The chasm with Catalonia grows wider

The drive to seize back devolved regional powers is strongest in Castile, Aragon and the Madrid region

Do many in Spain wish to return to the centralised administration system that was pervasive, for instance, during General Franco’s regime? Well, it would appear that way, even after nearly forty years of devolved regional powers. If we are to believe the latest report published by CIS, the Spanish government’s polling body, in Spain as a whole only 16 per cent would like the central government to scrap the system currently in place. But when you also consider that 12.1 per cent of respondents say they would like to see some powers taken back from Spain’s autonomous governments, you get a more significant 28.1 per cent. If we zero in on certain regions, we soon discover that some parts of Spain openly oppose the current system of autonomous regions. Specifically, nearly 50 per cent of respondents in Madrid, Cantabria, Castile and Aragon favour some form of regression. In Madrid’s case, for example, supporters of a recentralised administration outnumber those who prefer the current system or might even like regions to be granted additional powers.

Paradoxically, in the upcoming regional elections many Spaniards who oppose the current system will go to the polls and, for the first time, they will elect MPs (i.e. Vox) who propose scrapping the regional parliaments. It is not unlike the situation you get in the European parliament with eurosceptic groups, such as France’s National Front and Britain’s UKIP. We will see whether Spain’s political system can withstand the surge of Vox, the far-right party that longs for the mythical Spain from a time now long gone, with one single parliament, one central government and fifty provincial prefects.

The CIS poll paints a picture of a country split into three. We have already discussed the first group: those who favour recentralisation can be found mainly in Castile and Aragon, a region that claims to be a historic nation in its Statute, but now wants to relinquish self-rule. In the second group we have the regions that are contented with the current state of affairs: the southern regions (Andalusia, Extremadura and Murcia), the Canary Islands and some regions where a language other than Spanish is also spoken (Galicia, Valencia and the Balearics). In the last of the three groups we have Catalonia and the Basque Country, followed at a distance by Navarre, where the general feeling is quite the opposite: most respondents would like to be granted either greater powers or full independence.

Spain’s future politics will also need to be explained in terms of the public’s preferences on this matter. Any debate about a constitutional reform will also have to take into consideration that, according to the CIS poll, Spaniards who would like to amend the Constitution to limit regional powers outnumber those on the opposite camp. The figures show that the current system of uniform autonomous regions is seen as a failure in many parts of Spain, particularly in those regions where demands for self-rule were unheard of before 1978.

In this context, Catalonia and the Basque Country increasingly find themselves drifting further from the Spanish average, with starkly contrasting views on how territorial coexistence ought to be organised. Any political system that aims to live on must be able to adapt to reality and not the other way round. That is the reason why the “coffee for all” system, which was meant to cohere Spain into a whole, has had the exact opposite effect (1).

Translator’s note:

(1) In contemporary Spanish politics, the decision to divide Spain up into 17 regions (1978) is often referred to as “coffee for all” meaning that they were all given (mostly) similar devolved powers … whether they liked it or not.