Vince: Boris should call in the Spanish Ambassador over Catalonia

It’s been really upsetting to see the scenes from Catalonia. Ok, so the referendum on independence has been ruled illegal by the constitutional courts, but there are ways of dealing with that in a peaceful manner.

No good can come of the Police’s inflammatory action.

Of course, this all has some resonance to me as a Scot. We, of course, had our own referendum on independence in 2014 after the SNP won a mandate to hold one.

Mike Moore, as Secretary of State for Scotland, acted like a grown up and negotiated with Nicola Sturgeon to produce the Edinburgh Agreement. That was really important because it gave the poll legitimacy. If the SNP had had their way, they’d have set up their own Commission to regulate it. Mike insisted that the Electoral Commission, reporting to the Scottish Parliament, should oversee it. Together, in accordance with both parties’ policies, they agreed that 16 and 17 year olds would be able to vote – something that worked incredibly well.

The outcome was a legal and fair poll which commanded confidence.  Don’t get me wrong, the referendum was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, but it was at least run properly.

Vince Cable has tonight called for Boris Johnson to call in the Spanish Ambassador over the incident;

Police in a democracy should never drag people violently out of polling stations, whatever the arguments for or against holding a referendum. The police response looks to have been brutal and completely disproportionate.

The Foreign Secretary should break off from conspiring against the prime minister and call in the Spanish ambassador to tell him that this is completely unacceptable.

Actually, he could have added in that the EU needs to speak out on this. The internal affairs of Spain are one thing, but when people are being dragged out of polling stations, that does seem to be incompatible with everything the EU stands for.

Willie Rennie said that the Spanish and Catalonian governments could learn from the Scottish experience:

This is a sad day for democracy in Europe. I have no view on whether Catalonia should be independent from Spain but the Spanish Government needs to change its ways. This is a political dispute and should be resolved through an act of democracy, not an act of force.

The Spanish Government should look to how the UK and Scottish Government’s came together to solve the political dispute over whether Scotland should be independent. It was through the leadership of Scottish Secretary Michael Moore that we made the Edinburgh Agreement so that we could, through democracy, conclude that we wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

I have to say that I’m not sure that the SNP parliamentarians out there are actually helping the situation.

I thought that Liberal International’s statement was reasoned and moderate.

The Bureau of Liberal International is very concerned with the situation in Spain in relation to Catalonia. It acknowledges –in sociological terms- the existence of different worldviews in Catalonia and the rest of Spain. These diverging views of the same reality produce diametrically opposed analyses of the situation, causes and possible solutions and spell trouble for the future.

A large majority of Catalans desire according to opinion polls to hold a referendum on their future, whether they agree or not on independence from Spain. The current legality in Spain is not conducive to such a vote. Liberal International early on, at its congresses in Rotterdam and Mexico, recognized this problem and advocated political negotiations to find a solution. These never took place.

Liberal International does not wish to enter the debate on independence or to assign blame for the current situation but it notes with regret that the present difficulties were foreseen and that no political dialogue has occurred. The current criminalization of political officials happening in Catalonia though is unhelpful and reprehensible. Some of the more than 700 Catalan mayors asked by the justice system to appear in front of a judge under penalty of imprisonment have appealed to us: many are from our sister political organization in Catalonia active in LI for decades. We offer them our steadfast support. But we also urge the Catalan authorities to seek a concerted way of constitutional evolution with the rest of Spain. And we urge the authorities at the state level in Spain to be responsive to the reality of current disaffection from a large number of Catalans.

Similar desires of a large number of people to vote on their future –even when they have turned out to be less than the majority and have produced negative outcomes for independence- have been accommodated in the past decades in Canada and the United Kingdom. Examples abound as well in Europe of constitutional evolution and difficult political negotiations that make living together in federal settings possible in the long run, such as in Belgium or Switzerland. The present conflict in Catalonia requires mutual respect from all parties concerned particularly of each other’s worldviews and the will to sit together in a concerted and timely way to find a politically negotiated solution. Criminalizing political actors will only accentuate the present chasm and needs to be avoided. Although a political solution should have been tackled much before the current events had taken place, in our opinion there is still time to craft political agreements that will allow to resolve this crisis. Liberal International is ready and willing to provide assistance and mediation, if required, to all parties concerned”.

ALDE MEP Hans Van Baalen echoed that sentiment:


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Ed Shepherd 1st Oct '17 - 8:06pm

    The violence by the Spanish government makes it clear that the Catalans would be entirely justified in declaring independence.

  • When the Spanish Constitutional Court declared the Itoitz Dam illegal, the PP government went ahead and built it. In Spain, the rule of law is relative.

  • Tony Greaves 1st Oct '17 - 9:05pm

    Justified or not, the Spanish Government is acting in ways which are just too redolent of the fascist era, and they may be guaranteeing that Catalonia will now break away sooner rather than later. A question I ask is – can the minority right-wing government in Spain really survive this – or is that why they are behaving like this? And why are the other Spanish parties not stopping them?

  • Tony Greaves 1st Oct '17 - 9:06pm

    As for Boris Johnson, isn’t this the way he would be likely to act in a similar situation?

  • Duncan MacInnes 1st Oct '17 - 9:12pm

    There was no justification for the violence. It was absolutely sickening to see this happen in an EU country.

  • Martin Land 1st Oct '17 - 10:11pm

    This will get worse. Three months ago I would have been sure that the vote would have been lost but the high handed actions of the Madrid Government have changed all that. Today the citizens of Catalonia were invited to vote Si / No (in Catalan and Castellano) or Oc / Non in Occitan. The vote will be heavily for independence I suspect, thanks in large part to the attempted repression and the Generalitat will declare independence on Tuesday. What will Madrid do then? Send in tanks?

  • @ Caron I was glad to see your appreciation of Mike Moore, Caron. I only regret that his skill and ability were not understood or appreciated by his Party Leader at the time.

    As for Catalonia, it is unbelievably awful and I fear it will get worse because of the sheer stupidity of the Spanish Government. Surely they must be breaking their obligations as a member state of the EU treaties.

    I’m not sure that Johnson B. has much clout with Spain as a Brexiteer – and I hope that nothing kicks off with Gibraltar.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Oct '17 - 7:30am

    I’ve got a simple position on self-determination, which is that I support it. If I were Catalonian I probably would have tried to vote in the referendum but voted to stay with Spain, because I don’t like nationalism either.

    I’m pleased Vince has spoken out against the violence. The Foreign Office’s position of basically ‘nothing to see here’ is just craven desperation not to upset anyone on the brexit negotiating table.

  • Vince: Boris should call in the Spanish Ambassador over Catalonia???????????????

    Surely the Catalonian situation is bad enough already, Vince?

  • The police violence was sickening, brutal and entirely unnecessary. However, I have mixed feelings about whether it is appropriate to turn an internal Spanish matter into an international diplomatic one. The outrage expressed by the press is probably sufficient.

    It is early days. The Spanish government made a grave mistake which will work against them. Let us see whether they have learned from that.

  • Phil Beesley 2nd Oct '17 - 12:13pm

    @Martin: “I would question whether the actions of the police are legal.”

    That’s something that police officers there were asking. The Guardia Civil is controlled by government ministries; it is a national police force. Mossos d’Esquadra is the regional police force controlled by the regional government. It is responsible for “administrative policing” and senior officers were instructed by central government to prevent the referendum. Ballot boxes were seized by junior officers from both forces at a relatively small number of polling stations. It would seem that many police had reservations about the practicality, morality and legality of intervention and consequential violence.

    What a nasty mess.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Oct '17 - 12:49pm

    Any parent knows that to prevent rebellions it is best to grant sufficient freedoms to neutralise the desire for independence.

  • Alasdair Brooks 2nd Oct '17 - 5:38pm

    It’s potentially Easter 1916 all over again.

    The analogy shouldn’t be taken too far. The Catalan referendum wasn’t an armed uprising, Spain is not at war, and no one will be executed. But the key point is that it wasn’t the initial suppression of the Easter Rising that turned Irish voters away from Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party, and led to Sinn Fein’s 1918 landslide in Ireland; it was the perception that the British state acted with disproportionate violence not just in the executions of the Rising’s leaders but in post-Rising actions by the authorities.

    History strongly suggests that the perceived use of disproportionate violence in the suppression of an independence movement is counterproductive. Whatever Rajoy’s intent in ordering in the police, he’s handed an huge PR victory to the Catalan government, and made a UDI more likely.

  • Steve Comer 2nd Oct '17 - 7:15pm

    Alasdair makes a good point with his comparison with Ireland. Something similar happened in Cyprus when the Ayios Georghious boat carrying arms for what was to become EOKA was intercepted by the Royal Navy. There was little sympathy with the rebellion at the time, but then the British hung the arms smugglers which created a wave of public sympathy, just as similar actions had in Ireland in 1916.

    Nobody has gone to the gallows in Catalunya, but the persecution of Artur Mas, and presumably soon of Puidgemont, and the appalling scenes of violence at the Polling Stations do not look like the actions of a democratic European state.

    I’m pleased to see the strong statements of Vince Cable and Hans Van Baalen, these are in contracts to the craven comments of the Tory Government and the Foreign Office.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Oct '17 - 7:39pm

    What Steve and Alasdair said — it is not in the best interests of the entirety of Europe (not just EU) that the current considerable silent majority in Catalonia that is pro-autonomy, anti-independence and government-sceptic, should be made to ‘pick sides’ in a binary ‘union and suppression or independence and freedom’ manner. Spain’s post-70s history rests on the continuation of a constitutional compromise including federation and provincial autonomy.

  • Chris Rennard 4th Oct '17 - 10:58am

    I was an International Visitor invited to observe what was happening in Barcelona.

    I posted some of my observations and photographs on my Facebook page:

  • Martin Land 4th Oct '17 - 3:22pm

    Spain reported to be sending troops into Catalonia. Could have sworn I remember Franco dying years ago….

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