Half term holidays are behind us, so the family holiday makers have long departed. Christmas and New Year are still a month away, and so those who holiday over the Christmas season have yet to arrive. The tourist coaches still visit the village, at the weekends as many as seven at a time. Now though they bring Spanish pensioners who dismount their coach and climb into the tourist train - or wally-trolley, as we call it - for a tour of the village. After that it's find somewhere for a drink, then back onto the coach and away. In response to this annual dose of the doldrums many shops and restaurants close until Christmas, some for even longer, next opening at the end of February or later. The restaurants that do remain open do reasonably well as people look for alternatives to their regular haunts, but it is still probable that you will get a table without booking ahead. After the temperatures dropped a few weeks ago, an anticyclone last week lifted them again last week into the low twenties. This rise was accompanied by strong easterly winds - El Levante - which severely rattled shutters and blinds and deposited a thin film of Saharan sand on everywhere. Thankfully the wind dropped on Sunday and we've had a couple of really pleasant, sunny, mild days. Today's forecast from the official Spanish weather agency issues a yellow warning for high winds and heavy rain from midnight tonight until Saturday, so once again we'll batten down the hatches and uncork a bottle from the rack. At least it will wash away all the sand!
In Spain two new parties have emerged to challenge the dominance of PP and PSOE. The first on the scene was UPyD (Unión, Progreso y Democracy),which was formed at the end of 2007, the principal founders being Rosa Díez, Mikel Buesa and Fernando Savater, with Rosa Díez as leader. In 2009 she won a seat in the European Parliament, one of the 54 allocated to Spain. The party suffered a setback when in July 2009 Mikel Buesa resigned from the party in protest at what he saw as Rosa Díez”s authoritarian manner. Since then it has recovered and grown so that in May of this year it won four seats in the European elections, and was soon rated third most popular party after the two big parties. However, another new party has grown even more rapidly to the point where it now has 250,000 members, more than either of the two main parties., even though it was only formed in January of this year.In May it received 8% of the votes, taking 5 seats in the European Parliament Podemos (We Can), led by an academic from the Complutense University of Madrid, Pablo Iglesias, has its origins in the mass demonstrations and occupations of 2011, when several thousand people descended on La Puerta del Sol, the Plaza in Madrid from which distances from the capital are measured, and in 58 other cities around Spain. This movement was variously known as Movimiento 15M (named after the 15th May when these demonstrations took place) or Los Indignados (The Indignant Ones). This was a widespread protest at what was seen as the mishandling of the banking crisis, whereby the public at large were required to make good the financial cost of bailing out the banks, a debt that they had not incurred, but which they were being made to repay. That movement eventually fizzled out as it had no coherent structure and no policies apart from the issue which had brought people onto the streets; it has now resurfaced as Podemos with a charismatic leader and has grown so rapidly that a recent opinion poll puts support for Podemos higher than for PP and PSOE. That is worrying, if sustained, because in Spain you vote for the party, not the individual, and so when elections come in October of next year Spain could see a party elected to government which did not exist two years earlier, and from which so far nothing in the way of a manifesto has emerged, apart from its opposition to the corruption which has become endemic in Spanish politics, something which UPyD also opposes. It remains to be seen whether Podemos is a viable political entity or whether, like a firework, it soars high into the sky only to explode and die.
I referred last time to important things happening in Spanish politics at the moment. The interesting thing to me is that these things parallel attitudes to politics and politicians in the UK. The similarities between the two countries are quite striking. For many years power has passed back and forth between two major parties, Conservative and Labour in the UK, Partido Popular and PSOE in Spain, on the right and left respectively. Increasingly, disillusion with politics has been growing in both countries. The main accusation levelled against politicians is that they are out of touch with the needs and concerns of the citizens, and care little for the voters except at election time.In both countries these ‘facts’ were accepted with a large helping of resignation. And then corruption reared its head. This came as something of a shock to the British who had long laboured under the delusion that corruption was not a British custom. The expenses scandal, which revealed just how much many MPs had been milking the system to their own financial benefit changed all that, and spawned a wave of revulsion and distrust of politicians and all things political. In Spain corruption had long been accepted as endemic and people paid little heed unless affected personally. That is now changing as day after day the true extent of it comes to light. Recently it emerged that more than eighty politicians had been using ‘tarjetas negras (black cards) issued to them by the bank, Caja Madrid but kept secret, for everything from weekly groceries to high value luxury items. No repayments were ever sought of this expenditure which amounted to more than fifteen million euros, and when Caja Madrid was absorbed into Bankia, the service continued. This came on the heels of the discovery that a past official of the Partido Popular had maintained a secret slush fund from which payments were made to favoured senior party members. And most recently, the Guardian reported on 27th October that 51 politicians, public officials and business leaders across Spain had been arrested as part of an investigation into a corrupt network involving the awarding of contracts to a value of over €250 million. This is the latest wave of arrests; no one expects it to be the last. In the UK and in Spain, 2015 will see a general election, in which a significant question will be whether two party politics will prove to be a thing of the past. UKIP is the main focus in Britain, though results for both the Greens and the Lib Dems will be viewed with interest. In Spain, interest is in two young parties - UPyD which was formed seven years ago, and Podemos (We Can), which appeared on the scene officially in January of this year but already has more than 250 thousand members, and which won five of Spain’s allocation of 54 seats in the European Union elections in May, against UPyD’s four seats. A point of difference between Britain and Spain is that neither of these parties is drawn from the right, unlike UKIP, which may now be widening its appeal, but clearly has rightwing roots.Because they point the possible way to a new engagement of the public with the whole business of representative politics that might also have application to Britain,I'll look at these parties in a bit more detail next time.
Yesterday the people of Catalonia were invited by their regional government to take part in a participation exercise. This rather odd name had been adopted because the Constitutional Court in Madrid had, at the Government's request, agreed to consider whether a referendum could be legally held without Madrid’s permission. The Court ruled that all referendum plans and activity should be suspended until it had considered the case and announced its decision. In order to avoid any suggestion that a ‘participation’ might be a referendum in disguise, no official polling stations were used, no Catalan officials manned the voting stations, and voter registration was not required; the Catalan government took no part - except today to triumphantly announce the result. Over two million people voted and 80% of these were in favour of Catalonia becoming an independent state. However, before we are tempted to compare this result with that of the independence referendum held in Scotland, it would be wise to take a number of differences into account. I spent many years working in the field of consumer and social research, and so I am used to analysing and interpreting statistics. A basic principle is that the only way to know what everyone thinks is to ask everyone. That is so rarely possible that the survey researcher’s task is to draw up a sample of people to be interviewed which will (within certain knowable limits) accurately reflect the views of the entire population. Where both the Scottish and the Catalan exercises fall short of a ‘proper’ sample, is that in neither case was voting compulsory; in other words, people were free to choose whether they would bother to vote or not. In Scotland, the referendum and the question asked had been approved by the UK Government. It was a legal referendum which the Government said that it would take heed of. In that context, around 80% of those on the electoral registers voted, and the result (55% ’No’ v 45% ‘Yes’) was clear and the gap was wide enough to be able to say that overall the Scottish people had rejected independence. In Catalonia, by comparison, just under half the 5.4 million people entitled to vote did so, and their 80% vote in favour of independence looks pretty convincing. It may look convincing, but there are a number of things to be taken into account. Firstly, the consultation had no legal standing. How many of the people who didn’t vote failed to do so for that reason? Someone may carry out a survey to look into that, but right now we don’t know. Secondly, we have been told that 5.4 million people were entitled to vote, but there was no electoral register to tally votes against. No polling card entitling you to vote. I remember many years ago hearing the joke about Northern Ireland politics that the key slogan was “Vote early; vote often”. How many people yesterday voted more than once? We simply do not and cannot know, but human nature being what it is, I’m absolutely sure that some did. All they needed to do was leave one polling station and then head for another one on the other side of town. Thirdly, and crucially, whilst in Scotland the turnout was high enough for us not to be too concerned about how non-voters might have voted, in Catalonia just over half of the people entitled to vote didn’t. With a group that size it is not possible to confidently suggest that the way that their vote would have split can be assumed to be in line with the split amongst those who did vote. In social research terms, a self-selecting group of people who represent only half of the group whose views were being sought, cannot be used to draw any inferences at all about the likely responses from the self-selecting group of approximately half of the total, who chose not to vote. Obviously we are talking about politics. Claims will be made by those who support Catalan independence that this is a stunning victory, and a clear indication of the will of the majority of the Catalan people. They can say that, but they are wrong. There are other, possibly more important, things happening in Spanish politics right now. I’ll talk about some of those next time.
As we moved through September, the fierce heat of August quickly subsided and settled in the mid to high twenties. And stayed there, which is unusual. We have had the pleasure of an extended period of warm weather to such an extent that I was still in shorts and sandals on my birthday last Saturday. But all good things come to an end, they say, and that certainly happened last night. The Spanish equivalent of Britain’s Met Office, AEMET, is pretty accurate and they put out an amber alert for our area from midnight last night until midday today for heavy rain and high winds., coupled with a sharp drop in temperatures. Sure enough, in the small hours we were wakened by the sound of two chairs and a table careering from one end of our balcony to the other, and then back again, and then off again. Winds were gusting over 50mph (84kmh, if you want it in Spanish) and stuff that was neither stowed away nor tied down could be heard moving around all over the village. We used to get this kind of wind when we lived in Ramsbottomm, but there we were down in the valley bottom, so it roared over us about 100ft up. Here, however, we live at 1100ft on a ridge so the wind comes straight for us. And the rain, too, was as predicted, heavy and prolonged, lashing against the windows. I had to go for my flu jab this morning and once more put on my shorts on the basis that it is much easier to dry wet legs than wet trousers, but by lunchtime my legs were covered and I had put on a cardigan, so I think I’m in transition. Trousers, shoes and socks, but short sleeved shirts for a while longer. Can I hang onto them until Christmas, I wonder. I’ll let you know.