Socialists’ unity questioned under strain of Catalan separatist pressure

Former party number two calls for split after PSC breaks ranks by abstaining from Congress vote against right to decide

The rift between the central Socialist Party (PSOE) and its Catalan branch, the PSC, over the region’s bid to hold a referendum over sovereignty grows ever wider.

Just a few hours after the PSC had broken party discipline in Congress by not voting against Catalonia’s right to decide on Tuesday, veteran deputy Alfonso Guerra — a former PSOE number two — insinuated that the central party ought to be represented under its own banner in the northwestern region.

According to Guerra, “the PSC stopped being Socialist a long time ago,” because, he said, it had been following a Catalan nationalist path.

A short time later, Catalan Socialist leader Pere Navarro said the party wanted to continue “its shared project” with the PSOE, on the basis of the federal proposal. Speaking in Madrid, Navarro said the PSC’s divergence from the rest of Spain’s Socialists over the right to decide was wise for everyone. “I feel like a Socialist,” he said without expressly referring to Guerra’s comments.

On Tuesday 265 deputies from Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD), the Popular Party, PSOE, the Navarrese People’s Union (UPN) and Foro Asturias voted to pass a motion brought by UPyD leader Rosa Díez saying that it was not possible for Catalans to hold a plebiscite solely among themselves. National sovereignty was indivisible and the issue needed to be submitted to a vote across the whole of the country, it said.

It was the first time that Congress has pronounced against the right to decide since Mas announced his intention to advance towards a referendum on independence

But while PSOE deputies voted in favor of the motion, 13 PSC deputies — one was absent — broke party discipline by abstaining from the vote.

It was the second time this year that the Catalan Socialists had dissented from the PSOE line in Congress. On February 26, 13 deputies — with the exception of former minister Carme Chacón — broke ranks by voting in favor of opening dialogue between the Catalan regional government and Madrid with the aim of holding a legal referendum and Catalans exercising their right to decide.

In theory, now, as they were then, the PSC deputies concerned will be fined for their transgression. Last time round the rebellion also cost José Zaragoza his post as PSC coordinator in the Socialist grouping in Congress.

Díez said her motion had not been designed to do damage to the other parliamentary groups, but rather to make Congress fix a firm and formal position against the right to decide and Catalan premier Artur Mas’s sovereignty plan. It was the first time that Congress has pronounced against the right to decide since Mas announced his intention to advance towards a referendum on independence for Catalonia.

Nine parties voted against the motion — Mas’s CiU Catalan nationalist bloc, the Basque Nationalist Party, United Left, the leftist-green ICV, Chunta Aragonesista, the ERC Catalan Republican Left, Basque abertzale leftists Amaiur, the Galician Nationalist Bloc and Compromís.

The question over the right to decide has hit the PSC hard in regional opinion polls. A survey carried out by Metroscopia for EL PAÍS earlier this month found it could only count on the loyalty of 44 percent of its voters. Having at one time governed all the region’s institutions, it slipped to third place in the last regional elections, when it obtained the worst result in its history.

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