Jim O’Neill says the violent policing of the Catalonia referendum must be condemned, but both governments have failed their people.


All good policing is with the consent of the people. That is why British police do not ordinarily carry guns and the times when they respond with violence are so newsworthy. On his satirical programme The Russell Howard Hour, Russell pointed out the disparity between how we treat the police compared to the bravery they show in keeping us safe. Stand-up comedians s are not often known for their love for the police, but his comments clearly struck a chord with his audience.

I was struck by this watching the terrible scenes of police brutality in Catalonia. It reminded me of the behaviour of the police in Edinburgh towards peaceful protestors at Murrayfield in December 1969 who were opposing the Springbok tour to Britain. The police removed their numbers and then with batons and other instruments supported violent stewards attacking the protestors both inside and outside the ground.

I will never forget the charge of police in minibuses into the march going up the Mound and debouching to lay about us with their truncheons. Despite all the violence from the police, the protestors won in that the Springboks were not seen again in Britain until apartheid had ended.

Watching those violent scenes in Barcelona it was clear that policing by consent had broken down and that Senor Rajoy was determined to stop the Catalan referendum by any means, fair or foul. This is no way for a democratically elected government to behave and should immediately be condemned by all right-thinking people. I am saddened by the lack of any such response from our government, although I am not surprised. Why should a government who have sold £5bn of weapons to the Saudis to continue their genocide in Yemen be bothered by a few broken heads in Spain?

Mind you, I cannot exclude the nationalist Catalan government from some responsibility. This referendum was opposed by many in Catalonia, especially on the left. The Socialist Party voted against it in the Catalan Parliament. The Nationalists knew that the referendum was illegal without the agreement of the Cortes Generales.

This is where Alex Salmond triumphed in his seeking for a Scottish referendum. By using polls, official and party sponsored, speeches and negotiation, he convinced David Cameron to give legislative consent to a referendum in Scotland, which would resolve the matter “for a generation”. We all know what happened next. The Scottish people comprehensively rejected independence, and the length of a generation, at least in SNP circles, rapidly shortened.

If the Catalan Parliament had taken this route, with patience and possibly a change of central government, they could have won assent for a peaceful referendum. As it is we have a disputed result, with less than 50% taking part in the referendum, and even the European Commission declining to accept the result, while the Nationalists are claiming a mandate for independence.

I am not taking sides here. With Catalans also being in the ascendance in much of South East France and in the Balearic Islands, where some still only speak Catalan, Catalans cover a much wider area than just in Spain. It is reminiscent of the Kurds who cover areas of Syria, Iraq and Turkey, where equally violent measures are used by the Turkish police to keep them down. Catalans should also note that attempts to provoke a violent response from the Spanish Government did not help ETA gain independence for the Basque Country, nor the IRA gain independence for Northern Ireland.

But, going back to the initial discussion, if we are to condemn the violent behaviour of the US police, particularly towards black people, we must then condemn the Spanish Government for allowing such shocking tactics to be used again the Catalans. In the end it is those who instructed the use of such tactics who are at fault, and we should never condone, nor profess to understand, the use of such tactics. Violence is never the answer.

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12 thoughts on “Violent policing must be condemned

  1. The Republican Left of Catalonia are in favour of Independence, please stop trying to join the dots to claim that those seeking self determination are right wing nationalists.

    But on the whole I agree with your article and am glad that you respect that human rights are more important than laws passed without respect for the democratic will.

    I don’t believe the UK is/was any better than Spain however. In 2012 there was much opposition to Scotland being allowed a referendum and I believe it was only allowed because Cameron naively believed that there was no appetite at all for independence. It’s clear that Unionists are now fiercely doing all they can to prevent IndyRef2 because there is too high a chance that the result now would go against their wishes. Hopefully it won’t come down to Holyrood proposing an “illegal” referendum in the future.

  2. The Catalan government have tried repeatedly to engage with Madrid, with no response.
    And, of course Mr O’Neil uses derogatory language against the Catalans. “Nationalists” he calls them, as if Rahoy and his thuggish gang weren’t also “nationalist”—-as are the Labour and Tory parties within the UK. If there is a majority for a Scottish referendum, will Mr O’Neil insist it be pre-approved by the Tories, or if Scottish “socialists(haha)” like Sarwar are opposed?
    It’s always easy to blame victims. Prague Spring by the Soviets. Tiananmen Square agitators by the Chinese dictatorship. Kent State student radicals by State Troopers.

    I would have thought with increasingly shared sovereignty in the EU, there could easily be room for loosening bonds within multi national States, and smaller nationalities could be more autonomous within the bigger family of EU nations.

    1. The use of yhe term “nationalist” in this context is an attempt to smear the S.N.P. The B.B.C. tried the same thing on Yhe news where you are at 18.30 on Monday.

    2. I cannot see how the term Nationalist is derogatory. It is what they call themselves

      1. Isnt it odd that news outlets don’t label the Conservative and Labour parties nationalist?
        Or that Brexiteers (now including the Labour and Tory parties) are not labelled separatists.

  3. Cameron yielded to the SNP mandate of 2011 after only a year or so(Edinburgh Agreement 2012). The Catalans returned a pro-independence majority to their parliament in 2015.

    So yes, the Catalans have been patient. But it’s not as if Madrid has showed an inch of compromise since then. How long should they have waited?

  4. The Catalan referendum is exactly how not to do it. National and Local Governments not agreeing. Were they even talking .Heavy handed and stupid policing . The King goes on national tv makes it worse . British Government response and the EU response or lack of it disgraceful.
    At least here in 2012 Alec Salmond and David Cameron showed how to do it.
    I looked it up on 15 October 2012 the Scottish and UK Governments reached an agreement to work together to ensure that a referendum for Independence could take place.
    It says part of the joint government agreement provides for the electoral commission having responsibility .
    You will find it on the electoral commission referendum on Independence for Scotland progress report .
    That’s how it should have been done.

  5. The Spanish constitutional court has suspended Mondays sitting of the Catalan parliament at the request of the Catalan Socialists who I think were against independence . Are wiser heads behind the scenes trying to get everyone out of a hole they dug themselves

  6. The anti Independence side have called a demonstration for Sunday .Major banks are pulling their HQS out of Barcelona.
    Unions have called a 5 day pro Independence strike for next week .And they have asked for people to take to the streets to make sure businesses close The Spanish right wing are apparently telling their PM get even tougher or stand aside .
    The loyalty of the local police is suspect .EU leaders are saying they are afraid there will be an armed civil war at the heart of Europe
    Whatever we think of Alec Salmond and David Cameron they got it right

  7. Never mind brexit Indy Caughing fits the stage scenery falling apart etc Gavin Mike Jim Duncan we need to unite there is a butter shortage .
    For Gods sake . Help ma boab Scotland are up 1 0

  8. A butter shortage and oot the world cup. And me my GP went of on the sick last week . Wonder if it was the viral infection I had .The other GP said it is an occupational hazard

  9. Apparently the Spanish gov has given the Catalan gov 1 month to make up their mind on Indy

    Apparently on Saturday Carles Puigdemont was told on Saturday by the regions leading business men that Indy would be a bomb against the regions economy .
    Puigdemont took it on board because at least 20 large companies including the 2 main Catalan banks moved their Headquarters out of the region last week. Catalans were withdrawing money .Tourists were cancelling reservations
    The president of the Spanish chamber of commerce which has big holdings in Catalonia warned them they were facing disaster.
    Catalonia was warned as they rely heavily on exports Spain would not trade with them.
    They were told that even a legal Independent Catalonia would not be admitted to the EU
    Catalonia has at least 7thousand 100 foreign companies in the region.
    CH4 news said last night that ferries full of national police were in the harbour as were navel frigates.
    Also earlier in the day the national police moved into places like the airport and railway stations
    I don’t remember anyone telling us that even an independent Catalonia would not be admitted to the EU .Who if its true decided that
    They went about it the wrong way .
    From what I am seeing the Spanish government which I believe is right wing was told by their own version of UKIP sort this out or else
    And the else was the end of their own leader
    The EU as an instituition failed completely to condemn the violence of the national police
    The EU must get involved behind the scenes . Give both sides a face saving way out or get the UN to do it.
    Because if we don’t we could have and I hope we don’t a civil war in Europe

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