So it’s adéu Mariano Rajoy. Catalonia, and the rest of Spain for that matter, won’t miss you. The Spanish Prime Minister, whose sole political talent is to make Theresa May seem like she’s listening, has lost a vote of no-confidence in the Cortes, the Spanish parliament. The vote came after the conclusion of a long running corruption scandal in which Rajoy’s party, the Partido Popular, was mired up to its neck. Earlier this week a judge ruled that the Partido Popular had financially benefited from the scandal, involving kickbacks for government contracts. Rajoy himself had been called to give evidence in the case, and the judge later described his evidence as unconvincing. Which is about as close as a Spanish judge is going to get to calling the Prime Minister a liar liar pants on fire.
In Scotland we complain – quite rightly – about corruption in local authorities, but corruption in Scotland is amateur small beer stuff compared to the blatant fraud that goes on in Spain. The so-called Gürtel case is the biggest corruption scandal since Spain was restored to democracy. The name comes from the code name given to the case by the investigating officers. At the centre of the case is businessman Francisco Correa, whose surname means belt in Spanish. Gürtel means belt in German. Correa and his associates were accused of bribing Partido Popular politicians in order to secure government contracts. One assessment of the case in the left leaning Público newspaper claimed that up to € 120 million (£105 million) in public money was lost due to the fraud. On 8 May this year Correa was sentenced to 51 years in prison for his part in the scandal.
Also sentenced earlier this month was Luis Barcenas, the former treasurer of the Partido Popular and a close political friend and ally of Mariano Rajoy. Barcenas was sentenced to 33 years in jail. It was after Rajoy had been called as a witness in Barcena’s defence that a judge remarked that the Prime Minister’s evidence was unconvincing. Barcenas held some € 48 million in secret Swiss bank accounts, and operated the Partido Popular’s system of double book keeping in order to hide illegal donations, money from bribes, and kickbacks from business people for whom PP politicians had done favours. Barcenas made regular payments from a slush fund to PP politicians, including eleven annual payments of € 25,000 directly to Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy has always denied taking illegal funds.
One reason for Rajoy’s intransigence over Catalonia was in order to distract public attention from the Gürtel Case. It suited Rajoy to turn the political problem of Catalonia into a full-blown crisis. It meant that people were talking about the independence movement in Catalonia and the threat to the unity of the Spanish state and were not talking about the stench of corruption which enveloped the ruling Spanish party. This week however, the corruption scandals finally caught up with Rajoy, and the opposition Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) was able to secure sufficient votes in the Cortes in order to pass a motion of no-confidence in Rajoy’s minority government. The PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez will now be sworn in as Prime Minister, heading a minority government of his own.
The pro-independence Basque and Catalan parties and the anti-austerity Podemos party all backed the PSOE motion. Notably the right wing Spanish nationalist and populist Ciudadanos party, which has campaigned on a platform of opposing corruption, voted with the Partido Popular. The leader of Ciudadanos released a statement saying that his party was not in the business of supporting nationalists and populists, except Spanish nationalists and populists naturally.
Pedro Sánchez has promised that unlike Rajoy he will engage in dialogue with the Catalan independence parties. Some in the English language media have hailed this as a potential breakthrough in the Catalan crisis, however the reaction from Catalonia itself has been rather more muted. For the Catalans, the PSOE is simply the lesser of two evils. The PSOE is every bit as much committed to the unity of the Spanish state as the PP is. Its Catalan branch, the PSC, has allied itself with the rightists in the PP and Ciutadans (the Catalan branch of Ciudadanos) to oppose independence and a referendum. There may be a difference in tone from the new government in Madrid, there may be a difference in tactics, but many in Catalonia suspect that there will be no change in its determination to resist Catalan independence.
In a statement on Twitter, exiled president Carles Puigdemont said:
Si nosaltres fóssim de venjança, avui ja ens podríem donar per satisfets. Però com que som de justícia, avui encara no podem celebrar res. Ens queda una llarga lluita i un llarg camí per vèncer les injustícies, que són moltes i persistents.
“If we were seeking vengeance, then today we could be satisfied. But as we are for justice, then today there is nothing to celebrate. We are still left with a long struggle and a long path in order to defeat injustices, which are many and persistent.”
The radical pro-independence CUP party has signalled that the investiture of Pedro Sánchez means that nothing significant has changed. The Catalan political prisoners remain in prison. Those in exile still face extradition proceedings. The party released a brief statement saying that “The actors change, the problem remains the same.” Meanwhile an editorial in the pro-independence Catalan newspaper Vilaweb notes that the problems of the Spanish state which pushed the Catalans into the referendum and declaration of independence in October last year have not magically disappeared.
The reality for the new Spanish government is that very little is likely to change. Pedro Sánchez now leads a minority government with just 84 deputies out of 350, half of the parliamentary support enjoyed by the last PSOE Prime Minister, Luis Zapatero. Sánchez has promised elections later in the year, but intends to govern as a minority government for the coming months. Given the electoral arithmetic, his freedom of movement is limited, and parties like Ciudadanos, which hopes to benefit from right wing votes following the fall from grace of the Partido Popular, will be pressing for an early election. The new Spanish government will be fragile, and pressures from the Spanish right and opponents of Catalan independence within its own ranks mean that it is unlikely that there will be significant concessions on the main issue for Catalonia, allowing the Catalans a legal referendum on independence. The pressure from the Spanish right has already started.
It is however interesting to note that two years ago, after the last Spanish elections, Pedro Sánchez failed to become Prime Minister because he was unwilling to engage with the anti-austerity party Podemos, and because he refused to accept the support of pro-independence parties. And yet here we are now, with Sánchez in power and counting on the support of Podemos and the Catalan independence parties. Nothing huge might change, but the election of Pedro Sánchez at least cracks open the door to negotiations and dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona, a door which was firmly locked and bolted by an instransigent Mariano Rajoy.
I’m off to Spain this weekend for a week to visit with friends. So I won’t be posting anything until I get back. If Sam (Macart) has the time and inclination he may treat you to some of his words of wisdom.
Mapa Gàidhlig na h-Alba / Gaelic Map of Scotland
The Gaelic map of Scotland is now available, the cost is £15 plus £7 P&P within the UK. Please note P&P outwith the UK is more expensive. P&P to Europe is £10, P&P to the rest of the world is £15. If you require multiple copies of the map, you only need pay once for P&P, up to 3 copies of the map which is the maximum that can fit in one postal tube.
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The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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