Scrolling through Twitter a question struck me. From a PR perspective who wins when the national government’s riot police storm the local government’s polling stations?
At the weekend, footage was posted from Catalonia of police looking to seize ballots from an independence referendum. You can see it here:
— Clara Vera (@ClaraVera14) October 1, 2017
There was much more disturbing footage online. But it was the prosaic backdrop of an election centre that caught my eye.
Elsewhere, the internet was full of stories. Firefighters acted as human shields to protect voters. A girl getting her fingers broken by the police. All of these were told through video posted to the internet.
In law, the regional poll was declared illegal so the national government held the high ground.
But in PR terms, sending in the police to act aggressively feels like a monumental own goal. Why? Because it plugs into a narrative that even small children can grasp. In the story of the Big Man versus the Little Man, it is the instinct of the passer-by to side with the Little Man. It is the instinct of the tribe under attack to be politicized.
Any independence campaign would need the majority of the population from the area looking to break away in support. From the wider Spanish population it would need grudging acceptance.
As a student of history, this weekend may yet prove to be an even bigger own goal. I’m reminded of the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin. History shows that a population filled with revulsion at acts carried out by the country’s government moved to side with the revolutionaries.
At an event at Reuters earlier this year it was mentioned that people trust words only a little, pictures a little more and video most of all.
In Catalonia and Spain, history isn’t defined by video clips as the 19th century was by war and diplomacy. But the campaign for independence is being shaped by the 30-second clips on the internet.