Euskadi – out of the left field

Following the seismic events in Scotland a bombshell from the Basque Country.
With an electoral ban only lifted on May 5,Bildu, a new leftish Basque nationalist party, made astonishing progress in municipal elections on Sunday.
The forensic Syniadau has the detail.
In the Basque autonomous region it claimed 953 seats v. the 872 of the EAJ/PNV. EAJ/PNV won on votes however, 31% to 26%.
In addition in the “disputed” province of Navarre (outside the Basque autonomous community) Bildu took 13% of the vote and 7 seats.
In context Bildu are a reconstructed Sortu, itself a (banned) peaceful descendant of Batasuna, ETA’s political wing.
So, formed on April 3, unbanned on May the 5th, 26% of the vote on May the 22nd. I’d welcome comments from those closer to Basque politics on how on earth this happened…..

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  • summerhill

    People voted for them, maybe?

  • Drumlins Rock

    As they say best way to promote something is to ban it…
    I guess the Basque region is seeing the same thing happen NI did in the 90s, with the Batasuna vote almost reflecting Sinn Feins, (new label, same contents, skip this “new” party nonsense Dewi) and the established nationalist party paying the price, so it is a massive jump from say 16% to 26%, will they now make as much use of the vote as Sinn Fein did?

  • SDLP supporter

    Don’t know much about the Basque situation other than from the occasional Paddy Woodworth article in the ‘Irish Times’ and his book. So I hesitate to draw parallels with our own benighted situation.

    Maybe it’s a bit like the ‘sneaking regarder’ syndrome I get sometimes get when canvassing in South Belfast: people who tell me something like: “I always voted for youse (SDLP) when the Provos were killing people (fastidious shudder) but, now that they’ve stopped, I vote Sinn Fein.”

    Some of them almost seem to want to be congratulated for their insightfulness and perspicacity and I always coo sympathetically to them and say something like “Poor diddums, did the body bags on the street etc. etc. all those years upset you?”

    Yes, I accept the democratic vote but I’m bitter and disillusioned at what I consider to be moral ambiguity of a most despicable kind from ‘Hollow Men’ , but that’s the majority of Northern nationalists nowadays for you.

    I much prefer to meet the up-front SF voter who unequivocally supported the ‘armed struggle’ and all its consequences from Day One.

    A bit like McGuinness guldering at Mark Carruthers on Radio Ulster Monday morning (“you should be ashamed of yourself”) for asking what was the difference between what the dissidents are doing now (bombing the Santander Bank in Derry) and what the Provos did for 24 years.

  • slappymcgroundout

    “Yes, I accept the democratic vote but I’m bitter and disillusioned at what I consider to be moral ambiguity of a most despicable kind from ‘Hollow Men’ , but that’s the majority of Northern nationalists nowadays for you.

    I much prefer to meet the up-front SF voter who unequivocally supported the ‘armed struggle’ and all its consequences from Day One.”

    Don’t want to derail the thread, but is it “moral ambiguity”? I think that your “sneaking regard” says it much better. And in terms of not their own personal moral objection but instead them not being able to justify their sneaking regard to others and so their vote went the way and then the other when the difficulty of having to explain was removed.

  • SDLP Supporter

    That’s an interestingly flippant way of interpreting what the potential voters were telling you during the canvass.

    I also met such people on our canvass in North Antrim, but what they were saying was that while they once voted for SDLP, only Sinn Féin is listening to the people and doing the work on the ground, and that’s why they’ve switched.

    They didn’t just switch because “now they’ve stopped”. This is why SDLP is struggling so much to recover.

  • SDLP supporter


    Don’t doubt that there have been some pretty poor SDLP representatives, just as there are quite a few excellent ones. The same goes for Sinn Fein or any other party. One of the strengths of the electoral system is that if you don’t do the work on the ground you’ll get voted out.In North Antrim it’s clear there was little or no SDLP branch organisation, particularly in Ballymoney or Moyle. Nearly all the dud SDLP elected representatives are gone and, sadly, some effective ones as well.

    Forgive my scepticism about your “listening to the people” vibe. The Provos didn’t listen to the people for decades before the 1994 ceasefire.

    Regeneration of the SDLP can be summarised in a nutshell: all elected representatives must have a branch structure backing them and it’s the job of the Leadership to ensure that happens. It’s no longer good enough to say ‘we’re the Party that doesn’t support killing people’.

  • I don’t know much about the Basque situation, but I find it hard to condemn their resort to violence as immoral when the Spanish government was banning political parties that evidently had a huge level of popular support behind them.

  • syniadau

    Bildu’s support didn’t come at the expense of the “established nationalist party”, Drumlins Rock. The EAJ-PNV vote just about held up; but if we add together the votes of the various small left wing parties in 2007, Bildu got about 8% more again than anyone expected. The party that lost out by the same amount was the Spanish Socialists, the PSE-EE. So the swing was from people who had previously voted “unionist” (i.e. for a Spanish Party) voting instead for a “nationalist” (i.e pro-Basque independence) party.

    That is one hell of a shift, and that’s why Bildu’s performance broke new ground.

  • Valenciano

    Dewi, strictly speaking Bildu aren’t a new party, in fact they’re not even a party at all, they’re an electoral alliance led by Eusko Alkartasuna, a longstanding legal party which already had over 200 council seats. To that was added a breakaway from the United Left alliance, another longstanding group in the region. So it’s inaccurate to present them simply as a reconstructed Batasuna.

    That doesn’t explain why they did so well. The first and easiest explanation would be that support for Basque independence may simply have gone up. ETA have been largely dormant for a few years so those who in the past wouldn’t have voted for Basque nationalism for fear of backing ETA no longer have that reason. But also Spain to many must appear a broken state, with the economy on the rails, massive unemployment and street protests. Against that backdrop, it must be tempting for many to break away.

    The results though must also be seen in the overall context. The ruling socialists did disastrously badly and hemorrhaged support (literally) left, right and centre. Despite all that the People’s Party didn’t do all that well. While they made gains everywhere it was hardly a resounding success and post elections projections by the main Spanish daily El Pais suggested that on those figures they’d be short of an overall majority. Leftist and nationalist groups like Alkartasuna/Bildu were perfectly placed to exploit that disenchantment with the political class.

    Elsewhere there were similar stories. The socialists lost control of Barcelona city council to the Catalan Convergence and Union for the first time, while in Valencia the Valencian Nationalist Bloc made a breakthrough, winning their first seats in the regional assembly and polling nearly 10% on Valencia city council, enough to give them their first seats in a region not known for its separatist tendencies. The flip side of regional separatism, the new Union, Progress and Democracy party, which argues for more centralism and less concessions to regionalist/nationalist groupings, did pretty well, entering the Madrid assembly in strength and winning council seats all around Spain.

    There’s an interesting period up ahead, with an election next March, or quite possibly in the Autumn resulting in a new right wing government. Such a scenario could be good for regional separatists, who’d be able to make political capital out of such a scenario.

  • lamhdearg

    bit of a chicken and the egg one that. what came first bombs or bans, looking at the history of eta on the internet it seems the bombs came first, Maybe one of the eta types based up in the gealic quarter (falls road) can tell us different.

  • Dewi

    It’s the shift to nationalism that’s interesting and significant. What does the Spanish state do this time?

  • Scáth Shéamais

    lamhdhearg, ETA was formed during Franco’s reign so it should go without saying that bans came first.

  • Valenciano

    Scáth Shéamais, not for the related political parties. Batasuna was legal until the early 2000s. They had a simple choice then: democracy or violence and they chose the latter.

  • Still trying to come to terms with “seismic events in Scotland”: what were they, precisely? You couldn’t be anticipating the collapse of Salmondology once the bills come in, could you?

    Ignore the problem of financing health and education: that’s small beer (and the Ingleezis will, of course, continue to deliver the chequelets). In the not too distant future, turn off the nukes, the Scottish parliament will even be wondering how to keep the lights on. Hence the fluff about the Icelandic connector: up to a billion sterling of whose money? And the logic of the connector is that — wait for it — Scotland gets discount geothermal power, and so is able to sell hydro-electric and wind-power to the rest of the UK. Simples!

    Meanwhile, the Spanish state has been a whole lot more adept at managing regionalism than the UK. Anyway, anyone looking for analogies should note that Catalonia is a far more satisfying model than the Basque Country, if only because one is viable, the other an economic basket case (sorry! it slipped out!).

  • Valenciano

    Dewi, they do nothing. It’s hard to say what will happen at this point as it’s hardly a normal situation with the economic shipwreck that is Spain. It’s a bit similar to last year’s UK election: the centre left party is screwed but the centre right party has also failed to fire the imagination. Rajoy is a poor leader and it’s a miracle that he’s survived to fight a third election. He’s failed to sort out the corruption problems in the PP, screwed up badly in a couple of northern regions like Asturias and Navarre where the PP vote has gone elsewhere and under him the PP in general cling to a set of reactionary policies that are out of touch with where Spain’s at. That means that the PP will win next year’s election but without any great enthusiasm for them. That leave ample scope for the protest vote to go elsewhere.

  • Dewi

    “Ignore the problem of financing health and education: that’s small beer (and the Ingleezis will, of course, continue to deliver the chequelets)”

    It’s that famous economic caveat – “excluding oil”..which has been included in every Unionist narrative of Scotland’s economic situation since when I was dwt.
    The truth, of course, is that Scotland has been subsidising the rest of us for decades.

    Thanks Valenciano – interesting. Who gets independence first? Catalonia, Scotland or Euskadi?

  • Blissett

    Marvellous result.
    Wouldnt be stunned to see the spanish react with some arrests/bannings though, unfortunately

  • syniadau

    Going off at a slight tangent, I was interested in what Valenciano said about the Valencian Nationalist Bloc. Compared with next-door Catalunya, where independence has become a major topic, Valencia has until now shown very little sign of wanting more autonomy or independence.

    So what are the reasons for the VNB’s success now? Are they cultural/language related (like the decision not to show TV3 outside Catalunya)? Or economic because of the general situation in Spain? Or what?

  • No, Dewi, the “it’s our oil” doesn’t work, alas. Consider the “national waters” pasa doble — or look it up. If it hadn’t been for pollution arguments, the oil companies could have cleaned up [sic]. Or, rather (as always) we’d have had to clean up after them. By the same token, I could be arguing for “East Anglian Gas”.

    From the “oil subsidy” then subtract the nuke subsidy, paid for by every GB household over many, many years.

    Then the odd £2-3,000 per Alban capita, from the general UK revenue.

    Now still try and sell it to the Scottish and English public. I can guess which way the hard-heads would turn.

    Much the same is true of the Basque regions (both sides of the frontier). Complaining about central government’s neglect works only so long as you don’t count central government’s pay-outs.

    Anyone noticed the local (Scots and Basque) lack of criticisms of the EU agricultural fund? Now, is that a subsidy? And whence commeth the moolah?

  • Tomas Gorman

    Maybe a bit dogmatic but……..

    Euskadi only refers to the three province autonomous zone. The whole basque Country translates as Euskal Herria. This is relevant as Bildu stood both within these three provinces of Euskal Herria and others like Navarra (Nafaroa). The entire nation of Euskal Herria is made up of seven provinces, six in the Spanish State and one in France I think.

    Now why the upturn in numbers. One, that they are able to stand legally thus those who support independence feel that they can vote meaningfully. Also, the independent left helped for a coalition thus broadening it’s appeal and voter numbers. Lastly, due to a myriad of reasons, supporter for independence appears to be on the up.

  • Dewi

    “No, Dewi, the “it’s our oil” doesn’t work, alas.”
    Narrative as stylish as always Malcolm but give me some facts?

  • Dewi

    Tomas – 4 “in” Spain, 3 “in” France.

  • Valenciano

    @Tomas, the area ETA claim does include 7 provinces. The 3 of the Basque autonomous community, Navarre and 3 in France.

    @syniadau, while Bildu’s success is down to a multitude of factors, that of the BNV/Valencian Nationalist Bloc is mainly down to disenchantment with the main parties. The Socialists, the PSOE, are in Fianna Fail style waters, blamed by everyone for not anticipating the crisis and then mishandling the reaction to it. The conservative PP as well as failing to fire the imagination have been involved in a corruption scandal in Valencia and had one of their biggest declines anywhere.

    The problem with Valencianisme compared to Catalanism is that it’s always been historically split between Blauverists and Pan-Catalanists. The former, mainly of a right wing bent, are quite parochial in outlook are very hostile to any kind of Catalan Countries idea. Further, they insist that Valencia and its symbols, particularly the language, are distinct from Catalan. It’s an idea as stupid as claiming that Hiberian English is a completely different language from American English but it’s gained a suprising amound of electoral support in the past, as much as 20% for the main party Unio Valenciana in the late 80s/early 90s. They’ve been effectively cannabilised by the PP in the last 10-12 years but the ongoing hostility to being “taken over” by Catalunya has ensured that separatism has remained a minority interest. In that context the swing to a more pan-catalanist party like the Bloc is significant as it gives them the chance to build a support base for the future.

    Dewi asked who gets independence first. I’d definitely say that Scotland would get it before any of the Iberian regions. The main difference between the SNP and Bildu or the CiU is the language issue. While the SNP support gaelic, it’s not really a major policy platform. For the Basque and Catalan parties support for Basque and Catalan is. The problem there though is immigration. In the last couple of decades there have been increasing numbers of immigrants in Barcelona, Bilbao and the other large cities. Those immigrants often come from Latin American countries and don’t want either themselves or their kids to spend time learning a minority language, rather than Spanish, which they already speak. That’s led to a backlash against nationalist parties and before the economic crisis, support for the PSOE had been growing in those regions at the expense of nationalist parties.

  • Dewi @ 9:24 pm: Fair enough. Much of the argument is fairly summarised by wikipedia. We’ll not agree, so leave it at that.

    The “facts” are that the “United Kingdom” exists, as it has since the Union with Scotland, as a very inefficient way of recycling the wealth of London around the rest of the Saxon hegemony.

    That was brought home to me, forcibly, visiting London’s Mansion House a couple of weeks back. Now: what might one expect in the treasury? The odd acknowledgement of the ‘Derry (note the ‘ — it is significant here) connection? Not a chance.

  • Dewi

    Valenciano – from my visits to Catalonia I get the impression that the language issue is largely settled. In the Basque country parental choice is heavily in favour of Basque language schooling.
    “We’ll not agree, so leave it at that”
    The facts in this particular debate should not really be a matter of opinion.
    For starters….

  • lamhdearg

    of topic and single comment on subject, have you any interest in fridays game?.

  • Dewi

    Yes – everyone doubts it but tournament will grow and be great.

  • Valenciano

    Dewi, the language issue is settled but that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy with it and won’t vote accordingly. In my experience foreigners were in the main unhappy. Learning any language requires a big investment of time and usually money. They’d usually ask why they or their kids had to learn a small regional language which had no use outside the immediate area. There was also a kind of West Lothian style question on the language issue asked by people from other Spanish regions. Basically the argument was why should a person from Madrid who moves to Valencia have to pass an additional language test when a person from Valencia who moved to Madrid didn’t have to do the same?

    An example of the backlash against it can be seen in the electoral results of the UPyD, Union Progress and Democracy, a new party whose main policy platform is halting what they see as pandering to regional nationalisms. They polled nearly half a million votes and on that showing will gain parliamentary seats next year, which could give them disproportionate influence in a hung parliament situation as they’re a more natural ally for the PP than the regional nationalists.

  • Dewi

    “Basically the argument was why should a person from Madrid who moves to Valencia have to pass an additional language test when a person from Valencia who moved to Madrid didn’t have to do the same?”

    There’s a test Valenciano? I didn’t realise that? Elaborate if you have time please.

  • Valenciano

    Yes for public sector jobs, candidates must have achieved a demonstrable level of Catalan knowledge, usually at least intermediate level, equivalent to 210 hours worth of study on a language course.

    There’s an example here for admin assistants where among the requisites is “Fotocòpia de la documentació acreditativa d’estar en possessió del certificat de coneixements mitjans de llengua catalana, certificat C, o superior” (Photocopy of a recognised document showing Catalan knowledge of intermediate or higher.)

    You and I might have no problem with those requirements but it does cause a bit of resentment among people from other Spanish regions who point out that they have to invest the time and money in learning Catalan whereas Catalans can simply go to Madrid and get a job without having to study any additional language.

  • lamhdearg

    “Yes for public sector jobs, candidates must have achieved a demonstrable level of Catalan knowledge, usually at least intermediate level, equivalent to 210 hours worth of study on a language course.”
    That sounds like the s.f. plan for Ulster, (replacing Catalan with Gaelic).

  • Dewi

    To work then – that’s reasonable. I doubt that a monolingual Catalan would get a job in Madrid without decent Castillian to be fair.