Party review – PSC, the Catalan Socialist Party risks losing being the central pivot of Catalan politics
With polls predicting a considerable loss of seats and a large increase of support for the opposition party, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) will very likely lose the Catalan presidency. In addition, the next municipal and Spanish elections also seem complicated for the Socialists, who currently lead the 3 levels of government (local, Catalan and Spanish). Their 3 main problems include: governing with a hand tied behind their back due to electoral agreements, a crisis of leadership and ruling all administrations in times of crisis.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) is currently present in all 3 levels of government. At the Spanish level, the PSC, which forms part of the Spanish Socialist Party Federation (PSOE), is present in Prime Minister Zapatero\u2019s Government. At the Catalan level, the PSC governs Catalonia together with 2 other political forces: the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) and the Catalan Green Socialist Party (ICV-EUiA). However, the PSC is the largest force of the 3, with 37 seats in the Catalan Parliament (which has 135 seats); the ERC has 21 seats and the ICV-EUiA, 12. In addition, the PSC has the Catalan Presidency and top ministries, such as Economy, Public Works, and Justice. At a local level, the PSC rules the 11 largest cities of Catalonia and 3 of the Provincial Councils. In fact, currently, the PSC is the political party that has controlled the largest number of public administrations in Catalonia ever. However, things may radically change in the next 7 months. The PSC leader and Catalan President is José Montilla, who faces his second Catalan elections with very adverse polls. From their current 37 seats, polls forecast results between 28 and 32 seats. They would be the worst results in the PSC\u2019s history. Therefore, these elections may be a fatal turning point for the Socialists.
Why is the PSC in such a weak position according to electoral forecasts?
Firstly, the economic crisis, which is particularly hitting Spain, is certainly part of the problem. Catalonia is one of the Spanish territories that is better weathering the crisis, but it also suffers from high unemployment (around 17%), an economic slowdown (although the main indexes are saying that the recovery already started), the need to cut public expenditure, a decrease of public revenues, and difficulties in obtaining credit. The Catalan Government has a limited scope to fight this crisis. The PSC controls the Catalan Ministry of Economy and Finance, headed by Antoni Castells, a respected academic. In fact, citizens do not seem to focus their criticism on Castells and his policies in particular but rather the general action of the Catalan Government to fight the crisis. In addition, how the Spanish Socialist Government is managing the crisis is particularly affecting the Socialists. The Spanish Prime Minister, Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is becoming more and more unpopular, and the PSC pays the price of being in the same party as him and directly supporting him. Many PSC voters have a Spanish mindset, seeing themselves firstly as Spanish and secondly as Catalans. Not voting for the PSC in these elections is a way of punishing Zapatero.
The second reason for the PSC\u2019s loss of support is the bad image of the Catalan Government. The ruling 3-party Left-Wing coalition has had a bad image since its first month in power, in January 2004. Disagreements and big political mistakes in the early months affected the coalition\u2019s credibility. In addition, the governing coalition was formed despite none of the 3 integrating political forces having the largest representation in the Catalan Parliament. The Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist coalition (CiU) was the force with the most seats in the 2003 elections, while the PSC got a larger number of votes. However, in 2006 the results were not so close and the CiU clearly won the elections, with a great difference from the PSC. The Left-Wing 3-party coalition was formed again in 2006, led by José Montilla and the PSC. CiU voters and even many voters from other parties did not understand this. The second 3-party coalition government has been far more stable than the first one, but its image was still poor. The PSC, being the main force of the Government, is the most eroded party.
In addition, many in the PSC saw this governing coalition as a way of governing with a hand tied behind their back. The PSC had a limited scope to implement its own programme. Paradoxically, the PSC is present in all the administrations, but in almost all of them it needs agreements with other forces. Therefore, the PSC cannot fully implement its own programme. Some would say this is the price to pay for their ambition to rule all the levels of power. Others would say that this is a way to at least implement some of the PSC points in their programme. Nevertheless, the result is that the current Catalan President and PSC leader, José Montilla, stated that he would not repeat the 3-party governing coalition, as he claims not to be able to govern with the ERC again due to the ERC\u2019s defence of Catalan independence. The PSC stands for a Catalonia within Spain, but with a Spain organised as a true federal and pluri-national state. In this sense, PSC declares itself a federalist and Catalanist party.
In the last 6 months, with the trimming of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy by the Spanish Constitutional Court, the PSC nuanced its speech. The ERC wants to call for an independence referendum, while the CiU has made its stance less moderate, wanting a new relationship between Catalonia and Spain, and especially a new economic agreement. But the PSC has continued to defend the current Statute and the recuperation of the trimmed competences and powers by other laws, in line with Zapatero\u2019s thinking. Catalan Nationalists see the PSC\u2019s stance as weak and too Spanish focused. Spanish Nationalists see the PSC as being too close to Catalan Nationalists, as the PSC is against the trimming of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy by the Constitutional Court and it has governed side by side with a separatist party, the ERC.
The so-called \u201C2 souls\u201D of the PSC
The PSC is the result of the Catalan branch of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and 2 Socialist parties from Catalonia. They all merged and created the PSC 30 years ago and since then, it is said that the PSC has 2 souls: A \u201CCatalanist\u201D side, close to moderate Catalan Nationalism, and a Spanish side, that sees Catalonia as a mere region of Spain. These 2 souls are also a mirror of Catalan society, and this is why many have seen the PSC as the party able to articulate both segments of the Catalan Society, being an ideological bridge that helped to cohesion Catalan society.
The PSC Catalan side has traditionally ruled the party, but most PSC votes were coming from the Spanish side. The \u201CSpanish\u201D voters were mainly people that came from other parts of Spain in the 1960s and 1970s to work in Catalonia and their descendents. They are urban, and mainly based in the so-called red belt of Barcelona, Barcelona\u2019s suburbs in the extensive Metropolitan area. In fact, the current leadership of the PSC, headed by José Montilla, represents this Spanish side and this red belt. However, Montilla\u2019s leadership is far from being charismatic and has been questioned, not so much internally, but by the voters, in particular the Catalan side.
These \u201CCatalan\u201D voters are now extremely demobilised and tired, and are not likely to vote for Montilla\u2019s PSC. The problem is larger as the \u201CSpanish voters\u201D of the PSC are also tired of the debate around identity issues and the Statute of Autonomy. The PSC is trying desperately to mobilise its traditional voters in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area, who tend to vote in the municipal and Spanish elections but not so massively in the Catalan ones. Many PSC voters are quite tired and demobilised, while CiU voters are better mobilised. Election night will tell if Montilla succeeds or will be forced to resign. If the PSC gets bad results, Montilla could resign and a new leadership could take power.
All parties with parliamentary representation are portrayed in this series. The party leaders is offered the opportunity to present its party and project to a foreign audience. José Montilla, PSC leader and current Catalan President, declined the CNA\u2019s offer to do so. Montserrat Tura, the PSC number 2 on the Catalan Election lists and current Catalan Minister for Justice, answered CNA.