The truth is that Spain has narrowly avoided an armed conflict in Catalunya, and no country has done more to provoke a war in Europe in recent decades than has Spain in Catalunya. Thanks mainly, we can be sure, to the misguided trust of the Catalan leadership in the honest brokerage of the EU and the European states this has not happened. Yet, now having learned this lesson, we cannot be certain that any similar event will end so “peacefully.”
Catalonia will become an independent state. That much is now a historical certainty. Scotland too will break away from the United Kingdom. Forces have been unleashed that have refused to go away, and as the neoliberal project continues to unravel the conditions are being created for greater state instability. Italy, Belgium, France, and to some extent Germany will face the same movements in the next decade.
The European Union has not, in any meaningful sense, spoken up in the defence of Catalunya. More than this, it has not spoken up in the defence of freedom and democracy – not for the Catalans and not for anyone. The watchword everywhere, even echoed by the Scottish Secretary of State, is that this is a matter for Spain and the Spanish Constitution. Once again power has been justified by the law it wrote for itself and its own preservation.
Our problem with such violent political policing is not the violence per se. We are used to violence. Western civilisation was built on violence, and is perhaps the greatest purveyor and consumer of warfare and state sponsored violence in the history of the human race. Rather, our problem with this sacrilege is that it shatters our illusions pertaining to the nature and power of democracy. It reminds us that democracy is a pacifier; a ritual that sedates people with the tranquiliser of the mere impression of control while the state qua the ruling establishment is free to get on with the business of power.
Mr. Rajoy can be damn sure there was a referendum. Spanish nationalists and Scotland’s British nationalists – eager to keep the independence movement here at heel – have been repeating the chorus, “the vote was illegal – the police were in the right.” The Catalan government was expected to negotiate with the central government in Madrid, but they failed to do this. No talks have happened with Spain because such talks, according to the Spanish Constitution, are themselves illegal. Spain’s Constitution forbids constitutional change and talk of it is seditious.
Under such conditions the Spanish government had hoped Barcelona would capitulate. This has not happened. Carles Puigdemont, while acknowledging that due to Spanish countermeasures many may not have the chance to vote, has stated emphatically that the vote will happen on Sunday. He has said he is willing to face arrest and imprisonment to ensure this, and – in the event of a Yes vote – he or a delegated representative will declare independence before Wednesday 4 October.
The Catalans are far from powerless. With a population of 7.5 million people, half of whom at least are in favour of independence, Catalunya has the numbers to stifle Spain’s aggression. One million people on the streets of Barcelona and proportionately large numbers out in other towns and cities; ignoring Spain’s diktats, will render police or military action useless. The alternative to this is a potential standoff between elements of the Catalan police force and the Spanish Guardia Civil.