Catalan Socialists: the only unionist party with hopes on winning the presidency

Salvador Illa, Spain’s former health minister, has garnered huge public support for the party since announcing his candidacy

Socialist frontrunner for the Catalan election Salvador Illa, photographed at a campaign event (image from Catalan Socialists)
Socialist frontrunner for the Catalan election Salvador Illa, photographed at a campaign event (image from Catalan Socialists) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

February 3, 2021 05:30 PM

The Socialist Party are one of the three parties with realistic chances of winning the presidency of Catalonia, and the only party against independence in with a shot. Their campaign slogan this year is “Fem ho”, meaning, “Let’s do it”.

They are led by Salvador Illa, the man who was Spain’s health minister through most of the Covid-19 pandemic, who left that post to run for Catalonia’s highest office. After he announced this move, the ‘Illa effect’ as it’s known, saw the Socialist Party surge in the polls. Previously, the party were led by Miquel Iceta, but he has since gone on to take up a ministerial role in Spain’s cabinet with Salvador Illa going the other way. 

A left-leaning socially democratic party, the Catalan Socialists are allied with Pedro Sánchez’s party who are currently in government in Spain. As such, they are against Catalan independence, although they are open to dialogue with the independence bloc with the aim of resolving the political differences with a much less harsh approach than the previous, right-wing administration in Spain, of Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party. 

The Socialists have been the second-largest force in the opposition since the last vote, in 2017, with 17 seats in the Catalan parliament at the moment. However, their power is expected to grow significantly, setting them up as the largest unionist voice in the chamber as Ciudadanos looks set to fall. 

“Either we gather [the unionist] vote together, or else we'll have four more years of terrible mismanagement,” Salvador Illa said in a campaign event. “I ask you all to help me explain that there is another way of doing things, with respect, and without constantly looking for confrontation and making pointless gestures,” he concluded.

Polls indicate they could win anything from 26-35 seats, with a Spanish government-funded survey placing them almost neck-and-neck with ERC to win the election, and a Catalan government-funded poll indicating they are firmly behind the current governing pro-independence parties. One way or another, the Socialists will be among the top three parties after the vote. 

They could be in pole position to try to form a government, but it’s practically guaranteed that whoever wins most seats will need the support from other parties. This week, Salvador Illa cooled on the idea of forming a coalition with other left-wing parties, citing fundamental differences on the independence question with Esquerra. 

In fact, the Socialists are positioning themselves as the best alternative to the pro-independence alliance between Junts per Catalunya and Esquerra. As such, they are hoping to gather as much of the unionist support as possible, and they would naturally enjoy a good relationship with the central Spanish government.

They were the last party against setting up a Catalan republic that held power, in two legislatures eventually ending in 2010, and it was during their leadership that the modern-day independence push took off. 

Under the presidencies of Pasqual Maragall and José Montilla, the Socialists led a three-party coalition with the support of ERC, a repeat of which looks unlikely this time around. 

However, a unionist coalition also looks off the cards, as to do so would require finding the support of parties both to the left and right of the Socialists, and perhaps even the far-right.