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New Year, same old political problems for Spain

Edward Anderson
January 4, 2022

Amidst all the New Year cheer (or lack of), a quiet dignified death took place in Barcelona and with it, another sign of Spain's inability to arrest its industrial decline, writes Edward Anderson.

After 42 years and three million cars created, the last Nissan car rolled off the factory floor in Barcelona and with it, 2,500 jobs were gone.

Whilst workers in Sunderland can breathe easy this year (much to the dismay of remainers in London who no doubt would have loved to gleefully celebrate the loss of well-paying working class jobs), it is another damning collapse of one of the few industries in Spain that had provided something that the sand, sea and sangria model can never provide. That being, stable jobs that allow people to build families and with it, a life worth living.

The current government can be criticised to some extent but really, this is the model Spain tied itself to after the 2008 recession and even after a global pandemic trashing the already failing tourist model, no political party shows any sign of admitting this has been a disaster.

In Madrid, Isabel Ayuso is proclaiming the success of her reign after glowing press coverage in the Washington Post from Henry Olsen claiming "Many young American conservatives yearn for a smart, serious and principled leader like her". I'm sure this glowing press had nothing to do with her going on a summer smoozefest in Washington whilst her own party was holding their Party Conference in Valencia.

Henry could have pointed to the victory of PP Regional Leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo in Galicia who got 48 per cent and increased their seats after 11 years of being in control but Feijóo is not a liberal like Ayuso, and Galicia isn't as 'sexy' as Madrid, so I guess that won't do for the Washington Post. A more obvious point is that Madrid benefits from being the capital of Spain and if we moved all the government jobs to Zaragoza those private sector jobs would move to Zaragoza faster than you can say "a relaxing cup of café con leche in Plaza Mayor".

That isn't to say the political picture is rosier for the leading left wing party PSOE either. After being pumped in Madrid in May, they now face another election in February in the region of Castile y León, where they currently are on course to be tied with PP in seats but short of a majority. The real kingmakers will be, as they are rapidly becoming across the nation, Vox.

More worryingly for PSOE is their complete inability to recover in their former Andalucía stronghold. For 36 years from the Andalusian Parliament opening in 1982 until 2018, PSOE enjoyed a fiefdom that was the electoral foundation of the party and a springboard for national dominance. Now, they are on course for just 25 per cent in the 2022 election, this would represent another historic low and mean it will have been 18 years since PSOE increased their vote share or seats in a region that was once synonymous with PSOE.

Economically dependent on a model that can never provide the housing or job security necessary for Spaniards to have children, trapped in a currency that makes them uncompetitive compared to their more affluent neighbours, is there any hope for Spain?

Probably not but a new phenomenon is arising in Spain that if not currently the mainstream of Spanish politics, is at least forming a better critique of the direction of Spain than currently on offer from the various versions of liberalism.

España Vaciada (Empty Spain), a collection of what can be called localist parties who have now coalesced together around a common platform after the shock election of Tomás Guitarte from the province of Teruel in the last national election in 2019. Their platform is one that attempts to draw attention to the hollowing out of the Spanish interior and with it Spain as a whole.

But it is not just the emptiness of the land that they are seeking to repopulate but the political space also. For the solutions they propose (rebuilding the transport and infrastructure links to connect their towns to the main cities, investing in technology so as to make 'teletrabajo' a viable option) are the only serious suggestions so far that are going to allow the generation currently trapped in their parents' home to find an affordable house and arrest Spain´s national demographic decline.

In the February election of Castile y León, it is Soria Ya representing the rapidly depopulating province (less than 100,000 people cover a landmass of over 10,000 km/sq) that lies between Burgos, Zaragoza and Madrid. They may not have all the answers but they are at least asking the right questions about what future Spain wants outside of the sheen of Madrid and Barcelona. Should they be successful in breaking into the regional Assembly of Castile y León in February, there might be hope for Spain yet.

Having previously lived in Catalonia during the 2017 Catalan Referendum, its Unilateral Declaration of Independence and election, Edward is currently based in Madrid writing about Spanish and European politics.
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