Vota Sí, Vota No; Perň Vota!
The events of the next thirty-six hours or so in Catalunya may well turn out to be a turning point in modern European history.
The arguments for and against Catalan independence have been well enough rehearsed, but what the actions of the Madrid régime and its agents have done is effectively to remove the focus from the merely binary yes/no issue of whether Catalunya should be the next new state to emerge from the crumbling of the old orders of our continent, and to place it firmly instead on the very foundations of the notion of democracy itself.
For when a nominally democratic state seeks to impose its own view upon what it regards as a 'rebel province' by using (and usually misusing) the judicial and paramilitary means at its disposal to prevent people from voting at all, then we are in a set of circumstances which we would have thought more likely to be seen in the US-vassal states of Latin America, the kleptocracies of sub-Saharan Africa or the 'strongman' dictatorships of post-Soviet Central Asia.
For the Rajoy government has increasingly and blatantly ignored (or ridden roughshod over) those very laws and that very Constitution which it claims to be upholding, defending and holding most dear. Many of the actions taken by Madrid, its officials, its paramilitary goon squads and its media, have been utterly ultra vires. The invasion and searching of Catalan institutions and businesses; the orders given to media outlets and to such as the postal service not to publish or carry anything which might be connected with the Referendum; the closing down, seizing or blocking of websites (be they official Catalan government ones or those belonging to civil society groups supportive of the vote), with which Google - further to its shame - has meekly complied; most of these actions have been carried out without the requisite legal or parliamentary imprimatur. And all this to stop a vote taking place which - in the opinion of seasoned and experience legal and constitutional scholars - is not at all unlawful under that very same Constitution which the Francoist establishment in Madrid fetishises at every convenient opportunity.
The response of the people of Catalunya has been - and I think this is the mot juste here - inspiring. There has been no violence from the citizenry in response to the ongoing and escalating provocation by the Brave Knights of Castile (what violence there has been - outwith the institutional violence of Madrid's actions - has come from pro-colonial sources, including the shooting of people protecting one of the polling stations). The people's response - and a response to be seen, most encouragingly even from many of those who oppose independence (another catastrophic mis-step by Rajoy, in alienating some of those who would otherwise be seen as his natural allies) - has been to come together in ever-greater numbers, whether it be out on the streets, or indulging in that curious pot-banging that Latin peoples tend to go in for to express their disapproval or disdain, or in organising the defence of the polling stations.
(In this latter wise, it has been a remarkable feature of events that, for example, Barcelona's fire brigade have vowed to shield people voting from the likely harrassment and obstruction which will be attempted by the thugs which the Spanish state have flown, bussed and sailed into the country for this and other nefarious purposes).
But these manifestations have also been marked, not by overt anger, and certainly not by mere sullen defiance, but by a cheerfulness and confidence deriving from the fact that the protestors and activists know that Right is on their side. The protests have taken myriad forms, many of them highly imaginative and moving, such as the coming together of hundreds of musicians in a Barcelona square to play the Catalan national anthem.
(And a word about that while I'm at it: I'd never heard it until a few days ago; now I can't get it out of my head, and not just for political reasons. Els Segadors ('The Reapers') recalls the Catalan Revolt of the mid-seventeenth century and - as one might reasonably expect - has a violent undertow to it. But some of the lyrics are timeless. An example:
|"Endarrera aquesta gent
Tan ufana i tan superba."
|"Drive away these people
Who are so conceited and so arrogant"
And the chorus:
|"Bon cop de falç
Bon cop de falç, defensors de la terra
Bon cop de falç!"
|"A good blow with the sickle!
A good blow with the sickle, defenders of the land!
A good blow with the sickle!"
Stirring stuff, but when you hear Catalans singing it, even en masse and in high passion, you never think that such violence is likely to be the outcome. It is, instead, an affirmation; that, whatever may be done to the Catalan people (and let us remember the four-decade repression of their culture, their language, their very existence by the Falangists), they will stand together.)
For this has, as I said, become not just about the inherent right of all nations to self-determination, but about the inherent right of the peoples of those nations to choose in the first place.
Not that you might know this from the coverage given to the whole story by the official media, especially in those states which - like Spain - have their own 'surly natives' to worry about; France, England, Italy, the remnants of the enforced multi-national states of earlier times.
I can only concentrate to any degree on the output of the media of Greater England. Following on from my imprecations here a couple of weeks ago, it is fair to say that - once the Guardia Incivil started stomping around - the English press did start to pick up on the story a bit. But we have seen - albeit to a lesser degree, because it's a foreign story and thereby not that interesting unless it involves a plucky Brit in danger - the same sort of slanted language that we saw in the London hacks' coverage of the referendum in Scotland three years ago. Catalunya is always referred to as a 'region' or - even more disobligingly - as a 'region of Spain'. In addition, all coverage has used variants on the phrase "...referendum which the Spanish government claims is illegal", without any attempt to question Madrid's position (because, as I mentioned back up there, there is clear evidence that it isn't unlawful in the slightest).
As for the BBC, they too have managed to shove it at least one level up on their website, but hedged about with the same obtuse angles, pat phrases and unexamined assumptions as their Grub Street colleagues. And in that part of the Unhinged Kingdom to which events in Catalunya might appear to be the most relevant, the Corp's outpost in Scotland has done little or nothing to cover the story, preferring instead to regurgitate press releases from the Unionist parties on the general theme of, "SNP BAAAAD!" over something or other.
The response of Europe's political élite has been underwhelming too. Scarcely any of the senior officials of any European government, or of the EU itself, have been willing to put themselves on the line in the face of Madrid's direct challenge to democracy. It has been left to individuals (such the Estonian Prime Minister or the Lord Mayor of Dublin) or small groups such as various contingents in state or European parliaments to voice their concerns over the potential usurpation of the fundamental rights of the Catalan people.
And of course, we have been treated once again to the sight of the self-styled left either tying themselves in knots in avoiding taking a position at all, or sedulously placing themselves on the wrong side of history. We have had the sight of that noted poseur Owen Jones - a man who never saw a barricade erected in a progressive cause that he didn't immediately want to be photographed standing next to - flying out to Barcelona to 'participate', where he may no doubt discover to his chagrin that Orwell is dead, and that the current government of Catalunya is of the centre-right.
It is this last fact which has enabled that large section of the Brit Left which sees no disjuncture at all between their supposed anti-colonialist principles and their coming down firmly against independence for the internal colonies of the remaining empire states of Europe - England, France, Spain, Italy - to position themselves as fake progressives by combining their customary raging against nationalism in all its forms (they're not nationalists themselves, of course, oh deary me no; that Union Jack bunting is just to jolly the place up a bit) with distaste at the nature of the government elected by the people of Catalunya two years ago. This makes one thing perfectly clear to us; if your commitment to the principles of democracy can be so easily curtailed because a sovereign people have elected people you don't approve of ideologically, then the very last thing you have the right to call yourself is a democrat. I mean, it's positively American in its intellectual dishonesty, on a par with the White House and State Department position that democracy is A Very Good Thing, but only if it results in the election of people of whom We approve. This indicates why the general population views what passes for the left in both Greater England and the Untied Stoats as being ethically bankrupt.
Other public figures outwith formal politics have spoken up, but because these people are 'experts' and are therefore not to be trusted in the climate of gleeful knownothingness which prevails nowadays, their contribution has been under-reported where it has been reported at all.
So, what will happen on Sunday?
Will the vote actually happen? The repressive actions of the Madrid régime have been stepped up still further in the past few hours, with their paramilitaries reported to have cordoned off many of the schools which were due to be used as polling stations, and other goons supposedly taking control of the Catalan government's IT systems to preclude the possibility of electronic voting (*).
For the politicians and schemers in Madrid may be venal, corrupt and arrogant, but they are not stupid. They have now realised that the only option they have left - short of actual military force - is to attempt to delegitimise the referendum by substantially reducing the turnout. Cut the turnout to, say, 55 per cent or less, and you can stand up in front of the cameras and microphones of the world's media and claim - like the Spanish Foreign Minister has already done - that the result is 'undemocratic'.
This is why the key figure when the votes are counted will not necessarily be the number of votes cast 'Yea' or 'Nay', but how many people in total voted (hence my injuction in the title of this piece: Vote Yes, Vote No; But Vote!). These are the potential scenarios as I see them:
- A turnout over 60 per cent and a pro-independence victory by 10 per cent or more. This would be a clear mandate for independence, and would leave Rajoy and the Francoists up the arroyo without a paleta. It would instead completely delegitimise Madrid's remaining credibility, and would leave them with the options either to sit down and seriously negotiate with Barcelona or, to all intents and purposes, impose a form of permanent state of emergency on Catalunya by armed force. This would not turn out well for anyone
- A turnout over 60 per cent and a pro-independence majority of less than 10 per cent. This would be problematic for both sides; it would be an unsatisfactory outcome for the independence campaign, leaving it more difficult to justify any declaration of independence off the back of it. But it would also create a problem for Madrid, in that it would be clear even from such a narrow margin that Catalans are deeply unhappy with the status quo, and this would require a degree of flexibility and circumspection on Spain's part which it has shown little capability of heretofore
- A turnout of between 50 and 60 per cent and any majority for independence less than 20 per cent. This would be very difficult for Barcelona, and would enable Spain to claim that the Catalan government has no mandate for independence because of the low turnout
- A turnout of less than 50 per cent, irrespective of the actual result. Game over, at least for now. It would be impossible, even with a pro-independence majority of 20 per cent or more, for the Catalan government to justify any moves towards independence (or, as the corporate media would put it - as indeed they already have ad nauseam - 'secession')
- A majority for 'No', irrespective of turnout. As above, but in spades