I ENTER my office in the business district of Barcelona. I am not met with the usual buzz of weekend gossip during the 9.30am morning coffee break; the mood is stifled. Eventually, conversation begins to eek out. Small at first, people checking that nobody got hurt yesterday, then gradually the conversation turns to the events of yesterday, what it means and what will happen next.

My office is predominantly Catalan; however, there is a large contingent of people from the rest of Spain. In the weeks running up to the referendum, lunchtime debates were passionate from people on both sides of the argument. Although tensions occasionally ran high, people remained polite and courteous; this reminded me of my experience of home during the Scottish referendum. Today, however, neither side of the debate is jubilant or feeling like winners. The overriding emotions are embarrassment, anger and sadness.

“I don’t really want to talk about yesterday – I’m a little too sad today,” says one of the sales staff, normally a passionate opposer of Catalan independence.

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A pre-programmed email, prepared on Friday, pops-up in everyone’s mailbox; we are asked to remain professional and not to allow personal emotions to affect our work. In a country where fascism is still within living memory, the sight of police suppressing political movements in the street is a deep and painful blow.

Powerful videos start to emerge painting a compelling picture of police aggression and peaceful protesters. There are emotional clips of the Mossos (Catalan police) refusing orders to physically remove people from voting stations, local firefighters in uniform protecting voters from the riot police, and images of the elderly braving the chaos for their right to vote. Whatever arguments the Spanish Government had previously, their position has been permanently damaged in the eyes of many.

“It’s embarrassing, we look like an African dictatorship,” says a Spanish member of staff.

Those who did not support the technically illegal referendum seem to feel like their side has let them down and compromised their argument.

The conversation turns to what’s next. Within the Catalans, there are both supporters and opponents of independence. There are a few who feel they should uphold the result and declare independence, taking with it whatever the Spanish Government may decide to throw at them. However, even comparatively wealthy Catalonia has a large issue with unemployment (youth in particular), so people’s concerns turn to the potential consequences of a potentially large-scale state intervention and its destabilising effect on the local economy.

The clock shows coffee break is over and the majority arrive to the consensus that the low turnout of 42 per cent, combined with police interference, will not be enough for the vote to achieve any form of international recognition.

However, most agree that the 2.2 million that did vote means something. In this office at least, no-one is talking about an unchangeable constitution, or that the vote was illegal. In a subdued but forceful tone, a manager sums up the mood and thoughts of the staff: “We haven’t won an independent Catalonia, but we have the right to a legitimate vote.”

The coming days will no doubt be stormy as emotions will soon become super-charged as the arguments start afresh with Madrid.

The Catalan independence movement has taken another significant step closer to achieving its objectives, but the journey looks far from nearing its end.
Gordon McConnell
Barcelona