IN the recent past, The National has come in for criticism from some in the independence movement over its eye-catching front pages. But then, to rehash a phrase coined by a Benedictine monk way back in the 15th century, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

Personally, I think the front pages are generally pretty effective. And sometimes they are outstanding. One such example was on display in newsagents across Scotland on Saturday — a photo of armed Spanish police preparing to close down democracy in Catalonia.

For whatever reason, the story has been all but ignored by most of the mainstream media. Every late-night tweet from Donald Trump seems to send news desks into a frenzy of excitement, while a drunken escapade by an English Premier League footballer can generate weeks of headlines.

But a full-frontal assault on democracy, not in some far-off corner of Africa or Central America, but in the heart of Europe, merits no more than a few paragraphs on the foreign news pages. The events of last week in Catalonia should provoke international outrage. Armed police on the streets. Politicians charged with perverting the course of justice. More than 700 elected mayors — three-quarters of the total — threatened with imprisonment. Print shops raided. Editors threatened with criminal charges. Vast quantities of printed material seized. Official websites closed down. And a declaration of intent to end Catalan autonomy.

All of this to stop the elected government in Barcelona holding a referendum — an initiative supported by 70 per cent of the people of Catalonia.

Francisco Franco may be long dead but it seems that his ghost continues to stalk the corridors of power in Madrid. His regime lasted for more than 35 years, pursuing the ideology of Falangism, influenced by Nazism. And just as Hitler set out to annihilate all trace of regionalism and diversity in Germany in pursuit of an ethnically and culturally pure, regimented and centralised state, Falangism promoted violence against what it called the “rojo-separatistas” — red separatists.

When Franco came to power, all books in Catalan and Basque were burned, labels and signposts destroyed, even the inscriptions on gravestones erased. It became a crime to speak the two minority languages at work or in the streets. Of the 500,000 people driven into exile following the Spanish Civil War, 200,000 were Catalan.

After the death of Franco things began to change. A new constitution was agreed in 1978, and approved by a referendum, allowing for regional governments across the nation, including Catalonia and the Basque Country. But at the heart of the Spanish state much of the old apparatus remained intact. Even to this day, there are elements within the armed forces, the civil service, the judiciary who yearn for a return to Francoism. Even the Spanish centre-left was infected by the legacy of Franco. Right into the 1980s, officials of the Madrid government — then under the control of the socialist party (PSOE) — operated death squads in the Basque Country. Senior politicians were even convicted and jailed on charges of kidnapping and murder. That was a measure of the fanatical centralism of the Spanish establishment.

In contrast to the Basque Country, the movement for independence in Catalonia has always eschewed violence. I spent time there a few years ago, invited by pro-independence activists to speak at a series of meetings.

People told me then that the Spanish government would stop at nothing to block any move towards Catalan independence. I found it hard to believe that in the 21st century, a European Union country could block the right of a right of a constituent nation to self-determination, including threatening the use of force. That is the kind of thing that happened in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic, or Russia under Putin.

The Spanish government invokes the 1978 constitution to defend its hostility to democracy. But the world has moved on over these past 40 years. No one under 60 voted for that constitution. Dozens of new states have been created across the world. And in the interconnected world of 2017, political independence can no longer be credibly dismissed as separatism.

Just as an independent Scotland would retain strong cultural, economic and social links with England, Wales and Ireland, so too would a new Catalan state be connected to the rest of the Iberian Peninsula and the wider European continent through multiple channels.

This weekend, the Scottish Government issued a statement via External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop supporting the right of the people of Catalonia to determine their own future. I’m glad that they’ve resisted the well-intentioned advice by some to stay out of this debate for fear of antagonising the Madrid government. Scotland needs to send a loud and clear message that the Catalan people have the right to decide.

The reality is that if the right-wing government of Mariano Rajoy succeeds in thwarting self-determination for Catalonia that will only embolden Theresa May, or whoever succeeds her in Downing Street, to deny Scotland a second independence referendum in the future. Such a precedent could only strengthen the resolve of those hard-line UK Unionists who would move heaven and Earth to prevent a further democratic vote on Scotland’s future.

And the other side of the coin is that if Catalonia faces down Madrid, and the referendum leads to a clear Yes vote, ripples from that political earthquake will spread across Europe.

In September 2014, the eyes of Catalonia and other small stateless European nations were fixed on Scotland because of the international impact of a Yes vote. That was not be. But if Catalonia itself succeeds in driving forward towards independence in the near future the impact on Scotland could be electrifying.

The stakes are high, not just for the Iberian Peninsula, but for the whole of Europe. And especially for the UK.