From a high in 1999, where it won 38% of the vote in Catalan parliamentary elections, the PSC is now at an all time low. While it’s easy to blame this problem on meddling from Madrid, the decline of the PSC is intrinsically linked to its abandonment of basic principles which it defended at the height of its success – most importantly the right of Catalans to decide their future democratically.
Under Carme Chacón’s stewardship (from what I understand she remains the most powerful figure in the PSC), numerous mistakes have been made:
- Chacón has used the PSC as a tool to try to obtain personal power at state level. This is evidenced by her adoption of a patently dishonest discourse regarding the question of Catalan separatism, aimed not at securing the PSC’s position but at boosting Chacón’s own chances of leading a PSOE still dominated by anti-separatist sentiment (see José Bono, Susana Díaz).
- Chacón’s leadership has also boosted the right wing of the party, and left it without a true social-democratic focus (in line with the PSOE as a whole).
- Her powerful position in the PSC has helped to ensure the appointment of a series of weak and ineffectual leaders in Barcelona, particularly Pere Navarro and Miquel Iceta, who have been totally unable to run the PSC on their own terms. This has further weakened the party when faced by more dynamic party leaders like Mas, Junqueras, Rivera and more recently, Colau.
- The PSC’s adoption of an anti-Catalanist position is at odds with its line under Maragall, who defended not only the independence of the party within the Socialist federation, but also the Catalans’ right to decide. This decision was at least in part conditioned by the rise of Cs. Cs is a pseudo-centrist party which has learned one of the best tricks of the PP – know how to speak to the far right, and how to adopt its positions on questions of nationality, language policy, the right to decide, etc – without actually espousing right-wing policies (well, not very often anyway: the mask slips sometimes, like when its leaders say that gay marriage is “problematic” or that male violence against women “doesn’t exist”). The PSC’s shift in position culminated in its purging the party of anyone with pro-independence views, further boosting ERC and the newer Podem-EnComú.
- I have a feeling that the PSC’s analysis of the rise of Cs is flawed. The PSC seems to think that it can win votes by seeming to be nearly as unionist as Cs. But at the same time, it hasn’t been willing to drop its commitment to policies like ‘linguistic immersion’ (education in Catalan for all), which Cs opposes. This has led to a disjointed position which Cs has found it easy to exploit. It has also led many former PSC voters – a large number of whom supported the new Estatut and, at least nominally, the right to decide, to look elsewhere – ERC, and the CUP have benefited. Every time the PSC takes a step towards Cs in terms of policy, it loses votes. This is an example of a very common mistake in politics: when a political movement seems to be gathering momentum, you can either co-opt it and try to lead it (see: CDC and the separatist movement) or you can oppose it. What you can never do is follow the upstarts (in this case, Cs) and hope to gather a few votes by clinging to their coat tails. It never works.
- But it has worked for Cs and for their friends in Societat Civil Catalana. Probably the clearest symbol of the PSC’s decline is its involvement in SCC, a unionist organization founded by and operated in the tradition of, the unionist far-right. This takes the PSC beyond an accusation of Pasokification. The PSC now regularly shares a platform with SCC – and each time it does, it provides a new coat of democratic makeup to a group founded by the likes of Josep Ramon Bosch and Javier Barraycoa. That SCC is Somatemps 2.0 is well established. For the PSC to share a platform with a group like this shows just how far the PSC has fallen. We end up with situations like the youth PSC of Cerdanyola attacking the CUP over apparently invented accusations of violence on the UAB campus, while defending SCC and their neo-Nazi boot boys.
Now, you wonder how much longer Chacón can continue, given that she has managed to lead the PSC to its worst ever results in both Catalan and Spanish parliamentary elections. When, as predicted, we end up with fresh elections this summer, I’d expect them to be her last chance. The alternative is annihilation.
UPDATE: ah well, there you go. It turns out that the last elections were her last chance. Chacón is out. Maybe she read this. We’ll never know.