Leader comment: Catalonia’s crisis needs cooler heads

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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The cause of Catalonian independence has long been linked to the same movement in Scotland, but the current crisis in Spain is the result of very different attitudes taken by the political leaders involved.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid and Catalan President Carles Puigdemont in Barcelona have both ramped up the tension at almost every step.

Ninety per cent of the people who voted in the region’s referendum may have backed independence but, given it was boycotted by many in favour of remaining part of Spain, this can hardly be said to be a true expression of the will of the Catalan people. So Mr Puigdemont’s declaration of independence may not actually have the support of the majority of Catalans.

But Mr Rajoy’s move to suspend Catalonia’s regional government and impose direct rule is only likely to achieve one thing – increase the number of people who want to break away from Madrid.

The same was true of the decision to send in police from outside the region to try to stop the referendum from taking place in the first place.

The Prime Minister’s actions may have been in accordance with Spanish law, but adopting a purely legalistic stance ignores the very real human emotions involved and the history of Catalonia.

An increasingly heated situation now risks getting out of control and both sides need to sit down face-to-face and work hard to come to an agreement. Compromise may be required by both sides.

The European Union, which has taken a back seat as the crisis has grown, should move quickly to arrange these talks between the two sides and attempt to broker a deal.

It may be that the solution is to hold a new referendum, the outcome of which is uncertain after voters consider all the issues in a peaceful and democratic way.

While the debate over Scottish independence in the run-up to the 2014 referendum felt rather fraught, it now seems almost to have been a model of how such a vote should be held. Perhaps the leaders of both sides of that debate deserve more credit for the way it was held than they received at the time.

Some SNP supporters appear to be celebrating Catalan independence, but the party’s leadership has been noticably more measured, with Fiona Hyslop urging further dialogue while adding that Catalans “must have the ability to determine their own future”.