British expat in Catalonia: '˜This is what Spain does - repress'

Rachel Playfair, a 47-year-old English teacher living in Catalonia, shares her reflections on the weekend's turbulent events with The Scotsman:

Students wave a Catalan pro-independence 'Estelada' flag during a protest in Barcelona on Monday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Students wave a Catalan pro-independence 'Estelada' flag during a protest in Barcelona on Monday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

I live in Vilanova i la Geltrú, approximately 40km outside of Barcelona. Like many towns, the voting process seemed to go peacefully.

I can’t actually vote myself because I am not a Spanish citizen, but from what I observed when I wandered around the town, people were peacefully queueing outside different polling stations, waiting for their turn to vote.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Especially moving was when I walked through the main town square, past the library, there were several dozen people gathered outside singing resistance songs (I don’t know them but I think one may have been Els Segedors, a kind of Catalan hymn to resistance).

Students wave a Catalan pro-independence 'Estelada' flag during a protest in Barcelona on Monday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

There were two local police officers in another corner of the square, paying no attention whatsoever.

There is a strong independence movement in Vilanova (the mayor, Neus Lloveras, is one of the Catalan mayors who were charged over promoting the referendum, considered illegal by the Spanish state government).

My Catalan friends, colleagues and students (I work at a university) have expressed indignation but not total surprise at the police actions although they were shocked at the indiscriminate brutality towards the peaceful voters, including the elderly and those simply sitting down or queuing.

Students wave a Catalan pro-independence 'Estelada' flag during a protest in Barcelona on Monday. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

One said it was the next necessary step in their struggle for independence and that this is what the Spanish state does best - repress.

Another said that he had not been planning to vote at all until he started seeing the actions of the Spanish government, sending so many police forces into Barcelona in the days leading up to the referendum.

In my own opinion, this is the type of government action that has turned more people pro-referendum and even pro-independence, following a slow turn in citizen opinion over the last few years towards this option.

I grew up in Canada so I’ve lived through referendums on separation and my feeling is that if the Spanish government had permitted a referendum years ago and then promoted the benefits of staying as a unified country, the majority would have voted against independence.

I think it may be too late for that now - not that it is, nor ever will be on the agenda of the ruling Partido Popular.”

Rachel Playfair is a British-Canadian living in Barcelona.