The last time we checked in on the Catalonian independence movement things were in something of a holding pattern. They held their referendum (which Spain refused to even acknowledge as having taken place) but were holding off on a formal declaration of independence. The Catalan leadership apparently wanted to give diplomacy a chance first, allowing time for the Government in Madrid to meet with them and talk over the options.

Well, that plan is pretty much off the table. As the BBC reports today, the Spanish government is threatening to invoke a constitutional clause allowing them to suspend Catalonia’s autonomous status and disband the regional government. So much for diplomacy.

Spain is to start suspending Catalonia’s autonomy from Saturday, as the region’s leader threatens to declare independence.

The government said ministers would meet to activate Article 155 of the constitution, allowing it to take over running of the region.

Catalonia’s leader said the region’s parliament would vote on independence if Spain continued “repression”.

Catalans voted to secede in a referendum outlawed by Spain.

I’m sure the Catalans responded in a calm fashion, seeking to build bridges of understanding and open a fresh dialogue on how they might iron out their differences. Oh, wait. No, they just threatened to break from Madrid entirely if they persist in repressing them. (CNN)

The announcement came minutes after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont threatened that the region could formally declare independence if the Spanish government did not engage in dialogue.

Puigdemont also demanded Spain end its “repression” of Catalan separatist leaders, in a letter sent shortly before a Madrid-imposed deadline for the region to drop its independence bid. Two leaders of the Catalan independence movement were taken into custody on suspicion of sedition earlier this week.

Puigdemont had already failed to meet an earlier deadline to clarify whether his administration had officially declared independence from Spain.

It’s difficult to see how this ends well at the rate things are going, but the only thing we can be sure of is that virtually nobody is happy about the situation. There seems to be a general feeling of sympathy for the Catalonians, but none of Spain’s allies want to see this turn into a divisive mess, and the last thing they need is a civil war breaking out in one of the EU members.

The Catalans and their leadership are in a tough spot right now. The previous protests and the response from the government in Madrid turned somewhat violent at times, but not exceptionally bloody on the scale of the ongoing protests in Venezuela. Their referendum went overwhelmingly for independence, but voter turnout was listed as being barely over 40%. Does this mean that they don’t actually have a majority of their own people in favor of breaking with Spain or were the low numbers a result of Madrid’s efforts to suppress the vote by closing down polling places and confiscating ballot boxes?

Those are the questions that the Catalan leadership will need to answer before doing anything drastic. A formal declaration of independence could lead to actual civil war rather than street protests and they don’t seem to even know how many of their own people would fight for them. That’s reminiscent of most independence bids throughout history. Remember that even during the period of the American revolution there were still a number of loyalists to the crown who supported England, opposed the revolution and, in some cases, fought against it. Fortunately, we were able to overcome that, but if there’s actually anywhere near a majority in the Catalonian region who would prefer to maintain the status quo, this could go south very quickly.

On the other hand, if Madrid has to crush this independence movement with military muscle, there’s going to be a lot of toxic, seething resentment among a significant portion of the Catalans for generations to come. It still seems to me that Madrid could put an offer on the table which gives the Catalonian region even more autonomous control while not formally seceding from Spain. That might be enough for the independence movement leaders to save face and pacify the citizens while keeping Spain intact. Let’s hope they find a path to some resolution along those lines.