Barcelona (ACN).- For the last 30 years, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) and the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) have been Catalonia’s two main political forces, running the main public institutions and getting electoral results far higher than the rest of the parties. However, since 2006, electoral support for the PSC started to decline, although it managed to keep most of its institutional power until the last electoral round at municipal, Catalan and Spanish level. In the last Catalan elections the party obtained its worst results ever, with 28 MPs in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament and 18.38% of the votes. In addition, the party lost almost half of its votes compared to 2003. In late 2010, the PSC abandoned the Catalan Government, which it had been running in a three-party coalition with the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) and the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) since 2003. Two years later and following a leadership change last December, the party seems to be continuing its nose-dive and is very likely to obtain much worse results than in the last elections. Polls predict the PSC could get between 22 and 15 MPs on the 25th of November, which would be an absolute disaster for them. Depending on the results obtained by the People’s Party and ERC (polls give them between 16 and 19 MPs), the PSC could face its worst nightmare: being the third or even the fourth-largest party in the Catalan Parliament. Part of the crisis is due to the decline of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) throughout Spain, to which the PSC is federated. In fact, the PSC’s hierarchic ties with the PSOE make many Catalans reluctant about giving their support as they believe that the PSC obeys orders from Madrid. At the same time, past agreements with independence supporters make many pro-Spanish-identity voters not trusting them either.
The PSC’s Secretary General and main candidate, Pere Navarro, said that he is aware they are not “in their best moment”, but he believes that “a revolution” can happen and contradict the predictions. Navarro became the PSC candidate after a rushed primary election despite having had 10 months to plan it, which resulted in no real alternative and insisted on the PSC’s grey image of a leadership controlling the party and distributing positions. As the party’s candidate for Catalan President, Navarro presents the PSC as the left-wing alternative to the CiU – which runs the Catalan Government – and the PP – which runs the Spanish Government – in order to reverse these adverse polls. Navarro is asking Catalans to concentrate their left-wing votes on the PSC to stop further budget cuts on public services from the CiU and the PP. However, the next elections will also be a sort of plebiscite on Catalonia’s right to self-determination and on the organisation of its own independence referendum. After having gradually marginalised its more pro-Catalan-identity members in the last year, the PSC is defending Spanish unity but also supporting a great Constitutional change that would transform Spain into a federal and pluri-national State, recognising Catalonia’s nationhood. However, Navarro is aware that about three quarters of Catalans support the organisation of a self-determination referendum (while around 57% would nowadays support independence). For the PSC the solution lies in this Constitutional change, which should also include the possibility of holding a self-determination referendum. Therefore, the PSC defends what they call “a legal independence referendum”, after the required reform of the Spanish Constitution. The problem is that the PP does not want this constitutional change, neither a large part of PSOE members throughout Spain.
The PSC’s historical crisis
The PSC has traditionally defended a federal Spain and the recognition of Catalonia’s national identity. However, since the gradual rise of Spanish nationalism, especially following Aznar’s second government (2000-2004) and the consequent rise in Catalan nationalism and support for independence, the PSC has found itself in the uncomfortable middle ground, especially in the last 5 years. The PSC has traditionally played an essential role in the Catalan political and social life, as one of the two big parties in Catalonia for the last 30 years. This party somehow put together the Socialists defending Catalan nationhood, language and culture and the Socialists born in other parts of Spain who therefore have a Spanish identity. This party was created in 1977 and brought together the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) in Catalonia and Catalan Social-Democrat parties, although at Spanish-level the PSC is seen as a regional federation of the PSOE. This union was known in Catalan political jargon as the PSC’s ‘two souls’. These ‘two souls’ played an essential role in ensuring social cohesion and preventing Catalonia from having two separate language communities. However, as nationalist tensions began rising in the early 2000s and the identities became more polarised, the PSC tried to hold as many public offices as possible, therefore making agreements with all sorts of parties and trying to please as many as possible.
In 2003, led by its pro-Catalan President Pasqual Maragall, the PSC reached a government agreement with the independence-supporters ERC, which was repeated in 2006. In addition, between 2003 and 2006, the Catalan Statute of Autonomy (Catalonia’s main law) was reformed over a tedious process, during which many citizens became bored of it. The most pro-Spanish-identity voters of the PSC did not understand the agreement with the ERC or the long Statute debate either, and run away from the party. In addition, with a new leadership, after 2006, the more pro-Catalan-identity members were marginalised from top positions, making many pro-Catalan voters leave. However, while this was happening, the PSC continued to run the Catalan Government with the ERC. Additionally, the Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero did not defend the Catalan Statute of Autonomy enough, which was trimmed by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2010. All this resulted in many voters being confused as they were considering the PSC’s attitude to be incoherent. Consequently, the party detached from a large part of Catalan society and had a grey and bureaucratic image of being too attached to public offices. On top of this, there was the economic crisis, with the PSC and the PSOE both being in control of the Catalan and Spanish Governments. Unemployment figures rocketed as well as the public deficit. One year after Zapatero quit the Spanish Government and two years after the PSC quit the Catalan Executive, the PSC might be facing its worst results ever on Sunday. Last December’s leadership change was not perceived as a real change, as a person close to the former leaders took control. In the last few years, prominent PSC members, all of them from the pro-Catalan faction, have quit the party, after making very vocal criticisms.
A federal and pluri-national Spain, and a legal referendum
The PSC’s new Secretary General and candidate for Catalan President, Pere Navarro, is aware that the next elections are firstly about the relationship between Catalonia and Spain. He has improved the PSC’s traditional proposal of a federal and pluri-national Spain, and this managed to make the PSOE’s Secretary General, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba support him. Now the PSOE leadership is also asking for a deep Constitutional reform, which should result in finding a better fitting for Catalonia regarding both its national identity and its funding. However, Navarro also proposes the organisation of a self-determination referendum, which is new in the PSC’s programme. Navarro’s referendum should be legal and backed by the Spanish Constitution, which would need to be reformed accordingly. However, Rubalcaba disagrees and refuses to allow this referendum to happen. Nonetheless, in a campaign rally, Navarro asked Catalans to vote for him as he said he will be more able to convince Rubalcaba than the incumbent Catalan President and leader of the CiU, Artur Mas, would be able to convince the current Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy (PP). According to Navarro, Mas and Rajoy “are not capable of negotiation”. On the contrary, they are in “a war of flags” between Spanish and Catalan nationalism.
The PSC’s own enemies
Prominent members of the PSOE have been visiting Catalonia during the official campaign. However, they have created a few controversies, which have probably not helped Navarro. The former President of Aragón and currently Organisation Secretary of the PSOE, Marcelino Iglesias, who is known for being one of the greatest supporters of a federal Spain within the party and for the recognition of Catalonia’s national identity, compared Catalan nationalism with “German and French hyper-nationalism”, “which created 100 million deaths during the two World Wars”. Since Catalan nationalists consider themselves to have given a lot of evidence of being peaceful and democratic, these words were not appreciated, especially by the most pro-Catalan identity PSC voters. Furthermore, some Spanish nationalist media had previously compared Catalan nationalists to the Nazis. Navarro had stated that Iglesias’ words had “not been adequate”. Besides, in Catalonia, the former President of Castilla-la-Mancha, former President of the Spanish Parliament and former Minister of Defence, José Bono, stated that “when being German and Jew [at the same time] started to be suspicious, things started to go wrong”. Journalists immediately asked Bono if he was comparing Catalonia’s current situation to that of Germany in the 1930s. Bono said an emphatic ‘no’, but he added that “identities are shared” and people “can be Catalan and Spanish”. Navarro replied that the party is “not represented by those who have retired”, as Bono has left public offices, and added that “there are many things about Bono that I do not share”.
“Independent from powerful people and the markets”
The PSC’s number 3, Antonio Balmón, said in a campaign rally that what he wants is “to be independent from Berlin, not Madrid; to be independent from powerful people, from the markets, and from those frivolous and cynical”. The PSOE’s President and President of Andalucía, José Antonio Griñán, also warned that Catalonia’s independence would mean “isolation and a jump into the abyss”. In addition, he reminded voters that polls in Andalucía had predicted he would lose the office, but he managed to reverse them. According to him, the PSC can do the same. Navarro asks his supporters to concentrate the left-wing vote on the PSC and to “rebel” against the forecasts. He also states that the PSC is the only party able to stop the budget cuts approved by the CiU and the PP, and he asks the ICV-EUiA voters to support him. He also accused the ICV-EUiA leader, Joan Herrera, of having contributed to Mas’ independence process, as Herrera supports the organisation of a self-determination referendum in the next term. “Mas wants an independent Catalonia, but we want a decent Catalonia”, Navarro stated. However, Navarro also stated that the PSC will not form a Spanish-unity front with the PP, as the Spanish nationalists and Conservatives refuse to modify the Constitution and deny Catalans the right to self-determination.