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.
Racism and violence are inseparable because racism itself is violence. It stands to reason then that these people, emboldened by the sharp right turn in British politics and the overt xenophobia of Brexit, see violence and the threat of violence as political instruments. None of this comes as a surprise. We need look no further than Brexit, in fact, for the hardest evidence of this violence. Thomas Mair, the man who hacked Labour MP Jo Cox to death during the EU referendum campaign was a white supremacist and British nationalist.
With today’s arrests and the furtherance of the Spanish programme of the seizure of finances and communications Catalan autonomy has been effectively suspended, forcing a serious and volatile constitutional crisis. These are the conditions that have led to open revolt and violence in many part of the world before, and nothing – other than the remarkable sense of calm thus far – makes Catalunya any different.
Democracy – and it is difficult to accept that in 2017 we still find ourselves having to explain this – is all about the will of the people over the ambitions of those in and behind government. The Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid, is a minority government that now no longer has the support of Congress for the actions it is carrying out against Catalunya. In reality what we have is a western government using military-style measures with a military police force against an apparently “illegal” act of democracy without the consent of its own parliament.
In spite of the fact that it is now well-known around the world, thanks to social media, the BBC, CNN, Euro News, and Russia Today have refused to report on Spain’s decision to send the military into Catalunya in its efforts to stop the vote going ahead. Yesterday people across Catalunya were photographing convoys of armoured vehicles belonging to the Spanish Armed Forces and the Guardia Civil and posting them online.
By emphasising the dissimilarities between Catalunya and Scotland, those who fixate on this idea of their unrelatability are failing to see altogether what is perhaps the single most important point of connection – the absolute sameness and predictability of the response of power to challenge. Right now Spain is behaving towards Catalunya in a manner which has sent shockwaves around the liberal democratic world. It is doing this because the Catalans have forced it into a position wherein it has no options left in which it can both win and maintain its pretence of enlightened civility.
The situation, while on the surface like a carnival, is tense. It is understood that any violence – or perceived violence – whatsoever, on the part of the pro-independence movement, will likely result in a full military intervention by Madrid. This is what happens when those with the power have no options left, and Spain has nothing left to play but force.