Great British Railways: Neither Public Nor Private Enough

London England
Railways in London, England seen from The Shard tower, June 17, 2017 (Unsplash/Simon Mumenthaler)

This week, the British government published its long-awaited and somewhat delayed review into the British railway network.

The proposals — putting infrastructure, timetables, fares and tickets back into government hands but allowing private companies to run the trains — are a step in the right direction, but they would keep the network in a twilight zone.

British rail is neither fully private nor fully public, despite the government and the Treasury in particular having control over many aspects of the railway. Accountability is murky. Industry fragmentation — 29 train companies, fifteen leasing companies — has only made it worse. Read more “Great British Railways: Neither Public Nor Private Enough”

Separatist Parties Agree to Form New Government in Catalonia

Palau de la Generalitat Barcelona Spain
The palace of the Catalan regional government in Barcelona, Spain at night (iStock/Tomas Sereda)

Catalonia’s leading pro-independence parties have reached an agreement to install Pere Aragonès as regional president.

Aragonès has been acting president since September, when Quim Torra of the center-right Together for Catalonia (Junts) was forced to step down. Aragonès’ Republican Left won the election in February.

The agreement comes after three months of negotiations during which the Republicans raised the possibility of forming a minority government if Junts would not move closer to their position.

The sticking point was how to continue the independence process. The Republicans want to give talks about self-determination with Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez a chance. They often vote with the social democrat in the national Congress. Junts does not expect Sánchez will meet the separatists’ demands, which include a recognized referendum on independence from Spain and an amnesty for the organizers of the 2017 referendum, which had been forbidden by the Spanish Constitution Court. They were convicted in 2019 to between nine and thirteen years in prison. Read more “Separatist Parties Agree to Form New Government in Catalonia”

Socialists Miss Opportunity in Catalonia

Salvador Illa
Spanish health minister Salvador Illa listens to a debate in parliament in Madrid, October 28, 2020 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

With two weeks left before snap elections would automatically be called, Catalonia’s leading separatist party, the Republican Left, still doesn’t have support to form either a majority or a minority regional government.

The Republicans floated the possibility of a minority government after weeks of negotiations with the second independence party, Together for Catalonia (Junts), led nowhere. But even a minority government would need the backing of Junts to win more votes than the unionists, who have 53 out of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament.

The dispute centers on Junts‘ desire to push forward with Catalan independence from Spain whereas the Republicans want to give talks with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez about more autonomy a chance. (Talks which have barely begun.) Junts is driving the negotiations to a head, because it thinks the Republicans have no alternative.

So if you’re a clever opposition party, you give them an alternative. Read more “Socialists Miss Opportunity in Catalonia”

Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer

Tracy Brabin Keir Starmer
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer campaigns with Tracy Brabin, mayoral candidate for West Yorkshire, in Pontefract, England, May 5 (Labour)

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are out in force arguing his successor, Keir Starmer, must surely resign after losing the Hartlepool constituency, a Labour bulwark since 1974, to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Corbyn lost all seven elections (local, national and European) during his five-year leadership and still his supporters refused to accept he might be damaging the party, but Starmer loses one seat and it’s all the proof they need to conclude that he can’t defeat the Conservatives?

Big if true. Read more “Labour’s Problems Go Deeper Than Starmer”

Madrid’s Díaz Ayuso Is Not an Inspiration

Pablo Casado Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Spanish People’s Party leaders Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso campaign in the town of Majadahonda, north of Madrid, May 1 (PP)

Ben Hall writes in the Financial Times that Isabel Díaz Ayuso’s election victory in Madrid could be a template for center-right parties elsewhere.

I doubt it. Factors unique to Spain contributed to Díaz Ayuso’s success. In other countries, conservatives will have to strike a different balance. Read more “Madrid’s Díaz Ayuso Is Not an Inspiration”

Catalan Republicans to Form Minority Government

Pere Aragonès
Acting Catalan president Pere Aragonès gives a speech in Barcelona, Spain, December 14, 2020 (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya)

Catalonia’s leading independence party has announced plans to form a minority government after almost three months of fruitless coalition talks.

Negotiations between the Republican Left, led by Acting President Pere Aragonès, and the formerly center-right Together for Catalonia (Junts), which now presents itself as a big tent, have stalled.

Time is running out for the separatists, who together hold 74 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament. If a new president isn’t inaugurated by May 26, snap elections would automatically be called. Read more “Catalan Republicans to Form Minority Government”

Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections

Bristol, England
Aerial view of Bristol, England (Shutterstock)

Scotland’s will be the most closely watched election, but voters across the UK go to the polls on Thursday.

In addition to the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, all sixty seats in the Welsh Assembly, all 25 seats in the London Assembly, thirteen mayoralties and thousands of seats in 143 English councils are contested.

There is also a parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool, which has voted Labour since the constituency was created in 1974.

Polls opened at 7 AM local time and will close at 10 PM. Due to coronavirus restrictions, many localities won’t start counting votes until Friday. Full results aren’t expected until the weekend.

Here are three things to watch: Read more “Three Things to Watch in Britain’s Local Elections”

National Implications of the Madrid Regional Election

Pablo Casado Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Spanish People’s Party leaders Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso celebrate their regional election victory in Madrid, May 4 (PP)

Isabel Díaz Ayuso triumphed in Madrid’s regional election on Wednesday. The conservative People’s Party (PP) leader vanquished her erstwhile coalition partners, the liberal-nationalist Citizens, and fell just four seats short of an absolute majority.

The expectation is that the far-right Vox (Voice), with thirteen seats, will give Díaz Ayus a second term.

The combined left won 58 out of 136 seats in the regional assembly. Read more “National Implications of the Madrid Regional Election”

The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland (Unsplash/Manu Bravo)

Scotland’s ruling National Party (SNP) has staked a second independence referendum on the outcome of Thursday’s election. If separatists defend their majority in the Scottish Parliament — in addition to the SNP, the Greens favor independence — they propose to hold another vote even over the objections of London.

Scots voted 55 to 45 percent against dissolving the United Kingdom in 2014. Nationalists argue Brexit has changed the calculation. 62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the EU in 2016. They were overruled by majorities in England and Wales. Polls found majorities in Scotland for leaving the UK and rejoining the EU through 2020 and early 2021. Unionists have recently closed the gap. But the SNP is still faraway in first place in election polls with up to 50 percent support.

There are many arguments for and against independence, and each one could be debated at length. I’ll summarize what I find to be the most persuasive ones. Read more “The Arguments For and Against Scottish Independence”

Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid

Isabel Díaz Ayuso
Regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso in Madrid, February 23 (Comunidad de Madrid)

Spanish conservatives hope the third time will be the charm.

In 2018, spooked by the return of the far right, they chose the reactionary Pablo Casado as their leader over the center-right Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. Casado pulled the People’s Party to the right, arguing for a clampdown on Catalan nationalism, lower immigration and tighter abortion laws. Voters didn’t approve. The party fell from 33 to 17 percent support in the election and lost over half its seats in Congress.

In the next election, seven months later, Casado doubled down. He refused to attack far-right leader Santiago Abascal and proposed to criminalize Catalan separatism. The conservatives did better, going up to 21 percent, but they still failed to defeat the Socialists. Abascal’s Vox also increased its vote share, to 15 percent.

The lesson from other European countries is that center-right parties can never outbid the far right, which is always willing to go a step further. Moving to the right in order to shrink the distance between mainstream and far right isn’t a winning strategy either. It makes it easier for conservative voters to switch.

In Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso is nevertheless attempting the same strategy — and she might win. Read more “Trumpification of the Spanish Right in Madrid”