The results are in and counted. CiU, the governing party which called the election on the specific platform of a referendum on Catalan independence, went into the election with 62 seats and has emerged with 50.They now face the alternatives of forming a coalition with the socialists (highly unlikely, given that CiU is a right-wing party) or going forward as a minority government. Nor was this result a product of voter apathy; turnout was substantially up on the 2010 election. Seems like Spain can continue to sleep at night.


What Happens Next?

Some years ago I was staying for a few days in a small, family-owned hotel in Barcelona, just around the corner from the Plaza de Cataluña. My command of Spanish was far more shaky in those days but I felt it was important to make as much use as I could of what I had. And so, each evening I would ask the lady on Reception for my room key in Spanish. On one particular day, however, it was the owner of the hotel manning the desk on my return, and so I asked him in Spanish for my key. He said something in return which I did not catch, so I asked him - in Spanish - to repeat it. Again, I failed to understand, so apologetically told him that I only spoke a little Spanish. “It’s not Spanish,” he replied, in English. “It’s Catalan.” “Oh,” I said, relieved, “I don’t speak Catalan.” “And I’m not Spanish!”, came his response. I am reminded of this episode because today is potentially a very important day for Spain. The Catalans go to the polls to elect a new generalitat. Following the death of Franco in 1975, a new constitution was drawn up which came into effect in 1977. The various regions of Spain were divided up into seventeen autonomous communities (communidades autónomas), each with its own governing body. Cataluña has the Generalitat, Andalucía, the Junta, and so on. Whilst the seat of national government remained in Madrid, substantial powers were delegated to this second tier of government with below them, first of all the provincias and then the ayuntamientos (city or town councils). Most people outside Spain are aware that there is a nationalist movement in the Basque Country, the best-known manifestation being the terrorist movement ETA. The nationalist aspirations, however, are at least as strong, though without the violence, in Cataluña. Historically, and like the Basques, the Catalans straddled the Pyrenees, and indeed the French city of Perpignan boasts a rugby league team, the Catalan Dragons. In addition, both have been much more developed industrially and economically than the rest of Spain. The consequence has been that, almost from day one of the new constitution, Cataluña has been pressing for a greater and greater degree of autonomy, and has largely succeeded in carving out for itself a list of concessions which are the envy (and the despair) of the other communidades. However, the present governing party, the CiU, now wants to go forward to actual secession from the Spanish state; today’s election, which comes only two years after the last one, is being held with the intention of winning from Catalan voters a mandate for the CiU to move to a referendum on secession. The vote is today. When we know the outcome, I will return to this topic.


Smoke And Mirrors

Well, what jolly fun back in England. Every police force in England & Wales now has a Police and Crime Commissioner to tell it what to focus on. No doubt the said PCCs will need a fully staffed office with secretarial and IT facilities, a Deputy to do the bits that the PCC doesn’t fancy doing, and a string of departmental heads to do those things that neither of them want to be bothered with. Each will need a salary, a pension plan, office space in which to locate a desk and a computer of some sort to access those IT systems. All of this used to be handled a police authority of around 17 members sitting on a part time basis for a daily fee and expenses. The rest of the time, when not involved in overseeing local policing they got on with other useful things. The composition of the authority was carefully controlled - I know this because at one time I sat on the body responsible for selecting and appointing magistrate members - with the majority of members being local councillors, but appointed in proportion to the representation of the main political parties on the local authorities covered by the police force, a small number of magistrates, and a number of seats reserved for lay members. Between them they brought a range of skills and experience to the task of overseeing the general direction of policing in their area, and of appointing a chief constable when necessary. The chief constable and his or her senior management team were responsible for delivering effective policing. All well and good, said the politicians, but (bowing before a current shibboleth) they aren’t democratic. They are a shadowy group of appointees with no democratic mandate, and the public has no idea who most of them are. And so £100 million has been spent on rectifying matters. PCC candidates have presented themselves to a fascinated public, who have weighed their characters and qualifications and have placed their vote in favour of the most suitable candidate. Unfortunately, none of the £100m was allocated to giving candidates the necessary funds to present themselves, their experience and their plans to the public. The result I see, is that only around 15% of those entitled to vote bothered to do so, and mainly voted for the placemen and women put up by the main political parties. Actually, that is not quite true; there was a significant number who used their ballot paper to explicitly state their opposition to the whole idea of PCCs, however chosen. Had I been there I would have been among that number. Firstly, I have yet to hear anybody explain - convincingly or otherwise - why the police should be subject to democratic oversight. Every serving police officer, at whatever rank, occupies the office of constable. The office of constable is a Crown office. In other words, and in order to avoid the politicisation of the police service, their loyalty and their accountability is not to parliament, but to the sovereign. That independence is jeopardised if the person to whom the chief constable is accountable on a day-to-day basis represents a political party. Police authorities represented a cross-section of the community served. Secondly, if someone can demonstrate that democratic oversight is a) desirable and b) more successful, then why are the other emergency services not treated in the same way? What about the prison service? The armed forces? The public utilities? Ofwat, Ofcom, Ofgen, Ofqual, and all the other Ofs? Finally, when even those who did vote freely admitted to the media that they had little or no idea who they were voting for, nor what they were voting for, how can anyone other than a career politician have the gall to suggest that these PCCs have a democratic mandate?


Hunt The Menu

I find myself with a dilemma. On the one hand, I don’t like to leave big gaps between postings, but on the other, neither do I like to write about nothing. This is probably the quietest time of year in the village. The summer peak is followed by the arrival of visitors who wait for the schools to go back. They, in turn, are followed by the half-term break people. After that it’s nothing much happening until people start arriving for the Christmas/New Year break. Which means that it is the time of year when bars and restaurants can close with least impact on their takings. So some close for holidays; others for a full clean and redecorate, and yet others for both. As a consequence in a village where there is a choice of forty bars and restaurants - impressive for a population of between three and four thousand - we are not sure where we will be able to eat this evening, though we have decided to eat out.


Properly Into Autumn

October/November. A time of year when we expect our rain to arrive, and indeed it did, a couple of days at first with a break of about a week, then followed by more rainy days and so on until towards the end of this month when things should dry up again and the sun should come back until February/March time when we have our second rainy spell. It is during these two periods that we get the vast bulk of our annual water supply and so in this neck of the woods clouds, wind and rain are a welcome change. As I say though, there are also dry days interspersed and this year I have been fortunate with two of them. Last weekend was the auction for Pablo. Wednesday was iffy, Thursday and Friday prolonged rain took over, leaving me anxious that the weather would dissuade people from turning out. But Saturday dawned bright, dry and sunny and stayed that way all day. Then the weather dipped again coming into last week. Thursday was my birthday and we wanted to go to our favourite restaurant, El Mirador, to celebrate. The trouble is that it is right up at the top of the village up a couple of steep, stepped streets which can readily turn into waterfalls, which they did four years ago so that we ate in a very quiet restaurant, our jeans soaked all the way up to the thighs - and then had to descend the waterfall to get home. So this year we decided that we had better choose somewhere down in the centre of the village. Anyway, Thursday was a lovely day and as the afternoon unfolded, showed no sign of changing. A quick phone call confirmed that there was a table available and so it was off up the steps to sit out on the terrace looking all the way down the valley to the sea, eating wonderful food accompanied by a very good bottle of wine - a gift from Rafael. In case you can find it locally, it was a Ribero del Duero, Pagos de Carraovejas, 2009 Crianza, almost entirely tempranillo (or Tinto del Pais, as it is called in that region) with just a little cabernet sauvignon to balance it. Oh, I do like living here.