A day after around 350,000 anti-independence Catalans (or non-Catalans bussed in from out of town) swamped the streets of Barcelona to declare their unity with Spain, France has declared it will not recognise an independent Catalonia and that it should be expelled from the EU. Would that be expulsion free from the divorce fees demanded of Brexit? If so, go for it! Rumours of big businesses discussing relocating from the Catalan heartland in the event of the autonomous regional government proclaiming separation from Spain will be familiar to anyone in this country; powerful corporations imagining issuing threats will somehow force the people round to their way of thinking is a futile exercise that will only strengthen pro-independence sentiments in the same way Madrid’s response to last week’s referendum did.
At the height of the Civil Rights movement in the mid-60s, white residents of America’s Deep South were prone to remarking the rest of the US didn’t understand their corner of the country; it’s true that the old Confederate States retained their archaic identity well into the twentieth century, in defiance of the self-image the USA had created as an international export, and the same could be said of both Catalonia and the Basque region in relation to modern-day Spain. Enforcing the authority of the National Government by dispatching the militaristic wing of the Spanish police force and battering anyone in sight is not the best way to send out a message to either Catalans or the watching world that the rest of Spain is Catalonia’s friend.
The remarkable sight of local fire-fighters protecting the public from outside policemen supposed to be on the same side was one of many startling images to emerge from the chaos of referendum day. From the pictures most of us saw, it seemed those wishing to exercise their democratic (or illegal) vote were largely non-violent, whereas the police regiments were the ones throwing their weight around; the Catalan constabulary, standing alongside the fire-fighters to shield the crowd, looked stunned by the level of force their Madrid counterparts were employing to prevent the referendum from going ahead. The region’s chief of police has even been charged with ‘sedition’ for failing to protect the invaders from protestors. But the EU responded by declaring ‘reasonable force’ was perfectly fine as a means of the National Government keeping the country together. Bring on that expulsion from Brussels now.
There are right ways and there are wrong ways of dealing with a troublesome neighbourhood of a nation that was pieced together from constituent parts over a century before. As a response to three years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Ted Heath’s Government granted a plebiscite to the people of Ulster in 1972, offering them the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted to remain in the United Kingdom; when the vote took place the following year, the result was a landslide for ‘remain’, though this was probably aided considerably by the fact that the majority of Nationalists boycotted the referendum. In 2014, when the Scots were finally given their chance to decide once and for all if they wanted their independence, they also voted to stay with the rest of us; as we all know, the losers continue to whinge about the result, but Westminster didn’t dispatch riot police to Edinburgh. If it had, chances are Alex Salmond would not now be out of a job.
During the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85, many local constabularies maintained cordial relations with strikers in the early stages of the dispute; it was only when Mrs Thatcher sent in the Met, foreign troops looking upon the inhabitants of the communities they invaded as sub-human pond-life, that the picket-line violence escalated and the likes of Orgreave occurred. The Guardia Civil appear to exhibit the same contempt towards Catalans as the Met exhibited towards the miners in 1984, and in the process have probably boosted separatist support when previous polls had suggested, though close, most Catalans didn’t favour independence after all.
The latest statistics from the disputed referendum suggest 90% of Catalans voted for independence, though the turn-out was 43% and it’s believed the majority of ‘No’ voters didn’t visit the polling station; perhaps they were exposed to the same level of intimidation as Scots wishing to remain in the UK allegedly experienced in 2014 and opted out as a consequence. Some of the pro-Spain protestors that made their voices heard at the weekend may well have been sponsored by Madrid, but it’s equally possible many of them were genuine Catalans who don’t buy into the separatist agenda. If we again cast our minds back to events north of the border three years ago, the independence crowd certainly shouted the loudest, giving the impression they were speaking on behalf of the majority if one recalls the amount of airtime they received. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the same applies in Catalonia.
The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will be addressing the region’s parliament tomorrow, and though there are no signs of any diplomatic compromise with Madrid yet being reached, the anticipated declaration of independence hasn’t appeared either. Lest we forget, however, the economic stability of the region in comparison to many areas of Spain post-2008 is a valuable bargaining chip for the Catalans, something that makes the National Government’s approach to dealing with the separatists a baffling blunder. If Madrid wants to keep the country intact, it’ll have to devise a different method of doing so.
© The Editor