There was a clear spillover from Scotland to Catalonia, because the Catalans saw that the Scots were able to have a referendum — and wanted one of their own
In strategic terms, the Spanish government this week scored an own goal more spectacular than any of the football acrobatics you would see from Lionel Messi in the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona. They sent in police to baton charge grannies. They smashed down glass doors in schools, and seized ballot boxes, as people voted in a referendum on independence in Catalonia.
As one commentator remarked, the message from Spanish authorities seemed to be: “In the name of democracy, refrain from voting — or else.”
It was hardly surprising when an activist talking to the BBC compared the Spanish approach to that of an abusive husband, desperately trying to cling on to his wife. He says he loves her, and that he can’t live without her. Then, he beats her up to stop her from leaving. Other foreign observers of the Spanish compared it to the ham-fisted response of the British to our own Easter Rising, although not a shot was fired by the Catalans.
We were reminded that at the start of the 1916 rebellion, the majority of the Dublin population seemed to be against an uprising. But brutal British repression elevated the cause of the rebels and led to their ultimate victory in the war of independence.
Although the referendum held in chaotic circumstances showed a 90pc vote for independence, it was hardly a fair representation of public opinion because of the circumstances in which the poll was held. The unofficial nature of the poll discouraged the sizeable population of Catalans against independence from turning out.
Professor Michael Keating, an authority on separatist movements at Aberdeen University, says other polls have shown that supporters of complete independence are in the minority in Catalonia at around 45pc.
But with their violent reaction, the Spanish authorities may have done wonders to enhance the Catalan cause. It turned Catalans who were lukewarm about independence against the Spanish central government, and it certainly won them sympathy across Europe.
Will it light the touchpaper for other separatist movements on the continent that have been seeking greater autonomy or independence?
Karen Devine, lecturer in International Relations at Dublin City University, believes it could have a domino effect, because these nationalist movements tend to influence each other.
Across Europe, government leaders and EU officials found it difficult to react appropriately.
On the one hand, they felt obliged to support the constitutional position of the Spanish government as fellow EU members. Some fear disintegration on their own doorstep. But how could they, as supposed upholders of democracy and the rule of law, support a regime that baton charges its own population as it exercises its right to vote?
Dr Devine told Review: “This is a very uncomfortable position for the Irish Government because we are a post-colonial nation that has always supported the right of states to selfdetermination.”
Professor Michael Keating is sceptical about idea of separatist movements holding copycat polls across the continent as they try to go it alone, but he acknowledges the influence of Scotland on the Catalan situation. “There was a clear spillover from Scotland to Catalonia, because the Catalans saw that the Scots were able to have a referendum — and wanted one of their own.”
Professor Keating believes Scotland remains the most likely territory in Europe to seek full independence.
The vote in the UK to quit the EU against the wishes of