If both sides are willing to lose some face, the Catalan crisis can be peacefully resolved

The best way to judge the scale of the constitutional crisis in Spain is to transpose it, albeit imperfectly, to a UK context. Imagine, then, a world where Theresa May orders in police and soldiers to raid Scottish government’s offices in Edinburgh, arresting 14 senior officials in the process, and seizing independence referendum materials. Then the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, declares the financial “credit” Scottish-based agencies can receive from UK-wide entities to pay wages and order supplies is suspended, and they require Edinburgh to seek HM Treasury approval for all non-essential Scottish government spending.

Then there’s a broadcast by the Prime Minister calling Nicola Sturgeon’s unofficial referendum illegal and urging her to end her “escalation of radicalism and disobedience”, adding a threat of jail for postal workers and local authorities if they have anything to do with the regional referendum.

Then Ms Sturgeon fires back that she intends to declare unilateral independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote. That is how acrid the atmosphere in Spain has become. Hence the dangers. There is more than a whiff of confrontation in the air.

Nowhere in Europe, no stranger to separatist movements, is a state currently facing such an immediate threat to its integrity as does the Kingdom of Spain. It is almost as if the Catalans were acting on Donald Trump’s cue at the UN about the imperatives of sovereignty.

Plainly, matters have been allowed to drift for too long, too far. Perhaps the Spanish government hoped the problem would simply melt away of they ignored it for long enough, or that no one would take it seriously, and boycott the exercise as they did in 2014. Or they may have thought the Catalan administration was bluffing, and would think again.

On their side, the Catalans may have deliberately provoked Madrid into its state of overexcited exasperation, precisely as a way to pitch the centre against the provincial government, and to heighten tensions. It is also the case that many Catalans, at the top of the political system and throughout that prosperous land, sincerely and passionately believe in their independence, on cultural, linguistic and political grounds, and want to get on with it.

Spanish police storm Catalan buildings in fight over referendum

They are entitled to their view of course, just as the rest of Spain’s electors and government are entitled to voice theirs. The way the situation has been…

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