As this not unlikely scenario plays out Scotland will find itself in much the same position that Catalonia now finds itself – having to break British law or hold a referendum without British consent in order to decide on its own future. We may imagine that the deployment of the police against the independence movement is impossible here, but when it comes to state politics and the political and economic necessities of suzerain states anything is possible. Over the past three centuries the British state has consistently used force against its own subjects to keep them in line.
Where does this mindless obedience lead us? We know fine well where this behaviour leads; history teaches us all we need to know, and this is precisely why we refer to the defence of “only following orders” as the Nuremberg defence. This leads to the deprivation of civil and political rights, the creation of categories of political crimes, and to the exact same thinking that brought us the re-education camps and concentration camps of the totalitarian and authoritarian régimes of the not so distant past – and this is no facile comparison.
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.
The National Party was returned to government in Scotland, with a majority support in Edinburgh for independence, on the promise that with a material change in the circumstances pertaining to the settlement of 18 September 2014 it would give Scotland another say. Since the result of the EU referendum the entire political terrain of the UK has been changed. Nothing is as it was in 2014.
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.