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.
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.
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.