LAST Thursday 45,000 supporters of Catalan independence demonstrated cheerily in a very damp Brussels, hoping to convince the European Union to intervene on their behalf. It was an impressive display of commitment, good humour and dedication to the right to Catalan self-determination in the face of Spanish state brutality. There was just one wee problem: no-one in the EU was listening.

I attended the demonstration and then spoke at a pro-Catalan conference in the European Parliament. I couldn’t help musing how amazing it would be if we could get 45,000 folk to demonstrate in Paisley or Aberdeen for Scottish freedom — never mind persuade them to go to Brussels. And yet I could not help thinking that this fantastic display of Catalan faith in the EU was about to end in bitter disappointment.

The institutions and senior representatives of the European Union are not just hostile to Catalan independence, they are working actively to thwart it. For instance, the conference at which I spoke only received permission to go ahead the day before it was scheduled, because of opposition from the new president of the European Parliament, far-right Antonio Tajani. No representative of the commission or main political parties in the European Parliament were prepared to meet any of the Catalans in Brussels – a calculated snub.

Instead, the European Commission and governments of most member states are adamant that the Catalan question is purely an internal matter for Spain. The legal argument is that the EU is a membership organisation and therefore the EU itself cannot interfere, even if the Spanish Guardia Civil beat the living daylights out of elderly Catalans trying to vote for self-determination. If the right-wing, minority Spanish Government refuses to allow Catalans the right to self-determination, that is no business of Europe. And if the Catalans secede unilaterally, they will be excluded automatically from the EU.

My worry is that because the Catalans have such a deep commitment to building a common European home they are failing to take into account the negative political evolution of the EU – something Scots have to grasp, too. The last decade has seen the EU fundamentally transformed into an instrument whose first priority is to protect the integrity of the single currency at any price. Which is another way of saying protecting the interests of the main German banks and the export system of the big German global manufacturing companies. As a result, three new political doctrines have emerged.

New EU doctrine #1: “If you don’t pursue the economic policy we want, you will be deposed”. Far from being “hands off”, the Commission and European Central Bank have actively intervened to remove democratically elected governments they considered unwilling to impose austerity policies on their electorates. This coercion was achieved through the expedient of threatening to cut off European financial support.

Thus the Papandreou administration in Greece was replaced by that of the unelected technocrat Lucas Papademus, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank. In Italy, Berlusconi’s scandal-ridden administration was not replaced by the choice of the people but by European Commissioner Mario Monti, who appointed a cabinet composed entirely of unelected technocrats. Spain, on the other hand, under the right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy has been craven in its desperation to impose austerity, which explains why it has the support of Angela Merkel and the EU institutions.

New EU doctrine #2: “We will turn a blind eye to human rights abuses if it suits us, especially in Spain”. Yet the very foundation of the post-war moves towards European unity were premised on the notion that European institutions had a legal right to intervene in states where human and civil rights were being violated. This concept lay behind the European Convention on Human Rights (drafted in 1950) and the creation of the European Court of Human Rights to enforce it. The EU has absorbed the ECHR into its legal structures.

REGARDING Catalan independence, the later Helsinki Accords – signed by every EU member – also make clear that territorial integrity is trumped in international law by the right of self-determination when a state denies civil and human rights to a national minority. And Catalans are an oppressed minority. When the elected Catalan Government was deposed in October, the very first thing the Spanish overlords did was to re-impose Castilian Spanish in public administration.

New EU doctrine #3: “We declare the right to expel groups of EU citizens unilaterally from the union, though nothing in the treaties supports this”. During the Scottish referendum in 2014, the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, announced that if Scots voted to leave the UK they would be outside the EU — even though the independence process had been agreed with London. A similar threat has been made against Catalonia. In both cases, this economic blackmail emanated from Madrid, with Scotland taking collateral damage. In contrast, the US Constitution allows member states to divide (with congressional approval) without new entities being expelled — witness the creation of Kentucky, Maine and West Virginia.

I am a passionate European. However, Europe is not the same thing as the European Union. Especially the current EU, which rules in the interests of the big banks and big multinationals, and prefers austerity to democracy. Being a good European does not mean kowtowing to the diktats of the European Commission or Central Bank.

Catalonia votes on December 21. If the current polls are anywhere correct, the pro-independence parties will form the next government – assuming Madrid allows them. But what then? President Puigdemont and his European Democrats of Catalonia – the party’s name says it all – are still pinning all their hopes on Europe intervening to force Madrid to negotiate a deal. I fear Puigdemont will be disappointed. The EU is not going to interfere.

What else can Catalonia do? It can proceed – peacefully – to simply take control of its own affairs unilaterally. The mass movement is strong enough to do that. A movement that can get 45,000 people to Brussels can surround every Catalan ministry and keep it functioning. Madrid could use force to try and stop them but the likelihood is that attempting such a course would bring down the minority Rajoy government.

That still leaves unresolved the problem that the EU could throw independent Catalonia out of the union. So we need a plan to reform the EU and make it representative once again of European democracy and aspirations. Failing that, we will need to build an alternative Europe. It now looks most probable that Scottish independence will occur post-Brexit when we are already outside the EU. That offers the prospect either of re-negotiating EU membership or joining Catalonia in some new arrangement. The latter could be an extension of the European Free Trade Association (Efta). With Catalonia and Scotland, Efta’s GDP would be more than 10 per cent of the Eurozone’s, giving it a lot of leverage. And it would protect the interests of Europe’s progressive, smaller states. Scotland voted to stay in the EU. But the European Union we voted to stay in is transmuting before our very eyes. If the EU aids Spain to crush Catalan democracy, we will find ourselves in a brave new world.