The Irish Times view on Catalonia’s election: a blow to the right

Regional poll offers comfort to Spain’s centre-left coalition and to the Catalan independence movement

Last Sunday’s elections to Catalonia’s powerful parliament offer comfort both to Spain’s centre-left coalition government, and also to the Catalan independence movement, whose three parties surpassed 50 per cent of the vote for the first time.

The poll, however, is a devastating blow to hard-line Spanish nationalism. Spain's two centre-right parties, the Partido Popular and Ciudadanos, plunged from 40 seats (of 135) to nine, a collapse not compensated by the irruption of the neo-fascist Vox into the parliament with 11 seats.

In contrast, the Catalan franchise of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE-PSC), which opposes Catalan self-determination but has a much more conciliatory and culturally sensitive approach to Catalan identity than the right, almost doubled its representation to 33 seats. Meanwhile, the Catalan sector of the leftist Unidas Podemos, the PSOE’s coalition partner in Madrid, which supports self-determination in principle but opposes independence, held on to its eight seats.

This is a strong performance for Spanish government parties in this rebellious region, especially given Madrid's much-questioned handling of the pandemic. And it is a severe rebuke to the Spanish right, which has been harshly negative about every policy of the Madrid government since Pedro Sánchez was elected prime minister in early 2020, thanks to the abstention, significantly, of the pro-independence Catalan Esquerra Republicana (ERC). Nevertheless, the outcome must be read with caution, as participation was exceptionally low. Given that ERC took as many seats last Sunday as the PSC, and that ERC is also more open to dialogue than the other pro-independence parties, the PSC wants it to join a tripartite government with Unidas Podemos. Coherent as such a coalition appears, the subsequent rift between pro- and anti-independence parties in Catalonia is probably still much too wide to bridge. Instead, Esquerra has pledged to seek to govern with the two more radical pro-independence parties, but would like to draw in the leftists of Podemos, as a channel to Madrid.