As I am writing this, riot police are currently lifting, beating and throwing Catalan voters out of various polling stations. The scenes broadcast on TV screens around the globe have shocked people, both those who have sympathies with pro-independence campaigners and those who believe Spain should remain a united country.
The situation in Catalonia serves as a reminder of what happened in Ireland between 1916 and 1921. During that period, the British Government used force to try and suppress any pro-Irish independence attitudes, with a remarkable degree of failure. In case you hadn’t noticed, Ireland , or 26 of her 32 counties , is now a separate, sovereign state.
The referendum called by Catalonia was deemed unconstitutional by Spain's courts. Many feel that the referendum is likely to simply have been a ‘Yes Referendum’ — in other words, one set up and supported only by the pro-independence movement, with little-to-no consultation with either anti-independence or Government sources.
However in spite of this, the Spanish Government’s response is unwarranted and in violation of their own citizens’ civil liberties. There was no need for riot police, for rubber bullets, for voter beatings. The Spanish Government should have allowed for this referendum to go ahead, and then simply declare its result void and unconstitutional. Following this, an open and constructive dialogue could have been held, one that could have resulted in a process that allowed for a legitimate referendum to have occurred.
Instead of quelling pro-independence feeling, the actions of the Spanish Government will likely have increased sympathy for independence. Their actions will not only be resented by pro-independence activists, but also by those who were anti-independence but favoured a referendum on the subject occurring.
The firing of rubber bullets has made their case, that Catalonia is better off as part of a united Spain , that much harder to make. Those on both sides feel that the Spanish Government has little respect for Catalonia. The measures taken by the Government in Madrid shall only serve to solidify that feeling.
The Spanish Government should grant the people of Catalonia the chance to hold a legitimate, constitutional referendum. In doing so, not only would they demonstrate their willingness to listen to the Catalan people, they would be able to make the case for a united Spain.
Approximately 59% of Catalans favour remaining part of Spain, whilst the pro-independence movement — Together for Yes — is one that is incredibly divided over what independence would mean, with the coalition comprised of parties on the far-left, the centre-left and the centre-right.
In spite of the energised, youthful and confident images many see of the pro-independence campaign, their campaign is vulnerable when the divisions between the members are scrutinsed and brought out into the open.
Spain should allow for this referendum, and fight. They should not fight to suppress but to win, and maintain the unity that makes Spain one of the most diverse and creative countries in Europe.