THE crisis in Catalonia is dropping out of the headlines in a British press that seems happy to accept the Spanish Government’s interpretation of events. This itself suits the Spanish Government’s interpretation of events. So it’s a good time to remind readers of some of the background to the Catalan independence movement, and some of the actions of the Spanish state that have helped to bring this crisis to a head.

We’re constantly being told that a Catalan independence referendum is illegal. As far as Catalans are concerned, this is merely one more example of politically motivated laws being used to assert something counter-factual, something that is at variance with what people actually believe and feel.

Spain’s right-wing politicians have a habit of using the law to dictate facts on the ground, to shape the realities of Spanish society rather than reflect it. All that succeeds in doing is breeding contempt for the law. The closest Catalan equivalent to the saying “the law is an ass” is “la llei és idiota”. The proverb might not be common in Catalan, but the sentiment is widespread.

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Spanish nationalists also assert that, legally, there is no such thing as a Catalan nation. In 2006, Catalonia approved a new Statute of Autonomy in a referendum. The new statute made reference to Catalonia as a nation, and was approved by 78.1 per cent of voters in a referendum. However, the Partido Popular, the party of current Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, decided to take the matter to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the sections of the statute referring to a Catalan nation had no meaning in Spanish law.

According to Spanish law, there is only one nation in Spain, the Spanish nation. To Catalans, who have a well-developed and long-entrenched sense of themselves as a distinct nation within the Spanish state, this was a slap in the face from a party that has the support of less than 10 per cent of Catalans. It was felt as a small minority dictating to the majority of Catalans what Catalan identity “really” was.

The judges in the Supreme Court are political appointees, and the Partido Popular (which has considerable support elsewhere in Spain) was founded by figures who were prominent in the administration of the dictator Franco, who severely repressed Catalan identity and language.

Catalans saw the court decision as a politically motivated attack, and yet another attempt by the Spanish right to use the law to crush Catalan identity.

There are even more egregious and blatant examples within Spain of right-wing politicians using the law to destroy Catalanitat, which translates as the quality of being Catalan, or identifying with Catalan values. Partido Popular politicians and their allies do not hesitate to use the law to assert things which are clearly untrue. This is seen most clearly in the language laws in force in certain Catalan-speaking regions outside Catalonia itself.

The Catalan language is at the very heart of Catalan identity, and language politics play a role in the Catalan debate which they don’t play in the Scottish debate, where language issues are at best marginal. Partido Popular politicians use the law to deny that the Catalan spoken outside Catalonia is in fact Catalan at all. One of the largest Catalan-speaking regions outside Catalonia is the neighbouring autonomous region of Valencia. Until the middle of the 20th century, a large majority of the population of the Valencian Community was Catalan-speaking, although there were some districts in the far south around Orihuela and Torrevieja that had shifted from Catalan to Spanish in the 18th century, and some mountainous interior regions that have been Spanish-speaking for centuries.

When Spain transitioned to democracy and autonomy was granted to the Valencian Community, the Partido Popular politicians who controlled the region insisted the language spoken there wasn’t Catalan, it was really a different language called Valencian. This is now enshrined in Spanish law, despite the fact that no linguist or academic specialising in language regards “Valencian” as being anything other than a southern extension of Catalan. Yet the Spanish legal system still insists that Catalan isn’t spoken in Valencia.

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Partido Popular politicians in Valencia city even caused a delay in the official opening of the city’s upgraded and extended metro system because they objected to public signage in the “Valencian language” being spelled according to Catalan orthography. They insisted that what is really the local variety of Catalan should be spelled according to Spanish spelling rules.

The language policy in force in Valencia has not been successful in preventing language shift from Catalan to Spanish. You will rarely hear Catalan being spoken on the streets of Valencia city or Alicante these days. This is the kind of language policy which the Partido Popular seeks to impose on Catalonia itself, and one of the reasons why many Catalan independence supporters fear remaining a part of Spain spells the eventual extinction of the language.

Catalan is also spoken in Aragon in a strip of territory called La Franja along the border with Catalonia, yet according to Spanish law the Catalan of Aragon isn’t Catalan at all. Partido Popular politicians in Aragon introduced a new regional language law in 2013. It establishes that the Catalan of Aragon is really “LAPAO” (Lengua Aragonesa Propia de la Area Oriental) – the Aragonese Language Proper to the Eastern Area. The purposes of this law include preventing Catalan textbooks being used in Catalan language classes in Aragonese schools and forestalling any attempts by local Catalan speakers who might seek unification of La Franja with Catalonia.

You can read pages of text without knowing whether it’s written in Catalan or Valencian. The linguistic differences between “Valencian” and “LAPAO” and Catalan are less significant than the differences between Iberian Spanish and Latin American Spanish. Yet those who assert they are different from Catalan would furiously reject any suggestion that Latin American Spanish was from the Spanish of Spain. They’d regard this as an attack on Hispanidad, a sense of Spanishness. They are happy to use Spanish law to mount similar attacks on Catalan identity.

Catalans are accustomed to seeing Spanish law being used to undermine their language and culture. They see the law being used to assert things which are patently untrue, and that helps to undermine respect for the law and the existing constitutional settlement. Catalans ask themselves why they should respect the law when Partido Popular politicians and their allies abuse it in order to establish blatant lies as supposed facts.