Regrettably, as we speak, the first arrests resulting from the confrontation between the Spanish State and the Government of Catalonia are taking place. Public officers of the Catalan government will soon be charged.
Nobody can question, legally, that these officers appear to have committed a criminal offence. They are acting against legally binding resolutions by Spanish judges that are technically legitimate. The resolutions adopted by the Catalan Government in order to initiate the referendum have been declared illegal. They are not only in breach of the Spanish constitutional system. They are even in breach of their own rules in Catalonia. The motion passed by the Catalan Parliament in support of the referendum did not respect their own laws, as I explained in my previous article. The Spanish legal system, similarly to the UK system, regards the breach of a legal duty by a public office as a criminal offence. Over here is called “Misconduct in Public Office”.
I don’t think the arrests are part of a campaign of arbitrary police repression. Everyone knows that the Government of Spain is under fire, nationally and internationally, for its inability to deal with all sorts of Catalan political demands in the last decade. The eyes of all commentators in the world are cast on these arrests. That is why I am sure the police and the public prosecutors will act not only proportionally and humanly, but exquisitely. Any allegations of brutality would give strength to those who want straight independence and the Spanish Government, politically clumsy as they may be, are not stupid.
The intervention of the police, confiscating databases and documents that are essential for the celebration of the referendum will most likely render it impossible to hold. Also, as we speak, people in Barcelona and other places are peacefully demonstrating against the arrests, demanding a referendum. The calls for peaceful demonstration and non-violent resistance by Joan Tardá (ERC) this morning suggest that there is a fear that some smaller groups may want to use the public uproar to justify less-than-peaceful actions.
The whole situation is utterly lamentable. Millions of people in Catalonia have been exposed to hard anti-Spanish propaganda by their Government. “Spain is robbing us” was one of the most popular claims of activists in Catalan nationalists parties. They are understandably upset and furious.
Meanwhile, a high proportion of Catalans experience political disempowerment in silence. In the last elections the majority of voters opted for parties that do not support independence. These pro-independence parties have a majority of seats but not of votes.
The case for independence made by mainstream Catalanist parties is based on distortions of history and political interests of the lowest kind. I cited a recent example in my previous article of blatant historic manipulation and explained that independence is being used as a political tool. This is irresponsible. And so is the whole policy of the PP, the Spanish Conservatives, who not only torpedoed the revamped 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy, but failed to make a meaningful case for public support of unity of the Spanish State in Catalonia. Nor they considered dialogue with Catalan Governments and other Spanish parties. Their perverse strategy could be summarised as this: relax and Laissez-faire because if things turn nasty, the Rule of Law is on our side.
On the positive side, yesterday, a motion by the Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, who are strongly against any referendum and defend the constitutional unity of Spain (interestingly, this is a Catalan-born party and its leader, Albert Rivera and its main political figures are Catalans) was defeated in the Spanish Parliament. Ciudadanos wanted Spanish MPs to vote in favour of a declaration of support of the Spanish Government and all the public officers dealing, in one way or another, with the referendum, including those majors in Catalonia who are not facilitating the preparations for the referendum in their local authorities and are being pressurised by vociferous pro-independence groups. The reason why the motion was not passed is that PSOE (Socialist Party) voted against it. The Socialists had suggested an amendment to the motion whereby a paragraph calling for both the Spanish and the Catalan Governments to open a dialogue was to be introduced. Ciudadanos rejected the amendment and they, alongside the Conservatives, PP, were consequently defeated.
The majors of Barcelona, Colau, and Madrid, Carmena, are calling for dialogue. The Socialist PSOE have accepted to be part of a parliamentary commission, proposed by left-wing Unidos Podemos, in which Catalan political parties would obviously participate, that would consider the options ahead and initiate a mature conversation.
Now that the referendum game seems to be over, there will have to be elections in Catalonia. It is almost inevitable. It is time for a new concerted progressive action in the Spanish Parliament, where the minority Conservative government have to rely on Ciudadanos and, interestingly, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) for approving their budgets and pass major laws.
My biggest concern is to do with public perceptions and emotions. Think about ardent Brexiters in Question Time and their heated rhetoric and arguments. Who will explain now to their Catalan equivalents, the “Catalexiters”, that the Spanish State does not really steal money from Catalonia? That independence would not actually bring back all those millions a week to their pockets. That sovereignty in the 21st Century is better exercised in a federal way. That Spain is not a Francoist creation, a historic evil monster of warriors and ignorant peasants who live off laborious Catalans. Who will tell them that for most Spaniards Catalonia is also part of their “Spanish Nation”, as much as for many Catalans the province of Alicante (strongly pro-Spanish, in the Valencia region) is also part of their “Catalan nation” (This is called the Catalan Countries)? After a relentless cultural campaign of perverse Catalan nationalism over the years, a lot of hard work to appease and educate is needed.
On the Spanish side, who will be able to persuade those fervent centralists, who wish for the abolishment of the current federal structure of the Spanish State, that Catalonia is, as I believe it to be, also a nation? That nations overlap. They have been also intoxicated by Spanish nationalist right-wing propaganda.
To me, there is an urgent need to increase grass-root educational efforts at all levels, promote alternative media and preach tolerance whilst being open and determined about the distortions and lies of elites of nationalist politicians who are to blame for all this.