Everyone expects a Spanish revolution!
May 24, 2011
Everyone, that is, on the Left, including socialist gnome Laurie Penny, charming greenie Adam Ramsay, and the oddballs at OpenDemocracy, have seemingly managed to convince themselves that the sudden spurt of protests that happened in Spain during their recent local elections are the prelude to a revolution. As I write, news of the protests growing larger is trickling through the internet – my favourite source being the Something Awful Forums, who courtesy of the world-wide reach of IT spoddery have representatives on every continent.
The big problem for everyone describing this as a ‘revolution’ is that the biggest chunk of Spaniards have just voted for their version of the Conservative Party. They won 37% of the vote across the country, giving them a clear lead over the 28% garnered by the Socialists. Over half the electorate voting for the status quo in the form of the two establishment parties isn’t a recipe for immanent revolution.
This is recognised by the protesters at least, who’ve come up with a set of demands which are broadly radical but aren’t asking for ownership of the means of production or similar. There’s a collection of demands for political transparency and accountability, several requests for more transfer payments to young people, a broad commitment to better-funded public services and, of course, a Tobin Tax. Mostly these are left-wing talking points without a broader political or economic philosophy behind them beyond ‘More of nice things, please’.
However, the big push of the protest is, interestingly, against Spain’s electoral system, which manages to somehow be perhaps worse than ours. They use the d’Hondt method to elect 350 members of the national legislature in 52 relatively small constituencies, meaning each constituency has an average number of representatives of about 6. Such a small number of representatives being elected under d’Hondt means that the results will be biased towards the two largest national parties, as well as strong regional parties. Because it’s d’Hondt, you vote for parties rather than individual representatives, electing members from the party lists. Especially at the local level, being unable to vote for an individual rather than a party – in a system which allows for a significant number of political appointees – breeds corruption.
The current Socialist government has been implementing austerity measures in an attempt to reassure its creditors that Spain is not going to default, even though it’s been suggested that they probably should. When a left-wing party is implementing austerity measures, the unemployed and the young have literally no-one to vote for who will represent their economic interests – at least, anyone with a chance of getting in. They are, much like certain types of labour in the UK, subject to market forces beyond the control of their Government. And they simply can’t compete in the context of a higher cost of living than that of their peers in the developing world.
Not unreasonably, they want their point of view to have a seat at the table. If they can’t get access to the structures of power by traditional means, they’re required to put on a demonstration of force, which is what a protest has always been. Exactly the same applied to the student protests last year – having had what they believed to be their mechanism for putting their point of view to power removed by my party’s sudden conversion to the cause of tuition fees, their protest was an effort to demonstrate the power available to them and demand a say.
I don’t find any of this immoral, I simply disagree with the temporary measures that are in the short-term economic interests of the people protesting in Spain. Protection from international competition would, in the long run, make Spain poorer. This is recognised by the originators of the document I gave above, which instead is a call for democratic reform rather than economic reform per se. They want a seat at the table, and they’re demonstrating the force that they believe entitles them to it. This is not a revolution, merely democracy carried out by other means.