The Spanish state has attacked European democracy: and we just let it happen

Catalonia in the eyes of a Scot

, by Gavin Dewar

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The Spanish state has attacked European democracy: and we just let it happen
Catalan and Scottish flags during a pro-independence meeting in Edinburgh, 18 September 2014 CC Flickr

The parallel is often drawn between Catalonia and Scotland’s pro-independence movements, whose claims indeed share some common traits. However, the organisation and the proceedings of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and the attitude of the British government have nothing to do with what has happened in Catalonia since the independence referendum of 1st October. Regardless of the result, the referendum in Scotland was organised legally and peacefully, and was fully accepted and recognised by the British government. The Catalan referendum was illegal and unilateral, and the reaction of the Spanish government was reactionary, violent and unacceptable. Our author Gavin Dewar, Scottish citizen, shares his views for The New Federalist.

Trouble on the horizon

Sympathy for one independence movement does not, and should not, mean a natural affinity to another. As such, I have worked hard to ensure that my own attachment to the Scottish independence movement does not overly inform my opinion of the Catalan movement.

To blindly follow another cause regardless of its ideology, history, and tactics is a dangerous form of thoughtless nationalism which does not sit well with the open, progressive, civic movement to which I and many other free-thinking pro-independence Scots subscribe. Not only would it be intellectually troubling to instantly support the Catalan cause without thorough research, it would be arrogant and disrespectful of the unique history and culture underlying both the would-be states.

With this in mind, I met the news of the unauthorized Catalan independence referendum with some caution and an attempt at neutrality. I weighed the pros and cons of the situation, and found myself troubled at the prospect of what lays ahead. If Catalonia unilaterally declared independence after its plebiscite, I thought, it would find itself a pariah, an outcast in a contemporary Europe devoid of inspiring or radical leadership and therefore averse to the idea of a controversial new state joining its community. I’m certainly not against the creation of an independent, pro-European Republic of Catalonia, I concluded: but not like this.

These were my thoughts as Catalans went to the polls on the 1st October 2017. Ultimately, I was uncertain where my sympathies lay and concluded that it was a matter for Catalonia and Spain to decide for themselves. There was a sense of history – and a sense of trouble on the horizon.

And then the violence began.

Forever condemned

The Spanish state, in its desperation, authorized a sickening crack-down on a democratic vote, and I was certainly not alone in my horror at the scenes coming from the streets of Barcelona. Elderly ladies with blood running down their cheeks. Polling stations raided and ransacked, their staff bludgeoned out of the way. Voters dragged by the hair and thrown screaming down a flight of stairs. Catalan firefighters attempting to defend voters from Spanish security forces. A Catalan police officer, his loyalties torn, weeping into the arms of his colleague.

The Spanish authorities could have responded to the Catalan referendum with dignity and grace. They could have let the vote happen and, while insisting upon its unauthorised and illegitimate results, engaged in dialogue with the Catalan government. At the very least they could have just denied the validity of the results, secure in the knowledge that the law seemed to be on their side.

Instead, in a display of utter contempt for the democratic process, they sent in the troops. And, in a Trump-esque act of bizarre delusion, they then denied the brutality of their actions, and pushed on with their antagonistic campaign. The dramatic sequence of events which followed continued in this confrontational and childish trend, and now Catalans live in a strange and ominous political limbo, their president (or ex-president and “rebel”, according to Madrid) Carles Puigdemont seeking support and security in Brussels.

The caution or neutrality displayed by many of us at the idea of an independent Catalonia should, at this point, be overshadowed by a shared fury and sense of betrayal at the Spanish state, and the Rajoy government, for bringing anti-democratic violence to the heart of Western Europe. We have witnessed here an old, proud country casting off any façade of dignity, and descending into brute force to defend its suddenly mediaeval-looking form. Spain’s political credibility, and the credibility of Europe as a whole, has crumbled.

The Catalan situation is just one more symptom of an EU plagued with confusion and insecurity, one which should concern and trouble us all. In the words of former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, the EU as a whole “shall be forever condemned, that they walked by on the other side of the road when something in Western Europe happened that was totally and completely unacceptable.”

It is our responsibility as democratic Europeans to condemn, in turn, the thoughtless barbarism of the Spanish state under Mariano Rajoy.

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