Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Home again, where I can write to my member of parliament.

My trip to Spain and back covered nearly 10,000 kilometres this time. Here’s a very stunted and biased review of the countries we passed through: Belgium, boring (but not the beer); Germany, efficient, regulated; Poland, bad roads, nice people; Slovakia, scary, struggling; Austria, see Germany, Italy, exciting, dangerous, historic; France, depressed yet delightful.

And so we came to Spain, our second home. I have lived there on and off for fifteen years, but often find that I am only just getting to know it, just now diving below the superficial. This time I began to understand why nearly everyone in our village owns plots of land: some tiny, some quite large, and often a number of them. More importantly, though I admire the degree of decentralisation – villages have significant local powers in Spain – there is a flaw: Spanish voters have no direct representation.
By Huse Fack March 05, 2013

Years ago, when I was politically active, I wrote a letter to the local paper about proportional representation – yawn, yawn. Wait! In my article I set the scene in a pub; four people were deciding what to drink, they each settled on a different tipple then one of them went to the bar to order. He returned with four glasses each containing a cocktail of all four choices: beer, gin, cider, whisky – a mixture that none of them likes, yet all of them had collectively chosen. That was forty years ago, now I have seen this plausible, but unworkable, scheme in action and it stinks as badly as that awful cocktail. It is the system used to ‘elect’ those anonymous, but very well paid, people whom we call MEPs and it is the basis of Spanish ‘democracy’.

Recently my half-Spanish grandson was amazed when I said that I had written to my MP about some aspect of immigration. He seemed unable to understand the concept and told me that you could not do that in Spain. I assumed that he just did not understand, after all he is young. But he is right, it is just not done. In Spain you are represented by a cocktail of people drawn from the parties who stood for election in your particular state, province or whatever, there is no single representative for your area.

Now, I am not saying that the British democracy is perfect:  far from it, turnout for elections is depressingly poor and respect for politicians and the system they operate in is discouragingly low. However, we do have representatives who hold surgeries in order to hear the views of their constituents and we can write to or email our MP. What’s more, in my experience, they do respond – it is a major part of their job. I wonder what the Spanish congress members and our MEPs do with their time.

There is more. Spain is a Eurozone country so monetary affairs are effectively in the hands of the EU. Other governmental responsibilities are delegated to the various states or autonomies which comprise the country (Galicia, Catalonia, AndalucĂ­a, etc) and those responsibilities include health and education. What does this leave for central government? Not much: just things like defence, foreign policy and transport. So, the power of parliament in Spain is severely limited. It is interesting then that regions like Catalonia and the Basque country are demanding ‘complete’ autonomy so that they can attach themselves directly to the mothership: the European Union.