Three reasons why the Barcelona attacks tip the scales towards Catalan independence

Three reasons why the Barcelona attacks tip the scales towards Catalan independence


The political fallout from the Barcelona attacks is likely to increase support for independence in the upcoming referendum.

The Guardia Civil (Spanish Police) and the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan Police) are playing the blame game over who ought to be held accountable for failing to prevent the attacks in Barcelona on August 17th. The ensuing debate is turning up the heat in an already tense political situation.

Police shirking responsibility

The Spanish Police argue that accurate information related to jihadist activity in Catalunia was shared in time for local forces to respond to any threat. Representatives of the Mossos d’Esquadra allege that, to the contrary, the Guardia Civil had obstructed its participation in international investigations.

This exchange has exacerbated the heated situation in Catalunia right now, adding fuel to the separatist side. On the one hand, they are incensed that the Catalan security forces were not able to join Interpol because of Spanish intervention. On the other hand, the local police response proved to the world that Catalunia was more than able to handle a terrorist attack without need for supervision.

Unwelcome remarks

Meanwhile, the reaction to the attacks by the Spanish public has been mixed, with a flood of negative comments causing consternation in the Catalan community. Moments after the news came out, social media saw posts disparaging Catalan political movements as well as minimising the attacks because they only affected Catalan people.

Even reputable sources chimed in: take for example the Spanish think tank, which includes a number of renowned economists and political scientists, which tweeted that “It starts with deflating tourists’ bike tires and ends up running over them in La Rambla”. The tweet relates to recent anti-tourism industry activism by Arran, a Marxist Catalan separatist group, in which they attacked rental bike businesses and tour buses.

These and similar posts by public figures were later taken down, but the damage was done, feeding into the pro-independence narrative that claims Spain and its people don’t care about Catalunia. Additionally, these condescending reactions will have cemented the belief that an equal dialogue and negotiation with Spain is impossible.

Spanish government’s controversial response

The reaction of the Spanish government has not helped to restore confidence either. Hours after the attack, Spain’s Minister of the Interior claimed that the terrorist cell responsible had already been dismantled. But the Mossos d’Esquadra asserted that the manhunt was still ongoing, and indeed another suspect was killed in Subirats days later.

Controversially, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría suggested deploying the military in Catalonia in order to prevent further attacks. Catalan media and politicians were quick to accuse her of trying to interfere with the independence referendum to be held on October 1st, calling this another attempt at colonisation by Spain.

Tipping the scales

The fallout from the Barcelona attacks has made the Catalan public feel at once more self-reliant, and more negatively towards Spain. This has important implications for the referendum on October 1st. The attacks in Madrid on March 11th 2004 showed that terrorism can have a profound impact on Spanish politics: the elections three days later saw the unexpected victory of the Socialists. With the latest surveys showing 39% of the Catalan people favorable to independence and 23% against, the events in Barcelona are likely to tilt the scale even more in favor of the separatist side.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Marc Hernando Santacana

Marc Hernando Santacana earned a BA in Economics with a Minor in Political Sciences from the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia. Throughout his studies, he focused mainly in topics surrounding Game Theory, Non-State Armed Groups, International Security and State Building. He speaks Catalan, Spanish, English, French, German and Chinese.