It is difficult to know what the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, on his visit to Washington this week, was expecting President Trump to do about his little local difficulties in Catalonia. It is perhaps a sign of some desperation that the Madrid government is resorting to seeking out the support of this most divisive and controversial of world leaders in its attempts to keep Catalonia from holding its unofficial independence referendum – now all but certain to go ahead – and, indeed, to keep Catalonia within the kingdom of Spain for the longer run.
What, the world might wonder, is Donald Trump supposed to do? Send out a tweet threatening to nuke Barcelona?
Facetious maybe, but Mr Rajoy should have learned by now that even the most draconian of measures and bloodcurdling of threats have done nothing to dampen the appetite for change in Catalonia. What’s more, there is every chance that the attempt to coerce local officials into obstructing the referendum, with threats to jail mayors and postal workers, will have precisely the opposite effect.
Such militancy on the part of Madrid simply makes the separatists’ case for them; they can simply ask their fellow Catalans to look around and see the authoritarian tendencies of the Spanish government, all too willing to hurt ordinary Catalans and all too reluctant to engage in a dialogue about the future.
Spanish police storm Catalan buildings in fight over referendum
The Catalan question, which will be far from resolved after the vote on Sunday, is only the latest example of some strikingly similar moves towards separatism and self-determination. The Scottish National Party, partly rebuffed at the general election earlier this year, will no doubt be back in due course for IndyRef2 – especially if, as does seem the most likely scenario, the UK crashes out of the European Union and its single market. Oddly, the very existence of the EU as a supranational proto-federalist body has given relatively small would-be states such as Scotland, Catalonia and Flanders more encouragement to feel that they can make it in the world under the EU “umbrella”.
In rather different circumstances, but with some echoes of Scotland and Spain, the Kurdish independence referendum has also stirred dangerous passions and ambitions – and equally aggressive threats, not least form President Erdogan’s Turkey. Even more than prosperous Catalonia’s position within Spain – a good fifth of the national…