Leader comment: Spain will live to rue its day of shame

They were sickening scenes of state brutality that we might have expected to see in a crumbling dictatorship rather than in a modern European nation.

Pro-independence supporters hold up ''esteleda'' or Catalan pro independence flags, in support of the Catalonia's referendum. Picture: AP
Pro-independence supporters hold up ''esteleda'' or Catalan pro independence flags, in support of the Catalonia's referendum. Picture: AP

As citizens attempted to vote yesterday in a referendum on Catalan independence, Spanish riot police resorted to horrific violence, leaving many hundreds injured and the international reputation of their country severely damaged.

Images of thuggish police in body armour attacking citizens evoked the darkest days of General Franco’s regime; yesterday, it appeared the state had learned nothing from the past four decades of democracy.

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Yesterday’s attempted referendum had been declared illegal by the Spanish government but the state response to peaceful defiance of that ruling should appal us all, regardless of how we might view the argument of those who’d like to see Catalonia secede from Spain.

It is understandable that those involved in constitutional battles elsewhere will draw parallels between their own circumstances and those in Spain. They should not do so lightly.

Scottish nationalists are perfectly entitled to support the aims of their Catalan counterparts but they must not – as some have done – attempt to equate the behaviour of Spanish police with the actions of the British state during the 2014 independence referendum. Scotland’s was a legal referendum and UK authorities did everything in their power to ensure the vote was run smoothly and fairly. There is no equivalence.

Likewise, Unionists should not allow their disdain for nationalism to let them excuse what happened in Spain yesterday. One need not sympathise with the objectives of Catalan separatists in order to be disgusted by the actions of riot police who acted so disgracefully.

The Spanish government will rue the day it allowed such violence against its citizens. If the intention was to quash the Catalan independence movement, the opposite will have happened.

Spain will, we believe, see even greater support for an independent Catalonia both at home and around the world: those police officers have, with each strike and punch, helped the Catalan cause. When it comes to the argument over Catalan independence, Spain has now lost all moral authority. It has lived up to the worst accusations of opponents by behaving as a violent oppressor.

After yesterday’s scenes we expect the separatists will fight with renewed confidence.