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Spain's blunder a gift to Catalan independence movement

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Spain's blunder a gift to Catalan independence movement

Oct. 2 (Sydney Morning Herald) -- Barcelona: The bloodshed and violent scenes of Sunday's independence vote in Catalonia will leave a deep scar on Spain.

And they make it more likely - though far, far from certain - that a new country will be born.

The Spanish government both succeeded and failed on Sunday.

Its stated aim was to stop the Catalan independence vote - but this was never going to happen. Sheer numbers were against them.

An army of volunteers, aided by the resources of the Catalonian state and by the determination of its people, made sure that millions were able to put their mark on pieces of paper.


Barcelona: Spanish forces strong arm Catalan people during referendum vote. (10/1/2017) Source: Twitter

And those marks added up to a towering "victory" for independence.

But Madrid's real aim was to de-legitimise the vote. A crucial court decision, holding that the referendum was not only without legal force but actually illegal, was one element.

And a concerted effort by national police attacked the voting infrastructure - confiscating pre-printed ballot papers, shutting down computer systems, making it easier to argue that this was not a properly democratic, auditable, secure result.

It was just a collection of debatable marks on photocopied pieces of paper. And if it did not reflect the true, full will of the Catalan people, there was no reason for Madrid to respect that result.

This may have been enough. But Madrid went too far. Its last move, on Sunday morning, was to send riot police in to seize ballot boxes and physically remove voters from polling stations.

Thousands were waiting, in peaceful human barriers to block their way.

And the riot police kept coming, leaving hundreds bloodied in their wake, firing rubber bullets as they passed.

All for the sake of shutting down a small fraction of the country's polling stations.

In the age of social media, as graphic video of the police action spread virally, this was a tactical blunder that may have lost the war.

It galvanised voters instead of cowing them. It hardened resentment of the central government. Anecdotally (but believably) it turned some "No" votes to "Yes".

It worked to re-legitimise the referendum - not as an accurate count of the people's will, but as a brutal validation of the spirit of the vote.

The Catalans I spoke to wanted independence because they felt the central government did not best represent them.

After a bloody Sunday, that argument had a lot of new evidence to draw on.

The locals are going to remember two things from today: the camaraderie of their fellow independence voters, and the hostility of their southern compatriots.

From now it's impossible to predict the next step. This is not an age of compromise, and new countries have historically been born of moments like this.

It's unlikely that border posts will spring up any time soon on the highway from Barcelona to Madrid.

But at the very least, Spain has lit a new fire under Catalan's independence movement.

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