The Talking Point: Cool heads needed as Spain cracksdown on Catalonia

(Title Image: The Telegraph)

Events in Catalonia are reaching a tipping point as the nation gears up for a highly controversial independence referendum on Sunday (1st October), with relations between the Catalan and Spanish governments deteriorating significantly over the last week or so.

In terms of how this (and the referendum result) may affect the Welsh independence movement, I’ll return to that in the next State of Wales update, due on October 30th.

The Spanish Government, citing the Spanish Constitution, had decreed that the referendum is illegal as permission hasn’t been formally sought (and was unlikely to ever be granted as independence referendums are strictly forbidden).

The reaction from the Welsh Government has been expectedly glib. In a response to a question from Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) last Wednesday, the Finance & Local Government Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said that while Welsh Government supports the democratic process, they wouldn’t speak out as if foreign policy was within their remit.

Instead of responding to it in the mature manner of a 21st Century European democracy – which is through the courts and by diplomacy alone – the Spanish Government’s response has resembled that a Latin American banana republic.

The paramilitary Guardia Civil have been sent to detain those involved and seize documents relating to the referendum, threats have been made to prosecute public officials who would be expected to oversee the poll, while the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has resorted to rhetoric from the Franco era, telling Catalans to “stop this radicalism and disobedience”.

The nation’s autonomy has also been suspended with Madrid taking direct control of the nation’s finances (Catalonia is one of the richest nations within the Spanish state and is a net-contributor to the Spanish budget by around €6billion a year).

Catalan nationalists aren’t blameless here. They’ve been spoiling for a fight for a while and the referendum is something of a distraction from the corruption conviction of one of the godfathers of the modern Catalan national movement, Jordi Puyol, as well as a ban from holding public office handed to former Premier, Artur Mas (relating to a previous “unconstitutional” sovereignty vote).

Polling is close, though I suspect the Spanish Government, EU and UK will be hoping for a “No” vote to maintain the status quo and stop other stateless nations (particularly Scotland, Flanders and the Basque Country) from getting any ideas.

It’s quite likely Spanish nationalists will boycott the poll in order to give it little legitimacy, while even if it’s a “Yes” vote, any declaration of independence will go unrecognised.

There’s a potential for this to get very nasty, very quickly.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that, based on their behaviour to date, the Spanish Government would be willing to take direct control of Catalonia, impose a curfew and even authorise lethal force. While such a move might quell the dissent for now, it would be a mistake not unlike the British response to Ireland’s Easter Rising, which turned public opinion towards independence.

The only thing we can really hope for is a calm response to the referendum by both sides and reasoned negotiations, but with too many egos involved, too many beds made and the state the world’s in at the moment, that might be too optimistic.