13/09/2013 06:36 BST | Updated 12/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Fair Play for Catalonia

On 11th September, Catalan national day, 1.6 million ordinary people formed a human chain the length of Catalonia, calling for things that the British take for granted: freedom and democracy.

For many outside observers, one of the most remarkable things about next year's Scottish referendum is the way Britain has handled the issue. Although there are many very different opinions on Scottish independence, no-one seems to have any doubt that the best way of deciding the issue is to have an informed debate and then let the people of Scotland decide. By doing what comes naturally to them, the British may not even have realised that they have given the rest of the world a lesson in fairness.

A very large majority of Catalans hope that the Spanish Government will follow the British example. We too want to have a free and informed debate followed by a referendum. We too want to decide our future democratically. But so far, the Spanish Government has opposed this.

This is why there have been so many peaceful protests in Catalonia. Nothing has been the same since 2012, when more than a million people peacefully took to the streets in Barcelona on Catalonia´s national day, 11th September. But Spain still says that it will not let the Catalans vote.

The 400km human chain stretched the length of the country, from the Pyrenees through Barcelona and down the Mediterranean coast. It was a massive civic action as huge numbers of ordinary citizens worked together for the world to see that a majority of Catalans want the democratic rights which have so far been denied them.

This year´s protest was inspired by the "Baltic Way" human chain of 1989, in which Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians called for freedom and democracy. In those days, all of the arguments used to say that Catalan independence is unrealistic were likewise applied to these Baltic States. Nevertheless all three are now successful member states of NATO and the EU.

In the end, the question is very simple: in democracies people are free to vote, and in non-democracies they are not. Perhaps the people of Britain are as surprised as we are in Catalonia that the Spanish Government is having so much difficulty in deciding where it stands.

This week's human chain in Catalonia was a celebration of democratic values and people power. It was also an appeal to democrats everywhere to help convince the Spanish government to follow the British example, and let the people of Catalonia vote.