ADA Colau Ballano, the mayor of Barcelona, is not in favour of independence for Catalunya. She said this week that there is something which rises above our individual opinions and which should unite all of us who believe in and defend rights, freedom and democracy: the use of state violence against a peaceful population cannot be tolerated.

I don’t support independence for Catalunya, just because I don’t live there, I live here. I do support the right of determination for all people but I am not keen to get involved in other nations’ affairs; this why I don’t participate in French elections. I could – I am French – but my life is here, here in Scotland among my friends and family. However, when I saw the Spanish military police moving into Catalunya, I responded to the call of the devolved government of Catalunya asking for international observers and visitors to supervise the referendum.

I wish I had gone for nothing and that the weekend had been peaceful. As Ada Calau Ballano said, it wasn’t. I saw her on TV calling for Madrid to stop the violent aggression on peaceful people who just wanted to vote. Madrid didn’t stop. I saw a lot of the aftermath of the violence brought to Catalunya by Madrid. Some of the worst I saw in Girona, where the president of Catalunya was going to cast his vote. Many of you would have seen the violence unleashed live in the news and online. However,

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I was determined to make sure to go around Catalunya and to visit the many polling stations that the Guardia Civil sent by Madrid didn’t visit. Everyone was very anxious all day long. You could see the fear in their eyes – some would burst into tears just because we were there. I found myself caught up in the event and started to be alarmed by any sight of a police car or any loud noise. More importantly, I felt how resolute and resilient the people of Catalunya truly are. In their hundreds they occupied their own polling stations standing firm, making human chains to protect their votes.

When they recognised us as international observers, they all clapped each time we came in and out of polling stations. We were received like heroes. I told them that they were the real heroes but they wouldn’t listen. Again, I had to contain myself, the emotion was too much watching people clapping while they were crying. The way they conducted themselves was incredible, peaceful and united, they just wanted to vote. They clapped the most senior citizens who lived under the fascist Spanish dictator Franco and still came out and voted, some in wheelchairs. They clapped the bravest of all, the ones who came and voted no to independence like the mayor of Barcelona.

We can all learn a lot from the people of Catalunya – their peaceful way, open hands held high facing the most violent military police in Western Europe, the Guardia Civil. We can learn a lot from Ada Colau Ballano,because what really matters is who we are as a nation and how we conduct ourselves. Sitting down on school playgrounds with the people of Catalunya, we spoke about how democracy is fragile, about fascism coming back and not only in Spain. The Spanish youth cheering the Guardia Civil is not far from our own Tory youth celebrating Brexit and cheering as EU citizens leave the UK, not far from our own people blaming immigrants like me.

The mayor of Barcelona tells us how Madrid and the Spanish media speak of totalitarianism, of a broken society, of a population cowed by violent separatists. She tells us the words they choose are not neutral. “Seditious” and “separatist” are not descriptive terms but rather are highly charged. I agree when she says that they begin by dehumanising the other with these words. I can also add the word “traitor” to a vocabulary that is meant to inflame and one that has no place in a modern democracy.

Ada Colau Ballano is asking for our support today. She says that what has happened violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of all of us: Catalans, Spaniards, Europeans. She is right, today it is Catalunya, but tomorrow it may be anywhere if we tolerate this. The mayor of Barcelona is asking us not to justify it. If we do, we are lost. Everyone loses. Democracy loses, she says and I agree.

It is not about yes or no, not about independence but about what kind of democracy we want to live in.

Christian Allard, ​SNP Councillor in Aberdeen, former SNP MSP