When is an independence movement with the aim of secession legitimate and when not?
The secession of Kosovo from Serbia was deemed legitimate by Western powers (and brought about by the intervention of NATO troops). But the secession of Crimea from Ukraine was deemed illegitimate and labelled as an 'Russian invasion' by the US and many EU allies.
South Sudan's breakaway from the former country of Sudan was OK (they have lots of oil). But the Iraqi Kurds vote on independence was nixed by almost everyone (even though they have oil too).
Slovakia was allowed to peacefully divorce the Czech part of their former country while the disintegration of Yugoslavia was encouraged by the West, as was the break up of the Soviet Union.
But the reaction to Catalunya's intention to hold a referendum on independence was met by condemnation throughout the EU. Official minds don't seem to have changed much even after the thuggish behaviour of the Madrid government and its goons in the paramilitary Guardia Civil.
I can't imagine a more spectacular own goal than the one scored on Sunday by the Madrid government of Mariano Rajoy.
If the referendum had been allowed to proceed peacefully, it seemed quite possible that the independence proposal would have been rejected. Even if it had been approved by a slim majority, independence would still have been a long way off.
But the heavy handed tactics of the Guardia (who by the way were the hated instrument Franco used to maintain his dictatorial power for decades - including outlawing the Catalan language) has proved a disaster for the cause of a unified Spain. I imagine few of the people who would have voted 'No' in a peaceful poll, would have risked confronting the goon squads. And the result - 90% in favour and a propaganda disaster for Rajoy, with pictures of police swinging batons and elderly ladies with bleeding faces.
And again I imagine that many people who would have voted 'No' will have changed their minds after yesterday's debacle revealed the true nature of Rajoy's government.
I believe Rajoy's party leads a minority government - following a second election, in 2016, after the first, in 2015, failed to produce a party capable of forming a government. His People’s Party only won the confidence of the Cortes when the Socialist Party abstained from voting on the initial confidence vote. So his hold on power in Madrid must be pretty tenuous. Let's hope some of the other parties in the Cortes (Ciudanos Unidos or the Socialist Party of Spain?) will combine to kick this mediocrity into oblivion. By the way, this is not the first unwise and belligerent policy that Rajoy has backed - he was Deputy Prime Minister in the government of Jose Aznar, when the latter went ‘all in’ in backing George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
However I don’t hold out much hope of the Madrid government falling over the Catalunya issue. Apparently most of Madrid’s leading newspapers and opinion makers have come out strongly against Catalunya. So I fear that the rift between it and the rest of Spain will grow, leading to a very uncertain future. This could also lead to renewed calls for independence for the Basque provinces, and possibly even from Galicia - the home province of Mariano Rajoy and the late dictator Francisco Franco.
Along with the Spanish government, the EU in its failure to condemn the violence of the National Police and the Guardia Civil, has not come out of this very well. Perhaps the conflict between Catalunya and Spain will be a crisis for the EU of greater magnitude than Brexit. Who knows? And by the way if Britain has the right to leave the EU (which clearly it does), then should not Catalunya have the right to leave Spain?
The answer to this one seems to be, as perhaps with all issues of secession, "It depends on whose ox is is being gored."