The rise of the Spanish right

Sesha Subramanian discusses the rise of the right wing Vox party in Spain.

Sesha Subramanian
21st November 2019
Santiago Abascal - Wikimedia Commons
Until recently, it seemed like Spain would buck the trend among Western nations when it came to the rise of the right wing. Given the outcome of the November elections, however, the far right's no-show in the country turned out just to be a late arrival .

The disintegration of the socio-democratic parties from within has been fundamental to the rise of the right wing in countries like France, and their southern neighbours are no different. The inability of other parties to agree on Catalonia-related policy and subsequently form a coalition has led to the Vox party increasing their total number of seats in the lower house of the Spanish parliament to 52, out of the 350 available.

Unlike in most other European nations, the rise of the far right in Spain is not based on intolerance to immigrants

One of the key differences between this and other right wing governments is that the rise of the Vox party was not based on intolerance to immigrants (Spain remains far more tolerant than most other European nations), but rather an agenda that feeds on the Catalan crisis and the insecurities that come with it from both sides.

Catalan independence was a key talking point in the election
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Unlike previous years, this episode of the Catalan crisis is a middle and upper class phenomenon and has roots more in the economy (especially the financial crash of 2008) than an inherent will to secede from Spain (although the two are not mutually exclusive). Vox has utilised this feeling of insecurity (intensified by the extensive media attention that seemed to show Barcelona as a flaming, burning city following the imprisonment of separatist leaders) to drive home its point of putting down Catalan secession, as a case of independence against union. However, the reality is not as black and white as Vox puts it.

The dismal performance of pro-independence parties in these elections show that people have no faith in them either. What it has become, then, is more a statement against a corrupt political elite (akin to anti-austerity indignados who occupied the Puerta Del Sol Square in Madrid in 2011) and the inequalities between different economic strata - something Vox has been happy to discuss in their election campaign with Santiago Abascal, their leader who regularly brings up economic stability as a key factor in maintaining national unity. While both Catalans and Vox agree on that, the method remains a question, with the former preferring to maintain some degree of financial (and political) autonomy, while Vox wants a centralised Spain ruling from Madrid in every aspect. Neither will, at this time, accept the other's vision of Spain, in what is an uneasy compromise at best.

A fragile coalition is needed to stop Vox becoming more popular

On the whole, the right-left balance in Spain hasn't changed but for one key element: a centre-right party in Ciudadanos lost badly and has been replaced by the far right Vox. The left will still govern Spain but the rise of the right means that a fragile coalition of Pedro Sanchez's Socialist party, the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos and at the very least one pro-independence Catalan party will be needed to keep the Vox party from becoming even more popular.

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