Though the Catalans cannot say they are a colonised people, at stake is the basic democratic principle of national self-determination

It is difficult to dissent from the summary delivered by Barcelona’s deputy mayor, Gerardo Pisarello, of Catalonia’s political plight: “There are those who walk with a lighter in the middle of a petrol station full of fuel.” At stake is a basic democratic principle: the right to national self-determination – “the right to decide”, as the Catalan slogan has it. You do not have to support Catalan independence to support this principle – just as accepting the right to divorce does not mean endorsing a couple’s separation. Imagine one partner in a marriage expressing doubts about whether the relationship is working, and the other vetoing not only a divorce, but any discussion of such an outcome. It would not only be an affront: it would simply fuel the desire for a separation on the part of the spouse. This has been the net consequence of the Spanish government’s pigheadedness, its ruinous economic policies, its refusal to negotiate – and its brutal clampdown on civil liberties in Catalonia.

Related: Catalan government suspends declaration of independence

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