Spain’s Supreme Court is gearing up to put the former Catalan leadership on trial; which was ousted following the Centre’s annulment of last year’s independence declaration and subsequent snap polls in the northeast region. Some 18 politicians will be in the dock, excluding then President Carles Puigdemont who remains in self-imposed exile. All face possible charges of rebellion; carrying a custodial term of up to 25 years. Top of the list is former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras. Though Madrid has recommended that this be cut to 12 years for sedition and misuse of public funds only. This therefore suggests that Madrid, one year on from the Catalan referendum, has essentially washed its hands of the issue. The new Socialist Prime Minister took to the helm over the summer. And while pundits note that he is adopting a softer approach to the so-called rebel leaders — Pedro Sánchez has continued the tradition of framing the question of Catalonia independence as a purely legal matter. Thereby effectively reducing the opportunity for political dialogue. This is a gross misstep. Admittedly, the Spanish constitution does not provide for self-determination when this threatens territorial integrity. Meaning that from a judicial perspective — the unilateral move for independence was an act of subversion. Yet there is much weight in the Catalan argument, held by certain quarters, that when the law becomes an act of state oppression the will to revise ought to be there. What must not happen is the brutal response that the world witnessed last October when then PM Mariano Rajoy of the conservative People’s Party sent in paramilitary forces to prevent Catalonians from voting in what was essentially a peaceful protest against what many see as sanctioned oppression.Some analysts believe that the Centre’s heavy-handedness was driven by Catalonia’s standing as an economic powerhouse. Indeed, it boasts the highest GDP of any of Spain’s regions; with exports last year representing more than a quarter of the national total. Thus Madrid has gone into overdrive to warn that a Catalonia crashed out of the EU would suffer serious threats to long-term fiscal health. Yet many analysts have pooh-poohed such scaremongering; pointing out that similar concerns did not prevent the Scottish referendum. The economic angle also likely explains the EU stance against any form of separatism. Be that as it may, the right of self-determination must be recognised as a legitimate one. Particularly when a people enjoy a distinct culture and language. And in this case, some 7.5 million people must be allowed to determine their collective future. For this is what democracy is. *Published in Daily Times, November 4th 2018.