Andalusia is to the PSOE as Scotland was to the Labour Party: an area where they could take people’s votes for granted to help them waltz into power at the national level. The recent elections, brought forward from March, meant they could use the region as a litmus test for future national elections and seek to take advantage of Pedro Sánchez’s honeymoon period after the vote of no confidence in July.
The PSOE has governed Andalusia since 1980. Many Lib Dems in Labour and Tory fiefdoms will be well aware of what that length of time in power does to a party, and there have been ongoing corruption cases. This resulted in Ciudadanos breaking their agreement with the PSOE, as sufficient advances had not been made on rebuilding people’s confidence in Andalusian democracy. At the time of the last elections in 2015, the PSOE got 47 seats and Ciudadanos 9, with the majority being 55.
Which brings us, more or less, to where we are at the moment, with a spectacular increase in seats for Ciudadanos from 9 to 21. Numerically, the PSOE remains the largest party, but it’s resoundingly clear that it’s time for a change in Andalusia. Despite Susana Díaz’s scaremongering about the right-wing bogeyman coming to destroy the region, and Podemos’s attempts to classify the entire centre-right as being ideologically identical to fascism, Ciudadanos’s candidate Juan Marín ruled out any kind of pact with Vox. This is because, clearly, the kind of Macron-style European liberalism Ciudadanos leads on in ALDE is the polar opposite of Abascal and Le Pen’s politics.
The reality of the situation is that the PSOE and Podemos have fed the fire of right-wing populism in Spain, which was an incredibly marginal force until very recently. When you try to collapse politics into good and evil, when nobody to the right of Podemos could possibly have positive motives for Spain, it worsens what is already incredibly serious polarisation.
It’s also impossible to analyse the results in Andalusia without looking at Sánchez’s performance on the national level. If people are moving from the PSOE to Ciudadanos, it’s a safe bet that they’re uncomfortable with his cooperation with the far-left and the nationalists – bearing in mind that Quim Torra has a history of anti-Spanish comments.
The main thing we can learn from Andalusia is that extremism begets extremism, and comparing moderate, centrist parties to extreme right-wing ones undermines the seriousness of the threat they pose. Banalising fascism is a dangerous game to play, and we can only hope that Spain’s moderate liberals play a key role in returning the far-left and far-right to the obscurity they deserve.
* Hannah Bettsworth is a Lib Dem activist who is currently doing a Masters in European Affairs. She spent a year of her undergraduate degree in Spain.