Populism and a growing far-right in Europe: How Spanish ultranationalists won their first seats in Catalonia

By Walt Finch

THE FAR-right stormed into the Catalan parliament for the first time as their populist platform won the votes of poorer neighbourhoods in the traditionally left-wing stronghold.

Ultranationalist party Vox broke expectations to claim 11 of the 135 seats on an anti-independence platform that appealed to working-class voters hardest hit by the economic impact of one of the most stringent lockdowns in all of Europe.

Jesús Palomar i Baget, associate professor in the political science department of Universitat de Barcelona, told Redaction Politics that the surge in votes for the ultranationalist Vox came down to two factors; the general rise of the far-right taking place all around Europe, and the result of a populist response in poorer neighbourhoods more affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

[READ MORE: Far-right making inroads in Catalonia on promise to fight independence]

He said: “What is happening with Vox is what’s happening with every country in Europe – the far-right is growing in strength.

“The problem isn’t Vox in Spain or Catalonia but the far-right in general. People are ignoring the growth of the far-right. 

“Nobody in Spain thought that, after being governed by a dictatorship, there would be a party with the same values as this dictator. But when you ignore a problem, you may not realise it but the problem grows.

“Ignoring a problem, or a party, or an ideology, doesn’t mean it will go away. Quite the opposite. You put up a curtain, and you’re not seeing how much it grows. This is surely what’s happened with Vox in Catalonia.”

The second factor, he explained, was that poorer neighbourhoods were worse hit by the global pandemic, and many of these voters turned to a populist platform.

“Vox also did well in neighbourhoods where police and military are known to live, fitting a voter profile of those who live in Catalonia for work reasons but do not consider themselves to be from Catalonia.

“There are a sum of different factors at play. When the socio-economic situation is weak due to a global pandemic, populism takes strength – and all of a sudden you end up with 11 seats for Vox in the parliament.

“The polls didn’t indicate this. If you ask someone if they’re far-right, someone who is working-class, humble, they aren’t going to recognise that they’re far-right. It’s hidden, concealed.”

But the chances of Vox being invited to contribute its eleven seats into a coalition government are practically nil, as none of the other anti-independence parties are keen to deal with them.

The anti-independence Catalan Socialist Party, the Catalan wing of the incumbent party in the Spanish government, narrowly won the popular vote with 23 per cent, followed by the Catalan Republican Left, and the two parties would be natural partners to form a government were it not for their divergence on the issue of Catalan independence.

It is the first time that the pro-independence parties collectively received over 50 per cent of the vote.

Despite coming second in the popular vote, the Catalan Republican Left is best positioned to form a government and assume the presidency as it has the widest options for negotiations in Catalonia’s kaleidoscope of political parties divided not just by left and right but more importantly by pro and anti Catalan independence.

Currently, the Catalan Republican Left is in a coalition government with Together for Catalonia, a centre-right party, but both pro-independence, and this is one configuration that could form the basis of the next government.

Professor Palomar said: “It’s quite difficult for a pro-independence party to form a government with an anti-independence party. Maybe it’s even impossible.”

“The most likely government is the same as the one have now, with Together for Catalunya and the Catalan Republican Left, but this time with the roles reversed, so Catalan Republican Left with the presidency and Together for Catalonia the more junior partner, with support from CUP, who are independentista and anti-capitalist.”

Featured Image: Piqsels

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