Basque society votes more nationalist, although it is less pro-independence

Three weeks before the elections in Euskadi, Aberri Eguna, the day of the Basque Homeland, is marked by the electoral context and the close fight between the two main nationalist groups.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 10:21
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Basque society votes more nationalist, although it is less pro-independence

Three weeks before the elections in Euskadi, Aberri Eguna, the day of the Basque Homeland, is marked by the electoral context and the close fight between the two main nationalist groups. The polls show that EH Bildu has the wind behind it and they even glimpse a sweep of seats for the PNV on April 21, a milestone that, in any case, would be no more than a symbolic victory, since the Jeltzales have many options to maintain power, hand in hand with the PSE. The polls also suggest that the next Basque Parliament will be, by far, the most abertzale or Basque nationalist in history, something that incurs an apparent contradiction with the confirmed loss of weight of the desire for independence.

Basque society votes more nationally than ever – to use a term with which both the PNV and Bildu identify themselves – but the independence cause is close to its lowest in the last quarter of a century. According to the latest Sociometer of the Basque Government, published last week, only 22% of Basque society “agree” with independence, 33% “would agree or not depending on the circumstances”, 37% are “in against” and 8% “does not know, does not answer”.

In fact, the independence option appears as a minority among PNV voters (18% in favor; 41% depending on the circumstances and 37% against) and there is some ambivalence in this regard among EH Bildu voters (57% in favor, 35 % according to the circumstances and 6% against).

This apparent contradiction invites an analysis, starting from the previous element: the aforementioned loss of support for the independence movement. In the opinion of sociologist Eva Silván, various factors must be addressed, although the frustration generated in the independence movement by the process has been very relevant.

“The instability that the process has produced in Catalonia, with little success and a lot of fracture, has been key. It has been proven that independence is not viable today and it seems that this is how society has read it,” he says. The data corroborate this analysis. The peak of support for independence in the last 25 years occurred a decade ago, in 2014, in the midst of the process and in the context of the independence referendum in Scotland. The lowest records, meanwhile, occurred from 2021 onwards, although also, occasionally, in 2001 and 2002.

In the absence of a qualitative study, the data suggest that Basque society took note of the most traumatic consequences of the process and noted the extreme difficulty of carrying out express independence. Likewise, it is worth pointing out other factors that could have weakened the independence cause, such as the state of mind in which Basque society still finds itself after the end of terrorism, a “post-traumatic phase” – using a term coined by the professor in History of the University of the Basque Country Ludger Mess–, in which they do not want to return to polarization and confrontation.

On the other hand, it must be taken into account that, as a consequence of the previous economic crisis and also the brilliant emergence of Podemos in Euskadi, the social agenda was revalued to the detriment of the national one, which forced the parties to move.

Faced with this loss of weight of unconditional support for independence, the same source, the Basque Sociometer, estimated last week a tie between PNV and EH Bildu at 29 seats, so that 58 seats out of a total of 75 would be Basque nationalists, nationalist or sovereigntist. With 77% of the representation around these formations, the Basque Parliament that emerged from the polls on April 21 would be, by far, the most nationalist in history.

In fact, until the previous elections, in July 2020, the nationalist parties had never exceeded 48 seats (then they added 52). During the first decade of this century and the 90s, the sum of the PNV, the nationalist left and Eusko Alkartasuna averaged 39-44 seats, and in the 80s, both before and after the split of EA, it was around 43 seats. .

Also in this case there are many factors that explain this other trend, although essentially it can be said that the nationalist formations have adapted better than the rest to the post-ETA Euskadi. In a context of decline of the independence movement, Bildu has known how to expand its space, prioritizing social discourse and seeking to attract a broad spectrum of voters. Faced with the temptation of being a mere reproduction of the extinct Batasuna, it has won, not without tensions and difficulties, the option of trying to present itself as the sum of the parts that make up the coalition: Sortu, EA, Aralar and Alternatiba, a split Ezker Batua-IU.

“EH Bildu has known how to read the political moment. It grows because it shows itself as a party with a desire to govern, with different proposals and with a country plan that talks about industry, the economy, care, knowledge management... It has generated a narrative about what the country should be like in a global context and beyond the identity axis,” emphasizes Silván.

The PNV has also known how to position itself in the post-terrorism cycle, even though the polls show a decline that was already seen in the last elections. This formation reached its historical ceiling of votes and institutional power in 2019. “Urkullu obtained a bad result in 2012, at a time when Bildu had already emerged with force. He knew how to read Basque society and interpreted that it needed a time of calm, to heal the wounded and to move forward in coexistence. The PNV has grown since then, especially at the expense of the PP, although now we see that it is losing support because it has suffered in its great asset, that of good management,” explains Silván.

Other external factors and the worse performance of their political rivals have also contributed to the reinforcement of the two great nationalist formations. The generational change and the entry on the scene of a generation that did not experience terrorism have favored Bildu, while the gradual political normalization has contributed to the vote being more volatile, especially among young people, and to the possibility of unthinkable transfers. a few years ago. The struggle between the two parties and the growing bipartisan perception of Basque politics has also allowed them to strengthen themselves.

During the current pre-campaign, both the PNV and Bildu have put the territorial issue on the table and have talked about the need to agree on a new status. However, even this claim is now accompanied by an instrumental nuance. The PNV speaks of more self-government to live better, and Bildu of “a new status as a lever of transformation to make 21st century policies.”

These formations will not leave aside the territorial issue, but in their national agenda, competence issues, linked to the improvement of self-government, symbolic, linguistic and cultural issues or related to the collaboration with the French Basque Country and Navarra, two territories, will prevail in the short term. in which pragmatism has taken Bildu to its greatest levels of political influence. “Politics are cycles and perhaps in 15 years we will see them in other positions. At this moment, everything indicates that we are going to a Basque Parliament that is more nationalist than ever, but in which the independence agenda will be less present,” Silván concludes.

On the occasion of the Aberri Eguna, today proclamations in favor of independence will be heard and both groups will raise the national demand, although the truth is that part of their success has come precisely from having known how to relativize that maxim.