However much we try — and lots of us don’t — we fall for the power of the photo-image. So the news, as reported in Britain, was simple: Spanish police brutal; Catalan democracy assailed. I am not in a position to know the real facts about the violence, so I simply note that the estimates for those injured in Catalonia on Sunday vary from 844 to two in hospital. But so much was left out by the dominant account. First, the referendum was illegal under the constitutional law of Spain (reinforced by the Catalan Supreme Court). Serious votes normally need legal form, for good reason. Otherwise, they are more open to manipulation by those calling them, and therefore their results are untrustworthy. The whole of Spain has an interest in the future of Catalonia, since Catalonia is a part of it. The whole of Spain gave no permission for this referendum. Second, our media made the same mistake they make here when they speak of ‘the Scots’, but mean the SNP. ‘The Catalans’ are not the same as Catalan separatists. In the last regional elections in Catalonia, the secessionists did not win a majority of the vote. In their stunt of a referendum, even by their own count, they got less than 30 per cent of the vote of those eligible, which suggests that although a lot of Catalans want independence, a lot more don’t. We knew that already. Now this minority will declare ‘independence’. At the time of writing, no foreign power has supported the separatists’ theatrics, except for Jeremy Corbyn’s friend Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela.
I have seen Spain’s behaviour contrasted unfavourably with David Cameron’s ‘generous’ approach to the Scottish referendum. It sounds rather British to be relaxed about people having referendums if they want them, but in fact it is something which needs thinking through. In the Scottish case, Mr Cameron was insouciant about the wording of the question (much too favourable to the SNP) and about the ramifications of a Yes on all UK citizens affected by the result yet unable — because not resident in Scotland — to affect it. Even his Brexit referendum, though rendered necessary by previous broken promises, was launched almost frivolously, without proper rules or a plan of what to do if the vote went against him.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes, which appears in this week’s Spectator