Joanna Cherry: '˜Palpable sense of fear' on Barcelona streets

Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, was among parliamentarians from around the world acting as observers at the invitation of the public diplomacy council of Catalonia, Diplocat.

A man holds a Catalan pro-independence 'Estelada' flag during a demonstration in support of the referendum in Catalonia. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
A man holds a Catalan pro-independence 'Estelada' flag during a demonstration in support of the referendum in Catalonia. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday she described a “palpable sense of fear” as rumours spread in towns outside Barcelona of imminent raids by the Spanish Guardia Civil, and described the aftermath of one polling station being broken into by police who attacked elderly voters with batons.

“I started this morning very early in Barcelona at a polling station in the inner city. We arrived before the polls opened and there was a huge queue of people already gathered to vote. The polls opened in a very orderly way at 9am and people started to vote, but very quickly problems emerged with the computerised verification system that the Catalonian government had put in place. It seems the Spanish government has blocked the system. There was a manual back-up, but that was causing delays.

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“We left Barcelona and went to a small town near Montserrat, and there were huge queues of people waiting to vote, many of them who had been in the school overnight.

“There were some Catalonian police there, but they were standing back. They said they had been in, told people to stop, but people continued and they left it at that.

“Rumours were circulating that the Spanish Guardia Civil were on their way, and there was a palpable sense of fear in the room. This was about lunchtime, and people were starting to see the photographs on Twitter from Barcelona.

“We then went to a smaller town, Sant Andreu de la Barca, to a health centre, and when we arrived the Guardia Civil had just left. They had broken down the door of the health centre and attacked people with batons. There were a lot of older people crying … We spoke to a local councillor who said that when the Guardia Civil came to take the ballot boxes, he asked them for a warrant, and they just pushed him out of the way.”

Ms Cherry said she was speaking from another town, where polling had taken place in a school opposite a Guardia Civil building.

“When we went in, they had decided to close the polling station early and smuggled the ballot boxes out the back door, but they asked us to stay because they believed that the Guardia Civil weren’t attacking because international observers were there.

“The older generation are very upset, because they’re reminded of Franco and the fascist state they were born into, that they lived in and they thought it had gone away forever, and it’s come back.”

Ms Cherry said votes were being counted in polling stations to avoid gathering ballot boxes in a central location where they could be seized.

“The overall impression is that people are absolutely determined to vote, clapping and singing and punching the air, shouting ‘votarem’, which means ‘we will vote’.

“The overwhelming thing that people say they want is for the European Union to say something. They are desperate for the EU to condemn Spain.”