OPINION
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After the fall

The former Socialist voter may vaguely remember that the party was, at one time, a Spain-wide constitutional party

The gloomy auguries came true, and the Socialist Party (PSOE) bit the dust in Galicia and the Basque Country. True, the disaster seems of a minor order compared to last year's general elections, but it is just a foretaste of those in Catalonia next month. In little more than a year, the Spanish center-left may well be completely out of business. The time for mere warnings is past. The PSOE needs a helping hand. This is a dangerous country, but it would be even more so without the PSOE.

The party's leaders have to be lucid about their mistakes. Their habitual alliances with parties of all sorts have disconcerted voters. If you vote Socialist, for whom are you voting? The people who legalized Bildu? The Catalan quasi-secessionists? The featherbedding unions in Andalusia? The talk of "federalism" is not credible to anyone, not even those who jabber on about it.

On this particular point, the former Socialist voter may vaguely remember that the party was, at one time, a Spain-wide constitutional party, which saw clearly that regional nationalism can only be a reactionary ideology. Regional nationalism is sentimental and irrational; it puts the territory ahead of the citizen; it is based on a pedagogy of hatred; it uses the national banner as a wrapping for the local oligarchy's exploitation and corruption; it practices systematic lying; and its behavior borders on the fascistic.

The Socialists conceive of a supposed "Spanish nationalism," which hardly deserves comment. This is an oddly easy-going sort of nationalism, which allows secessionist parties to control the peripheral regions, give children immersion classes in the local language, and impose fines on those who write in Castilian Spanish. Unfortunately, this Socialist cop-out may well propitiate the possibility that a real, hardcore Spanish nationalism may rise again from its grave.

A large majority of the population believes that it is the Socialist parties who empty the public coffers

A large majority of the population believes that it is the Socialist parties who empty the public coffers, owing to their proliferating clientelism. Indeed, regions such as Andalusia, where the Socialists are still in the saddle, are rank breeding grounds for civil servants, public and semi-public companies, opaque subsidies, nepotistic postings, board members, assistants, commissioners and no end of subaltern jobs, which are of no use at all, but thanks to which thousands of party members and their families live. Public ire against politicians' privileges, and against the Socialist Party, chief protector of those privileges, is huge.

Another question has to do with the urgent need for a "state pact" between the PSOE and the Popular Party (PP) to deal with the recession. There is no evidence that the lack of such a pact is due solely to the PP's disdain. And the constant bombardment of demonstrations and strikes is widely perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a government-hounding tactic propitiated by the Socialists, as if they liked seeing Spain compared with Greece in the English-language press.

Lastly, and this is almost impossible, the Socialist Party badly needs an overhaul in its leadership. Many are Zapatero men, utterly lacking in credibility. Rubalcaba is a good man for behind-the-scenes work, but he has no political attraction, and zero ideas. The present leader of the Catalan Socialists, Pere Navarro, makes his predecessor, the colorless José Montilla, look like Churchill by comparison. Not to mention Carme Chacón, the sphinx without a secret.

The previous paragraph may seem cruel, but we are talking here about a string of failures, a huge loss of power and - looming in the near future - a possible catastrophe that may leave this country without the alternative of the center-left.

And, stooping from the general to the particular - the case of Catalonia - the Socialist Party needs people with some brains, and something to say to confront the beast of regional traditionalism.

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