Spanish Democracy?

I know that there are a lot of people in Scotland following the latest from Catalonia and looking for parallels with our own push for independence but the situation in Catalonia is nothing like that in Scotland. In Catalonia their democratically elected government called a referendum on independence for which, unlike here, there was no prospect of agreement with the Spanish Government.

This was a move long in the making and despite the brutal repression from the Spanish state on referendum day, many turned out to vote, with the turnout topping 50% once the votes that were stolen by the security forces are included.

It was a phenomenal turnout on a day when there were video clips all over social media of voters being beaten for defending the democratic process, for simply trying to cast their vote. It was indiscriminate and thuggish and it has, perhaps irrevocably, harmed public perceptions of Spain.

The Catalan elections now scheduled for December are a chance to send a message to the international community about the strength of feeling on the independence issue. It is an opportunity for Catalans to support the parties of independence in numbers hitherto unheard of and to prove beyond dispute that Spain has lost Catalonia, in an election not just permitted but actively called by the Madrid government as an attempt to subvert Catalan self-Government.

I know many people have already expressed discontent at the handling of the situation by senior figures in the EU hierarchy and care must be taken to ensure that the European ideals are more than just hollow words. The people of Catalonia are European citizens and if their brutalisation at the hands of Spanish police and the blocking of their right to self-determination is allowed to stand, where does this leave the EU many believed would safeguard their rights? They can’t simply turn a blind eye when democracy lies bleeding.

Democracy is a binary choice. You either believe in it or you don’t. It will be very interesting to see which side of this line major European figures fall in the coming days and weeks.

The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont took to the heart of the EU today to denounce the lack of separation of powers between politicians and judiciary as he believes it will not be possible to get a fair trial in Spain. The very idea of him being charged with “Sedition” and “Rebellion” by Madrid should send chills up the spine of anyone who believes in democracy as an ideal.

The problem with Madrid’s approach is that their perceived solutions are rooted in another century. The situation is a political one, to be resolved by politicians, and the courts have no proper role in it. By making it impossible for Catalonia to secede through any democratic means, Rajoy’s government is imagining criminals where none exist. It is not possible to criminalise democratic expression and still be thought a democrat. When you weaponise the legal system, as Spain has done, there is no longer any justice to be found.

The words of Carles Puigdemont today are indicative of a peaceful, healthy nascent democracy. He said:

“This government could have started a confrontation between civil servants, but we did not want to use violence to begin the new country. Every civil organisation and the Catalan government has rejected violence, as should every other democrat. If this attitude slows down the development of the Republic, it is a reasonable price to pay. This is a show of coherence that proves the Catalan republic will be different. We won’t be like the Spanish state.”

Democracy is like a flower, pushing its way through the hard rock of repression. Not suddenly and violently but slowly, peacefully, inexorably.


  1. On Monday I listened to a former foreign minister of a European state who is now resident in Spain and has experienced the whole Catalan situation at first hand. She was quite definite that the whole controversy had been whipped up by a minority of agitators who represented at best a minority of Catalans, and that the majority opinion in the country was in favour of remaining with Spain. Well, I am in no position to counter her view of recent events, but I do know that international law lays down the rule that “peoples” – i.e. not parliaments or governments – have an indisputable right to make up their own minds on how they are to be governed, as and when they decide to do so, and with no external interference from any source. The Spanish government – which signed and accepted the law – had no right whatsoever to interfere with the free expression of that will. The relevant international law is superior to the Spanish constitution and must be upheld whether Madrid likes it or not.

  2. I hear your mother is still in Catalonia, getting feted I understand:-)

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