What would Spain be like without Catalonia?

What would Spain be like without Catalonia? "Incomplete", some would say.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
19 August 2023 Saturday 11:17
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What would Spain be like without Catalonia?

What would Spain be like without Catalonia? "Incomplete", some would say. "More authentic", others would reply. Political fiction admits an infinite variety of institutional scenarios if the starting point goes back to 1640 or 1714. But the electoral scenario is easier to imagine: you only need to discount the Catalan results of a few representative elections. And the resulting outcomes – starting with the one on 23-J – would be very different. For example, the current Bureau of Congress would not be chaired by a socialist deputy, since the PP and Vox would have an absolute majority.

Things, however, have not always been like this. The influence of Catalonia as a disruptive factor on the Spanish stage grew from the moment when the territorial and identity dialectic burst into the electoral contest. It is a political tool that, in terms of votes, has offered as much income as losses to the various formations that have used it. But before the territorial vector took on such a decisive role, Catalonia's electoral weight was somewhat less decisive, beyond its own party system and its tendency to the left.

In fact, in the 1977 elections, the influx of the Catalan vote forced the UCD to need the Popular Alliance to add an absolute centre-right majority to Congress (although Adolfo Suárez preferred to explore the center and have the support of the Pujol seats or of the Basque and Catalan Christian Democrats). However, discounting the Catalan result and in a Congress of just over 300 seats, the UCD would have obtained an absolute majority by itself: 156 deputies (see the graphs). And something similar would have happened with the 1979 results.

Instead, the Catalan outcome weakened the PSOE's absolute majority in 1982 and 1986, and contributed to leaving the Socialists with only half the seats in the Chamber in 1989. Without Catalonia's votes, the Socialist Party's advantage he would have been a little more relaxed in the first two legislative elections of the 1980s and would have achieved a narrow majority (154 deputies in a Congress of 304 seats) in the electoral date of 1989. But everything changed from 1993.

Since that year, the weight of Catalonia has been decisive in the outcome of a good part of the elections in which no party obtained an absolute majority. And it was almost always to the benefit of the left. For example, in 1996, the bitter victory of the PP (which was 20 seats short of an absolute majority) would have been much sweeter without the Catalan result. In this case, the Popular would have been left with only five seats from the absolute majority, which they could have completed with the PNB or with the regionalists of the Canary Islands and the Valencians.

Likewise, the absence of the Catalan vote would have strengthened, in the 2000 elections, the PP's first absolute majority (it would have gone from a margin of 7 to 18 seats). And most importantly, despite the lies about the worst terrorist attack in contemporary Spain, the Popular Party would have tied with the Socialists in 2004 without the result of Catalonia. In this hypothesis, the votes of the PNB would have been decisive for the left to govern. And the same would have happened in 2008, with the relevant nuance that, without the Catalan vote, the Popular Party would have been two seats ahead of the PSOE.

In the same vein, without Catalonia, the absolute majority of the PP in 2011 would also have been strengthened (from 10 to 23 seats over half plus one of the Chamber). But the decisive role of the Catalan vote would appear again in the 2015 elections, with the fragmentation of the political map and the emergence of new formations. In the elections of that year, the PP and Ciutadans (whose space would certainly be occupied by UPyD in a Spain without Catalonia) were 13 seats short of an absolute majority, practically tied with the left.

But without the Catalan result, Popular and Orange would have been above the absolute majority: 153 seats out of a total of 303 deputies. As a result, there would not have been a repeat election, although if it had taken place, the outcome would have further strengthened the majority of the right, up to 158 seats. And this means that the motion of no confidence in the spring of 2018 would have had no chance of succeeding and Pedro Sánchez would never have reached the presidency.

Returning to the real world, the 2019 elections were also very marked by the result in Catalonia. In April, the left was 10 seats short of an absolute majority, and the right, 27. But without the Catalan vote, and even though the sum of the PSOE and Unides Podemos would have been only 5 deputies of the majority, the right would have reduced the distance from 27 to 10. And in November the outcome would have been even tighter: by removing Catalonia's vote, the right-wing bloc would have been ahead (5 seats away from the absolute majority of the Chamber), while the left would have remained at 13.

Finally, in the elections of July 23, the absence of Catalonia would have allowed PP and Vox to add 162 deputies; neither more nor less than 10 above the absolute majority (which would be 152 in a House of 302 seats). Clearly, it could be argued that, without the Catalan contention, the territorial discourse of the right would lose a lot of force. But, as the municipal elections of May 28 demonstrated, the (visibly effective) alternative could be to resurrect the ghost of ETA (which “continues to live”, according to the PP). The motto of the conservative universe always seems to be the same: "There will be no territorial peace until we regain power". The problem is that afterwards, neither.