At midnight on Thursday 31 October 2019 our open borders with the European Union will close, the free movement of people will end, and every one of the thousands of agreements and common understandings on trade, security, policing, health and safety, and transport will be irrevocably terminated. On and after 31 October food will not arrive into UK ports from any EU member state until, as a foreign state, the UK has negotiated a new set of trade agreements with Europe – a process which cannot begin until after the UK has left the EU and which may take weeks or months to finalise.
This is not what should happen in a free and democratic society. Our leaders have power only because we consent to be governed. They press the flesh of police officers and soldiers at photo-ops, they do not use them as witting or unwitting props in a campaign of intimidation. Democratic leaders do not politicise the police and the army and otherwise make their members instruments in a partisan conflict in which it is likely some level of force will be used. This is an upsetting development and one we must now all watch closely.
In spite of his obvious intelligence, his quick-wittedness, and his natural ingenuity, ‘the Scot’ is slavishly obedient to the point of servility. In fact, this is made quite explicit in a scene – after the first attempt on the Home Secretary’s life (played by Keeley Hawes); after saving her life almost at the cost of his own a uniformed officer points him to the service entrance of the hotel where she is staying. Take the backdoor Jock! As always, ‘the Scot’ gets ahead in the world by being perfectly obedient to his betters. He cannot be the hero of the story unless he knows his place.
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.
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.
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.