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Spain’s Election Didn’t Solve The 600 Year Long Argument

Not all that much of a surprise to be honest, that a single election, or even four in four years, didn’t solve an argument that’s been running 600 years and more. The point to recall about Spanish politics being that there’s another axis running through it beyond left and right. Beyond the usual conservative/classical liberal divide, the modern normal of the social democratic left and the hippies into woo.

That’s whether there should be a Spain at all. If there is how centralised is it going to be?

Thus this isn’t that surprise:

Spain’s ruling socialist party has won the country’s fourth general election in as many years but once again failed to secure a majority in a vote in which the far-right Vox party vaulted into third place and the centre-right Citizens party suffer a humiliating collapse.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE), led by the acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, won 120 seats, three fewer than in April’s inconclusive election.

The conservative People’s party (PP) rallied after its dismal showing last time, winning 87 seats, while Vox finished third as its seat count more than doubled from 24 to 52.

The anti-austerity Unidas Podemos came fourth with 35 seats, followed by the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left with 13 seats. Citizens slumped to sixth place as the 57 seats it picked up seven months ago dwindled to just 10.

The whether there should be the country at all is akin to the UK’s mumblings over the union. But worse. As can be seen from the manner in which the Catalans who organised that referendum on independence now languish in jail. For it’s all rather more vicious.

As with other European states the country was built up over some centuries of dynastic finagling. Unlike some others it remained a dynastic union for rather longer than many others. Ferdinand and Isabella may have seen off the Arabs, sent Columbus off, but they were also rulers of Spain but not King and Queen of it. They were, rather, this of Aragon, that of Castile, Count perhaps of Barcelona and so on through the varied bits and bobs that made up the peninsula minus Portugal. Each bit and each bob had its own laws, own customs posts – mostly – and so on. Like, perhaps and in a way, James I and VI before the Darien disaster led to full union.

OK, that’s all distant history, right? Except it isn’t. Basque is an entirely different language, certainly they’re a different people. Catalan is another language, Galician is closer to Portuguese than Castilian Spanish. And so on. That unity into the one nation didn’t take place until the 19th century, after Napoleon left. The whole issue was reopened in the Civil War (of which there have been many we just recall the last one). When Franco won the answer was one, centralised, state with no liberty or allowances for the regions at all. Speaking Catalan and Basque were punishable offences.

Now there’s a great deal of regional autonomy, naturally enough in reaction. But it’s still the grand underlying point in Spanish politics. Is it the one nation state, speaking Castilian and ruled firmly from Madrid? Or is it some loose agglomeration – loose enough for Catalan independence even – of cooperating nations?

You’re right, this is a very partial – in both senses – pencil sketch. But it is that extra grand divide running through the body politic. Is it to be Swiss to the point that cantons can leave? Or English where Kernow independence is something largely reserved for the county rugby matches?

Given that this argument’s been going on a good 600 years now of course no one election is going to solve it. The place is still arguing over whether Wessex, Mercia and Kent are the same country or not.

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4 years ago

Given that you Brits still call part of the place the Home Counties, in contrast to the other foreigners, perhaps that squabble over Wessex, Mercia and Kent isn’t quite over yet.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
4 years ago

It’s not just Spain, either. France (Corsica and to a lesser extent Brittany), Italy and Belgium all have their own fissiparous tendencies.

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