As Madrid turns the austerity screws, in the provinces the separatists are making gains

Alasdair Fotheringham reports from Galicia on the eve of key regional elections

High in the Los Ancares region of Galicia, in the tiny hamlet of Quindous, a newspaper cutting on the wall of the main bar shows two Barcelona taxis parked outside its front door. The drivers – both relatives of Inés, the bar's owner – had been making a decent living in Barcelona. But the recession bit deeper and business dried up. So they got in their taxis and embarked on the 500-mile drive west, hoping to find work back home in Galicia.

Like thousands of others, their quest proved fruitless, and they joined the ranks of the unemployed. "People came back hoping to work on the land," Inés said. "But there's barely a living to be had at it now. For young folk there's barely anything to be had here at all."

Unemployment has hit 21 per cent in Galicia, and Inés is far from alone in her worries about her area's economic prospects. While once it was proud that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hailed from this far-western region, now he is seen as more of a liability as local elections near.

Tomorrow, Galicia and the Basque Country vote for their regional governments, and Spain's worst recession in half a century is likely to be the most decisive factor. How far Galicia strays from its once prodigal son is a telling indication of support for his harsh austerity policies. In the Basque Country, separatists are expected to make gains, further threatening the unity of the Spanish state after surging support for independence in Catalonia.

Eurozone leaders will also be watching the elections closely – there is speculation that Mr Rajoy has delayed asking for Spain's politically controversial banking bailout until after the polls.

Unai Larrea, a former deputy editor of Deia, one of the Basque Country's best-selling newspapers, said: "Here in my village" – Amorebieta, half-way between Bilbao and San Sebastian, deep in the Basque Country – "unemployment has doubled in the last four years from five per cent to around 10 per cent. All the surveys confirm it – it's the economy that matters most to people right now.

"It's like the world's turned upside down. The Basque nationalists' electoral strategy is mainly focused on slating the mishandling of the economy by the PP and PSOE," he added, referring to Spain's main political parties, Mr Rajoy's Popular Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, which currently rule in a coalition in the Basque Country.

The radical nationalist coalition EH-Bildu, which did not take part in the 2009 elections, is expected to gain more than a quarter of the 75 seats in the regional parliament and become the second biggest party. This comes only a year after the armed separatist group Eta signed the most definitive ceasefire to date. Since then, the radical nationalists have shifted away from violence and towards the democratic process.

A similar increase of the hardline and nationalist vote is expected in Galicia, where a new coalition bringing together communists, separatists and ecologists is forecast to gain about 10 per cent of seats.

The government's gravest concern, however, is Catalonia, one of Spain's wealthiest provinces. Its nationalist president, Artur Mas, has already announced a referendum on independence should he, as is forecast, be re-elected in local elections in late November. Yesterday it was reported that he and the Basque nationalist leader, Iñigo Urkullu, had agreed to work closely in their respective bids for greater sovereignty.

In Madrid, there are concerns that the rise of increasingly vociferous separatist coalitions in the Basque Country and Galicia will boost nationalist morale ahead of the Catalonia vote.

Despite Mr Rajoy's diminishing support, the PP is expected to hold on to its majority in Galicia, thanks to the personal popularity of the candidate, Alberto Núñez Feijóo.

But in the Basque Country, there is already a celebratory mood among nationalists for what is expected to be their best-ever electoral result. In the strongly nationalist town of Villabona, Karlis Mendrano, a photographer, said: "EH-Bildu have already reserved the bar here for Sunday to celebrate their victory. They know they're going to win."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?