THE extent and implications of the political emergency in Catalonia far exceed those of the Brexit crisis here in the UK. To date, the Brexit affair has largely been confined to the damp, rat-infested corridors of the Palace of Westminster . But for the past week, upwards of half a million Catalans have been clashing directly on the streets of Barcelona with police and fascist bands, while mass daily protests across the region (and in neighbouring French Catalonia) have brought the economy to a standstill.

The cause of this civil unrest is the jailing – for long years – of democratically elected Catalan ministers, politicians and civil activists for merely holding a peaceful referendum on self-determination for Catalonia in October 2017. A self-determination that was achieved legally before being quashed by Franco’s rebellious armies in 1939. A right to self-determination enshrined in the United Nations charter.

On Friday, the biggest general strike in Catalonia this side of the civil war took place to protest the sentences. The professional association representing Catalonia’s retail sector reported that up to 80% of shops closed for the strike. There was mass absenteeism in the public sector, including 90% of university workers and students on strike. Catalonia’s air links with the rest of the world have also be disrupted by protestors occupying Barcelona’s El Prat airport.

This is the biggest display of mass public civil disobedience since the fall of the Berlin Wall exactly 30 years ago. In that instance, of course, Western and European governments applauded the downfall of the Stalinist regime in East Germany. However, today the EU has been as silent as the grave while the Spanish state reacted to the democratic outpouring in Catalonia with batons, rubber bullets and the bludgeoning of journalists trying to report on these excesses.

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According to an appeal issued by my own union (the National Union of Journalists), 12 reporters clearly identified as such were deliberately targeted by Spanish police on October 14, while they covered the demonstrations. These attacks were perpetrated by police officers belonging to the Mossos d’Esquadra, the local Catalan force and the Spanish national police, which is controlled by the Ministry of the Interior.

This failure of the EU to intervene when a member state attacks journalists is a new low point – especially given Europe’s equally muted response to the genocidal invasion by Turkey, a fellow Nato ally, of Kurdish Syria. Europe’s deliberate looking the other way has only encouraged the Spanish state to new excesses. Tsunami Democràtic, a non-violent, pro-independence civil rights group with over 330,000 subscribers, is being investigated by Spain’s highly politicised National Court under draconian anti-terror laws. Already, seven civil activists from the Committees for the Defense of the Republic – equivalent to local Yes groups in Scotland – have been arrested for “belonging to a terrorist organisation”.

The National: Smoke billows from Ras al-Ayn, Syria, after a bombardment by Turkey against KurdsSmoke billows from Ras al-Ayn, Syria, after a bombardment by Turkey against Kurds

We need to situate events in Spain and Catalonia in a wider context. First, the palpable slow-down in the global (and certainly European) economy during the past two years, coupled with the impact on ordinary people of Trump’s trade wars, has unleashed a fresh cycle of popular resistance to austerity, globalisation and the eco-crisis. The unexpected strength of the popular uprising in Catalonia – for that is what it is – is paralleled by the recent rioting in Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria. Of course, each local popular explosion has domestic roots. But the global willingness of large numbers of people to defy the status quo with sustained civil disobedience, taking to the street day after day regardless of the cost, is wholly new.

Second, in all these cases, the ruling authorities seem unable to contain the popular uprisings. This is not because they are unwilling to use force, as we have seen in Catalonia. But the extent of the economic and social crisis is such that everywhere these regimes are plagued with internal division that limits their ability to find a general solution. In Britain, for instance, Brexit has exposed deep divisions inside the ruling class regarding how to save an ailing economy in the face of global competition. Again, China is suffering its worst economic slowdown since the end of Maoism, which explains President Xi’s desperate gamble to reinstate a cult of personality, including his ill-judged attempt to suppress the autonomy of Hong Kong.

In Spain, the establishment is desperate to protect its ill-gotten financial gains in the face of mass discontent and economic decline – so it is using Catalonia as a scapegoat to divert popular attention. But after five years of growing political instability in Spain, this project is only making matters worse. Signs of increasing polarisation in the Spanish state can be seen in the latest opinion polls, taken after the announcement of the court verdicts on the Catalan leaders.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon responds to sentencing of Catalan leaders

These polls predict the ruling Socialist Spanish Party will win only 122 seats in November’s upcoming general election to the 350-seat Cortes, against the 123 it took in April. The far-left Podemos is likely to take 33 seats, down from 42. The right-wing People’s Party (PP) is forecast to see its tally of MPs jump from 66 to 98, while the far-right Vox party could rise from 24 to 34, overtaking the centrist Ciudadanos group, whose seats could plunge from 57 to a miserly 19.

The PP, Vox and Ciudadanos have adopted an uncompromising approach to the Catalan crisis, calling on the Socialist government to impose direct rule from Madrid. At the same time, opinion polls show support for secessionist parties strengthening in both Catalonia and the Basque Country. If anything like this occurs, Spain would remain locked in political stasis.

The Socialists could form a majority with Podemos and the nationalist groups, but the latter would demand some movement on amnesty for the Catalan prisoners if not a legal self-determination referendum. The Socialist PM, Pedro Sanchez, is unlikely to grant either. Meanwhile, the right bloc of PP, Vox and Ciudadanos could cobble together a minority administration but it would soon find itself outvoted on key issues by the left. All of which suggests that Spain is fast becoming a failed state. The danger for the Catalans now is that retreat from the streets will shift the balance of forces in favour of the far right. They must press on or lose.

There are lessons here for Scotland. We won’t get anywhere being docile. The chances of London offering a Section 30 agreement for a fresh independence referendum are slim. To win independence, the Yes movement needs its own self-organisation, finances, dedication and the courage shown by our Catalan friends – which means not relying on political parties.

None of these popular movements will win on their own. The Catalans need to ally with the Basques if they are to face down the Spanish state. Scotland needs to ally with Northern Ireland and Wales to dismember a British state increasingly bent on turning itself into a de-regulated vassal of Trump’s America. Here in Europe, we need an alternative to the old, Cold War structures of the EU and Nato, which are complicit in letting the long-suffering Catalan and Kurdish peoples be crushed. Visca la República Catalana!