Two Days After the Referendum I Expected an Escalation of Violence
A General Strike was planned for Tuesday October 3rd. I was still reeling from the effects of the referendum so I went down to the passageway that runs between the Escola de la Concepció and the market to record this video before going into the centre of town.
I had done very little the previous day because I had been so tired after the long referendum day I’d had on Sunday. As you saw in my video of the day, I got up at 4 am, spent most of the day at the polling station and didn’t go to bed until really late so I was exhausted.
Fear of Violence
The day before, I’d done an interview with American journalist Tim Pool, who uploaded it to YouTube as “Catalans Vote for Independence, Will Violence Escalate?”. I’d been so tired that day that I’d gone to bed at about 7 pm.
On the morning of Tuesday October 3rd, I’d watched the evening news broadcasts from the Catalan and Spanish public TV stations, TV3 and TVE1 respectively, in order to get the official line about what happened on Sunday. The truth is, the Catalan and Spanish versions of events were completely different.
In my interview with Tim Pool, I had said that violence would escalate almost whatever happened. Carles Puigdemont and the Catalan government were in a very difficult situation because the result of the referendum was unclear. The Spanish considered the referendum to be unconstitutional and therefore illegal. It took place under abnormal circumstances, which meant it was very difficult to claim it was a valid result. However, the Catalans were claiming it was valid.
2.2 million people had voted and the Spanish news were very keen to point out that this was even fewer people than voted in the proxy referendum or participative process held on November 9th 2014, when 2.3 million people voted. What they failed to mention, though, was that because of the violent actions of the National Police and Civil Guard, 770,000 votes were unable to be counted or were removed so, in fact, the figure was closer to 3 million, which out of a census of 5.3 million is over 56% of the electorate whereas 2.2 million is only 42%.
I now understood the reason for the police behaviour on voting day. On the day, I had realised that they wouldn’t be able to close down all the polling stations but this wasn’t necessary. All they had to do was to use enough violence to keep the turnout percentage in the low forties either by closing polling stations, taking ballot boxes away or by intimidating afternoon voters into staying at home. This meant that the Spanish government could claim the referendum was invalid not only because it was unconstitutional and illegal but also because of the low turnout.
Even more disappointingly, Germany, France, Holland, Italy and the EU had all made statements on the day after the referendum promising support for Mariano Rajoy and the unity of Spain. Most of the statements mentioned negotiations as a lukewarm afterthought.
All this made it extremely difficult for Carles Puigdemont to proclaim independence. Not only would it be rejected by Madrid but also it wouldn’t receive any international support and furthermore, the presence of the National Police and Civil Guard in Catalonia acted as a strong deterrent. Everybody had seen how they’d behaved on Sunday and nobody wanted more violence inflicted on the Catalan people.
I also predicted that arrests would soon be made and that the normally slow Spanish legal system would be holding hearings against Catalan politicians. Were Catalan politicians to step out of line, I was sure Spanish judges would order immediate arrests.
The Spanish authorities had also accused the Mossos d’Esquadra of disloyalty because on referendum day they would turn up every few hours and ask “Who’s responsible here?” and everyone would reply “We all are!”. They would then read out an “acta” or statement to make it clear that they had attempted to do their job but, as their orders had been not to disturb the peace so, they would leave without closing anything down. As a this contrasted so drastically with the violent behaviour of the Spanish police, the Spanish authorities wanted to criminalise the Mossos and claim disloyalty.
No International Support
Despite the support of the public worldwide, who had been appalled by the scenes of violence, the Catalan government had received no official support from any international governments. This put them in a very difficult situation. A UN human rights board had board had said it would investigate the violence but there had been nothing more concrete than that.
Another contrast between the Catalan and Spanish visions was in the reporting of the violence. The Catalans were inevitably appalled while the Spanish news showed few of the violent scenes and described the police behaviour as legal and necessary. The Spanish government even described the police behaviour as proportionate to the violence that was supposedly used by voters.
I was about to go off and report on the General Strike and expressed my concerns that there might be violence because tensions were running so high. A strike implies the participation of students and the left, who have a higher tendency to initiate violence than other sectors of Catalan society. I also feared that the Spanish police might try to provoke the demonstrators or that there might be agent provocateurs amongst the crowds. Any violence could easily be used by Mariano Rajoy as a pretext for ordering a wave of repression against the Catalans.
Furthermore, any violence by Catalans might put the Mossos into a compromising position and force them to act against their own people. It was important then that the Catalans managed to maintain the peaceful attitude they had shown throughout the referendum and on previous demonstrations.
Glimmers of Hope
The only glimmers of hope I could see were the declarations on the various political parties in Spain. The Partido Popular claimed that their actions were firm and the behaviour of the police was proportionate, that the referendum was illegal and that they are the saviours of the unity of Spain.
Their partners in government, Ciudadanos, who are a Catalan party and were originally founded as a lobby against Catalan gains in the Estatut, were demanding Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to be invoked and early elections to the Parliament of Catalonia to be called. At the time, this seemed an interesting scenario because it was far from certain that the unionist parties would win power from the pro-independence parties.
PSOE, the Spanish equivalent of the Labour Party, had been calling for negotiations and hinting that they would support an agreed and binding referendum here in Catalonia. My opinion was that this was a political game and they were calling Mariano Rajoy’s bluff because they support the unity of Spain as much as the PP does.
Meanwhile Podemos were calling for Mariano Rajoy’s resignation but the interesting element was the role played by PNV, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (Basque Nationalist Party), who are conservative Basques and had been supporting Rajoy’s PP in order to enable his minority government to get legislation through in the Congress of Deputies.
There had been two general elections in Spain in the last year and I hoped that the internal dog-fighting between the Spanish political parties might lead to a destabilisation of Rajoy’s government, which offer a better chance of an agreed referendum. This would be even more likely if foreign governments put pressure on Rajoy. A combination of a weak government plus international pressure from both governments and human rights bodies as well as the weight of international opinion seemed like the only chance.
I make no bones about the fact that I would like to see an independent Catalonia but two days after the referendum, the idea of successfully declaring independence seemed unlikely to me. 90% of an official vote of 2.2 milion just wasn’t enough.
Furthermore, the rest of the world just doesn’t seem to understand the Spanish attitude and tactics. Although everyone seems to think that Catalonia is analogous to Scotland or Quebec and should be given the right to vote on its own political future separately from the rest of Spain, the Spanish political class will never see it this way. Spain is indivisible and indissoluble as a matter of faith.
A referendum is the only solution to the problem but will never be allowed in part because Spain is aware that, after the violence of referendum day, the Catalans would be pretty certain to vote for independence.