Two big parties struggling to cope with the exit of bipartisan politics, widespread detest of the elites, a ruling conservative government claiming the economy has turned around, arguing against the left who focus on inequality and unrestrained power at the top… there are several similarities between politics in Spain and the United Kingdom in what is an election year for both.
There are key differences too: Spain fell far faster and harder in the crisis, and there is now much more volatility after a slew of corruption scandals and the emergence of two new parties who together take over 40% of the vote. Nevertheless, with its own general elections later this year, Spain will watch the UK vote with interest.
In as far as tangible effects on the Iberian state go, the biggest impact of the UK election on Spain will be through the European Union. British ambivalence over the EU seems strange in a country that has always strived to be further integrated into Europe. The negotiations and referendum that will follow a Conservative win will be watched with caution, particularly with regards to freedom of movement. Spanish young people have profited en masse from the EU’s freedom of movement, escaping 50% youth unemployment to find work in Northern Europe. Many have gone to London or elsewhere in the UK, often doing jobs they are overqualified for.
Alternatively, if a Labour government takes a more proactive interest in European affairs this could have a different effect on Spain. Policy towards the indebted Southern states has been decided in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin instead of London. A left-wing British government may try to persuade Europe’s decision makers to loosen the screws on debt repayment in the troubled Mediterranean countries.
There is one group of immigrants who won’t receive politicians’ attention much. Those are the expats living in Spain, who are still eligible to vote for the first 15 years after they leave. Many have pensions and family back in Blighty, yet of the estimated 5 million expats living around the world, fewer than 16,000 are registered to vote.
Finally, the success of the SNP will be celebrated by nationalists in Catalonia. The autonomous region watched the referendum with interest last year, hoping for a ‘Yes’ win which would make their own route to become an independent state seem more viable. The Spanish central government will have been delighted with the ‘No’ result: it refuses to grant an independence referendum to Catalonia, saying it is illegal and goes against the constitution.
Whether we like it or not, it’s not just us who feel the effects of who we vote for on May 7th. In terms of our place in Europe, this is the most important election for a long time, and the continent will be waiting with baited breath.
The Spanish election will take place later this year at an unconfirmed date, not necessarily in December as this article originally stated