Spain on the Brink of Change

podemos2Colin Fox – in Madrid at the invitation of Unidos Podemos [‘United We Can’] the insurgent left-wing party hoping to win todays Spanish General Election] reports for Bella.

Standing inside the magnificent glass panelled Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia on the Ronda de Atocha with its beguiling modernist architecture, huge red walls and cool air in Central Madrid you can easily forget the economic, social and political crisis that engulfs Spain.

A more accurate depiction of the state of Europe’s fifth biggest economy can be gleaned a few hundred yards away however in Plaza Nelson Mandela. Here hundreds of young men, many of them immigrants, bedecked in replica football jerseys loll indolently on concrete contoured park benches beneath the shade of straggly trees trying to escape the oppressive 96 degree heat. In this dilapidated inner city square bedsheets hang from the balconies of derelict apartments as makeshift banners read ‘Stop Monjoes’ [No evictions] and ‘Terrrorista Esquien Endroaza’ [We are not terrorists]. This picture paints a clearer image of the Spain where the poorest 70% own less than the richest 1%. This is the Spain of 21% unemployment [50% for those under 25] with one of the highest GDP: Debt ratios in the world after the country’s banks were bailed out by the EU.

Spain’s National Statistics Institute revealed this week that 34.3% of households rely on a pension as their sole source of income. For Jose Manuel a retired engineer I met in the working class neighbourhood of Delicias this means his pension must keep him, his wife, his son, daughter in law and teenage grandson. Households like his where the main bread winner is out of work spend 36% less than the average or just £13,500 per annum. Like their famous football team Madrid sits at the top of that spending league too. In the poorest regions such as Estremadura and Andalusia in the South of Spain average incomes are lower and unemployed households have barely £10,000 per annum to spend.

Midway between the Museum and Nelson Mandela square lies the website listed headquarters of the left-wing party Podemos [‘We Can’]. 31, Calle Zurita is a small, rather dingy one room shopfront. It had just one occupant when I visited it, an unlikely command centre for a Government in waiting. This is not, I discovered, where the ‘Unidos Podemos’ election campaign is run from [‘Unidos Podemos’ is the alliance made up of Podemos itself, Izquerida Unida [the Spanish Communist Party] and Eqos [the Greens]. Pablo Iglesais, Enigo Errejon and Juan Carlos Monedero the founders of Podemos moved on some time ago.

Unidos Podemos has all the momentum in this election. Its support is up on the last vote in December which resulted in a hung Parliament and it hopes to form the Government on Sunday albeit in coalition with its left of centre rival PSOE.

The Partido Socialista Obrero Espana, or Labour Party, trails Unidos Podemos in the polls but it may emerge with more seats owing to Spain’s peculiar electoral system. The conservative Partido Popular of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy lead with 30% support. Then comes Unidos Podemos with 26.5%, PSOE is on 20% and the centre-right Cuidadanos on 15%. Spain’s four party system is a new phenomenon in a country where the PP and PSOE governed in turn for 40 years. But that was before the financial crash of 2008 and the equally devastating corruption scandals that rocked Spain in 2012.

Podemos emerged in 2014 from ‘Los indignacios’ the movement of indignant and angry young Spaniards who bore the brunt of the economic and social collapse and were enraged at the widespread graft and bribery exposed among the country’s banking, corporate and political elites. Both the PP and PSOE leadership were implicated in these scandals.

Candidates backed by Podemos won the Mayoral elections in Madrid and Barcelona in the last year. And in December they won more votes than their rivals in several regions.

Their manifesto, published as an eye catching IKEA style catalogue, promises to cut unemployment from 21% to 11%. It pledges to industrialise Spain’s economy and diversify away from agriculture and tourism towards renewable energy and manufacturing. By raising taxes on the wealthy and clamping down on tax evasion it aims to raise €10bn to cut VAT on basic household necessities and subsidise gas and electricity bills. And it plans to renegotiate Spain’s debt repayments with its EU creditors.

‘Spain needs another break with the past’ says Alejandro a young Podemos supporter I met distributing leaflets outside the Metro in Cuidad Lineal. ‘For 40 years Spain endured Franco’s fascist dictatorship. For the next 40 we had PP and PSOE Governments as we transitioned towards democracy. Now their democracy is broken. We need another break with the past to restore some dignity and hope.’ Alejandro hopes PSOE will join in a Left-wing coalition but he is not optimistic. PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez has repeatedly ruled it out describing Iglesias as an ‘impossibilist’ and an ‘extremist’. But many see this as pre-election rhetoric. PSOE has slumped badly in its traditional working class heartlands and has been bypassed by Unidos Podemos as the main party of the left. Young Spaniards in urban centres in particular have abandoned them. Sanchez accepts this is ‘a challenge’. Many in his party vehemently oppose a coalition with Iglesias. Susana Diaz, the party boss in Andalusia, PSOE’s strongest region, for example blanches at the idea of putting the pony-tailed politician into ‘La Moncala’ as Prime Minister. But given the likelihood of another hung Parliament PSOE faces a stark choice. They can either put their traditional foes the PP back into power or join a left coalition led by it new rivals Unidos Podemos. In a country divided into left and right they are hardly likely to win back support by backing Rajoy. On the other hand they have fundamental differences with the UP on the national question and the economy. The UP favours greater constitutional independence for Catalonia, the Basque county, the Valencian community and Galicia albeit within a ‘plurinational’ unitary Spain. PSOE want to maintain the status quo. Neither do they favour the same anti-austerity medicine as Iglesias.

The smart money is however on another hung Parliament. Unidos Podemos and PSOE should be able to reach a deal. They are both social democrats. Spanish public opinion wants to end the impasse and reach a settlement that will improve the economic crisis. But there is more pushing the two parties apart than together. For Spain is witnessing a titanic fight for the soul of the Left tradition in this country. PSOE once had it, now the UP aim to seize it.

Comments (33)

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  1. Jim Bennett says:

    Poor Colin. In Spain whilst Scotland is busy preparing for its next independence referendum…

    Whilst the article was interesting generally, specifically Scotland would be interested in how a PODEMOS/PSOE government might relate to Scotland being in the EU following the BREXIT vote and announcements by Nicola.

    Otherwise, the article seems curiously divorced from current politics here.

    u

    1. Glasgow Clincher says:

      It’s you that’s divorced. The trend of populist movements EVERYWHERE should concern us. It might free people like you from your insularity.

  2. Douglas says:

    “‘Stop Monjoes’ [No evictions] and ‘Terrrorista Esquien Endroaza’ [We are not terrorists”

    What is this? I’ve been living here in Madrid for 25 years and I do not recognize those expressions.

    “Pablo Iglesais, Enigo Errejon and Juan Carlos Monedero the founders of Podemos moved on some time ago.” What? Where did Pablos and Eñigo go? And why did nobody tell me.?

    “The Partido Socialista Obrero Espana” no, Colin, you mean El Partido Socialista Obrera Español…” GOOGLE IT..

    “Podemos emerged in 2014 from ‘Los indignacios’”…this just takes the biscuit. You mean the INDIGNADOS…

    Bella, time for a reality check. If you want to be taken seriously, get a fckin grip and start applying some basic practices of serious journalism.

    This article is an embarrassment to Scotland.

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      No, it’s an embarrassment to Colin

    2. David Allan says:

      I believe where Colin said moved on the reference was to the address ! Thanks to this article and Bella I have an idea about what is happening in the Spanish Election . Unlikely to read much detail in the MSM.

      Douglas try a visit to Plaza Nelson Mandela maybe the banners referred to reflect the views and experiences of the occupants that Colin refers to.

      1. Douglas says:

        David,, you’re really getting on my tits man.

        I live five minutes from la Plaza Nelson Mandela, and the words which Colin Fox claims to have seen on banners are not Spanish words, they are a jumbled bunch of gobbledegook…

        1. David Allan says:

          Douglas you really are proving to be the embodiment of all things bad about Jocks’s abroad call yourself an ambassador for Scotland I’m embarrassed that you are fighting our case in the bars of Madrid.

    3. Glasgow Clincher says:

      So his Spanish isn’t too good. how’s your Lallans? Stop nit-picking, an age old Scottish fault.

      1. Douglas says:

        Excuse me, excuse me…we have a representative of the Scottish Left invited by Unidos Podemos to Madrid and he can’t be arsed googling the people and political parties he cites (and it’s Iñigo Errejón, by the way, not Eñego…). What, does Colin Fox not have a search engine on his computer like the rest of us? It’s just shoddy and amateurish….

        How’s my Lallans? Better than yours is my bet. I have translated into Lallans….

        1. Glasgow Clincher says:

          Douglas, nowhere do you comment in your rant about the (possibly) momentous changes taking place in Spain – that’s the real point. And surely it is ‘obreras’ the plural? Hope you’ve got your residencia by the way; the UK xenophobes might just have put your citizenship at risk!

          1. Douglas says:

            No, Glasgow Clincher, the noun is the PARTIDO – party – and so the adjective follows the noun. PARTIDO OBRERO…

          2. Douglas says:

            And no, it’s not the real point, what is happening in Scotland is of massive importance. And we need the Spanish Left on board. We’re not going to muster much sympathy from this drunken postcard from Benidorn, which is Colin’s post….

  3. florian albert says:

    I think that the political leader’s name is Pablo Iglesias.

    Why do all these foreigners have strange names ?

    1. Glasgow Clincher says:

      You think he should be called Paul Church?

      1. Josef O Luain says:

        “Churches” G.C. Paul Churches.

        1. Glasgow Clincher says:

          Of course. Happy to be corrected.

  4. Justin Kenrick says:

    Thanks. Really interesting piece, and really enjoyed the way it’s written, giving me some time put from the frenetic superb pace of Robin, Peter A and Paul Mason’s that is utterly focused on the Scottish/ UK here and now.

    This kind of article helps me to keep what is happening here in Scorland in the much larger perspective of radical change that we right now and as an independent country have to engage with (whether scary Trump and European obsessive austerity, or Samders and the possibility of a wider anti-austerity alliance, including with these key actors in Spain).

    We will stand little chance if we are not able to keep our eye on the larger picture.

    1. Justin Kenrick says:

      “. . . giving me some time out from . . .”

    2. Douglas says:

      When does the Bella Caledonia wank fest end exactly?

      I’m off Bella. This is just bullshit, and readers in Spain are reading Colin’s piece and laughing their caps off at the Scottish Left right now.

      1. Justin Kenrick says:

        Hi Douglas

        If you are the same Douglas who was making really crucial points in comments after Robin McAlpine’s article (one of which I paste in below) then please don’t vanish from these threads.

        You like laying into people, I like appreciating them – that doesn’t make either of us right/ more valid.

        Douglas on the Robun McA thread:
        “let’s get real on currency. The Euro is there. What is the fckin problem of Scotland adopting the Euro? It’s good enough for the French, the Germans the Spanish and the Italians, so why not the Scots?. It’s a no-brainer, and Salmond is wrong to rule it out. There is no serious political force in the south of Europe which wants to return to the old currencies, despite all the havoc of “la crisis”… We have a massive day in Spain on Sunday, the re-run of the General Election. Unidos Podemos are on 25% of the vote. We, in Spain, are very, very close, tantalizingly close to changing the EU. It’s happening… and Scotland has to burn its bridges with London and be European, to embrace Europe, embrace the Euro and all our common problems….because after all that has happened in the last few weeks, my sense of being European and believing in a common European home has never been stronger…” [lifted from Douglas on Robin McA thread]

        1. Douglas says:

          No Justin, I am not interested in “laying into people”, I am Scottish, and I come from the Scottish intellectual tradition and so I believe in robust and rigorous democratic argument by consequence of that tradition…

          Robin’s post was frankly unbearable. I don’t need a guru, Justin, I have a brain of my own. And I certainly don’t need Colin Fox making a total hash of what could be a historic result today in Spain…

          1. David Allan says:

            “Scottish intellectual tradition” that takes the biscuit.

        2. Douglas says:

          Justin, what is your objection to my post on Robin’s thread? I don’t recant a single word of it. I am a European Scot, and I believe the Euro is the best and most sensible currency policy for the SNP to adopt. We are not Greece or Portugal…we are Scotland.

          1. Justin Kenrick says:

            Hi Douglas – I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I was saying I really liked what you had written on the Euro on the Robin McA thread.

            I said you were “making really crucial points in comments after Robin McAlpine’s article” and pasted in a chunk of what I liked and I also added “please don’t vanish from these threads”. But I won’t hold you back from vanishing if you can’t cope with being appreciated! (-:

      2. This is just bile, endless bile Douglas. Enough.

  5. Richard MacKinnon says:

    “Here hundreds of young men, many of them immigrants, bedecked in replica football jerseys loll indolently on concrete contoured park benches beneath the shade of straggly trees trying to escape the oppressive 96 degree heat”. Sake man. Madrid? No sure?

    1. Crubag says:

      96 degrees could be considered quite oppressive, if you are some extremophile microbe.

      If you are a human being you would be cooked.

      Or is this an early effort to break away from the EU imposed tyranny of the metric?

      http://www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/metric/upload/EU_Metric_Directive_20102.pdf

      But seriously, for people of my are, nothing dates someone so quickly as making reference to an obsolete imperial system. We haven’t used it for nearly 50 years…

  6. Mickael Stewart says:

    A missed opportunity here, I feel. Firstly, the wayward ‘Spanish’ – as Douglas says, it really does undermine the credibility of the article, especially with bizarre caprices such as ‘Indignacios’ and ‘La Moncala’ (sic) when ‘Los indignados’ and ‘La Moncloa’ are already established in Anglophone journalism and should be familiar to any proof-reader, if not Colin Fox himself.

    Secondly, the treatment of the electoral scene is not hugely different from anything I have seen in the Scottish and UK broadsheets. I appreciate that an in-depth analysis is hard not only given the short-stay nature of the visit, but also as the four main parties have entrenched their positions since December and are holding their cards quite tightly to their chests. The first-person perspectives are a nice touch, though – maybe that’s more of what’s needed? Which is to say, it could be useful to get a more direct perspective from someone who has either been involved or observing over a longer period of time. If Colin Fox is here by invitation, maybe he could explore linking up for more contributions along these lines in future?

    To make a brief personal observation based on living here – I think that while Podemos’ success has an obvious relation with economic hardship and endemic corruption at a national level, it derives in part from what’s been happening in municipal politics. There’s a relative dynamism here, albeit fractured in places like Barcelona (where En Comú Podem do not have anywhere near the control over the council as is painted in the foreign press), which goes beyond the bald question of wealth redistribution and into wider areas of city planning and citizen participation. Also in Madrid especially a narrative is emerging which is curiously similar to the SNP’s – which is to say, the deliberate integration of the theme of fiscal competence with that of more traditional social justice. If this bears concrete results, and perhaps more importantly continued electoral success, there could be an interesting lesson for those looking on from the Scottish left.

  7. Douglas says:

    If Colin Fox is the Left in Scotland, no wonder they got totally humped at the last election…

  8. Douglas says:

    Colin and Robin should do a double act…a kind of Scottish Morecame and Wise…

    Robin is glib beyond belief, Colin is just totally ignorant…

    ¿Y vosotros me vais a hablar de España? Vosotros no sabeis cero patatero de España…yo sí, pues me he pasado toda la puta vida leyendo de España y estudiando el español…

    1. Glasgow Clincher says:

      La puta? Who you calling a whore?

  9. florian albert says:

    Now that the votes have been counted, we can see the difference between the hopes of Colin Fox (and Owen Jones) and reality on the ground.

    The PP has strengthened its position a little. Rajoy is likely to remain as Prime Minister.
    Unidos Podemos failed to overtake PSOE. The parties making up UP lost about 3% of votes.
    The turnout was significantly down.

    When you look at how much damage the two main parties have done to Spain, this is very disheartening but fact remains that UP has simply failed to get enough people to vote for them.

    1. Crubag says:

      BBC comment that BREXIT may have put people off voting for more radical alternatives, preferring the comfort of what they know.

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