labour's "little helpers", and saw Plaid's role as being a Welsh-speaking version of Labour in the areas like mid and west Wales, where Labour is weak. But that idea was decisively put down when Dafydd El was defeated in his bid to become party leader. Leanne certainly isn't afraid to take Labour on and fight them head-to-head in their strongholds.

As for educating the electorate, I'm trying to do my bit. I'm attempting to show that things like the collapse of Labour in Scotland, a country where Labour thought they would always be in control on their own or with help from the LibDems, was not an isolated event, but part of a larger pattern. Artificial states made up of numerous separate nations controlled from the centre are breaking up. The USSR and Yugoslavia were examples from the latter part of last century. Spain and the UK will be the examples from the early part of this century. If exactly the same thing happens in Scotland, Euskadi and Catalunya, the real question to ask is: Why shouldn't we expect it to happen in Wales too?

As for the lack of Welsh news media; yes, it's a problem, Lionel. But it's up to us to find other ways of getting the message across that don't rely on an anglocentric media. It means engaging with people at a more local and personal level.

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