One hit wonder

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed how deep Spain's political divides are, with aggressive mudslinging once again characterising the weekly congressional session on Wednesday. Vox, especially, sees the enemy it wants to see in Pedro Sánchez's minority government - namely, a subversive leftist party trying to impose its quasi-totalitarian socialist ideals on the entire country. The right-wing party's leader Pablo Abascal has repeatedly pushed this claim to the limits of credibility, saying on Wednesday that Podemos leader and deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias is trying to force a "Bolivarian regime" on Spain.

But not all of the points made by the government's opponents in these weekly "debates" can be dismissed as political point-scoring or theatrical posturing. Sánchez's administration really is starting to look like an ailing pop group with just one song, churning out the same number every time it takes to the stage, to dwindling and increasingly hostile crowds.

Overwrought though some of the opposition's criticisms are, there is always a danger in periods of emergency or alarm that governments might give themselves too much power and/or abuse it in the process, a risk that increases with groups who are already in favour of a big state. One of the most pressing questions for Spain now, as it has been all along, is whether its Socialist government should devolve some responsibilities to the regions in dealing with the effects of Covid-19.

This issue was flagged by Gabriel Rufián of the Catalan pro-independence party ERC on Wednesday, when he said that Sánchez is not taking into account "crucial territorial information" and that Spain's regions should be allowed to deal with their own situations "out of pure efficiency". For these justifiable reasons, the ERC voted against the latest extension of the state of alarm, which was nevertheless narrowly approved and which will preserve centralised control from Madrid for another fifteen days, much to the fury of Sánchez's opponents.

Yet why is the Socialist leader so doggedly clinging to the powers handed to his administration under Article 116 of the Spanish Constitution? And why not allow the regions to exercise their constitutionally protected powers of autonomy in this particular crisis? As Rufián suggests, perhaps it would actually be more efficient for the government to delegate to regional administrations now, rather than trying to impose blanket conditions on areas affected to differing extents by Covid-19.

Patience is running out among Sánchez's opponents, and it was only because the Conservative Popular Party (PP) abstained on Wednesday that the latest extension was granted. The PP has indicated that it might vote against a further extension if it's requested, hopefully forcing the government to consider other options, one of which is looking at territorial disparities throughout Spain. No more state of alarm, please: play us another tune.