Police brutality has made any long-term solution to the Catalan question increasingly difficult

It had become increasingly clear during the last fortnight that the constitutional ructions in Spain were unlikely to be peaceably resolved. Neither side in the dispute over Catalonia’s right to hold a referendum on independence has shown much appetite for compromise. The result has been bloody violence on the streets of Barcelona, with hundreds of civilians injured in clashes with national police and the civil guard.

Arguably, this moment has been inevitable since separatist parties won Catalonia’s parliamentary elections in 2015 and subsequently passed a declaration to begin a formal process towards independence. From the get-go, that process has been stridently opposed by Spain’s central government; indeed, it was plainly at odds with the Spanish constitution, which declares the country to be indivisible. The decision of the Catalan parliament to enact a law calling for the referendum to take place this weekend simply brought matters to a head.

Needless to say, the history of Catalan disgruntlement with the rest of Spain has its roots long before 2015. For hardened “independistas”, the whole of the last three centuries have been more or less a battle to reverse Barcelona’s capture by Philip V; and more recently to undo the region’s subjugation under the rule of General Franco. The last four decades have broadly seen a return to autonomy, although the pendulum has not been without swings in the other direction. Spain’s lengthy recession during the last 10 years has added fuel to the feeling of many in relatively well-off Catalonia that the future would be rosier if they were not being held back by poorer regions of the country.

It would be quite wrong, however, to conclude that Catalans are overwhelmingly convinced by the arguments in favour of independence. Only three years ago, a non-binding poll – also ruled unlawful by the Spanish Constitutional Court – found 81 per cent of voters to be in favour of an independent state….

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