STRUAN Stevenson’s argument (Letters, October 5) that the Catalans should have agitated for a nationwide vote to change the Spanish constitution, rather than hold the October 1 referendum, conceals hidden dangers to democracy and individual rights.

As he writes, the Catalans endorsed the 1978 post-Franco constitution, but they also supported their 2006 Statute of Autonomy that was approved by the Spanish Parliament. This gave them more autonomy and was supported by the Catalans in a referendum. However, there was great unhappiness when significant parts were struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2010, as the result of an appeal by Rajoy’s Partido Popular. This decision, inter alia, removed legal standing to the Catalans’ claim to nationhood, and to clauses that would have given Catalonia a true measure of self-government. Catalonia has, contrary to Mr Stevenson’s contention, played the game according to the Spanish constitution, but has had its success snatched away.

If true self-government has proved impossible within present constitutional law, is action outside the law never justified? Mr Stevenson’s view is that the law “must be adhered to”. In contrast Martin Luther King argued, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”. If King’s community in Montgomery, Alabama had followed Mr Stevenson’s argument they would not have engaged in civil disobedience – for instance the bus boycott following Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man – but sought equal rights within a legal system that deliberately and systematically discriminated against them. It was only by acting peacefully but outwith the law, that they made progress toward equality.

It is indeed true that the law should be adhered to in a civilised society, as Mr Stevenson contends, but to demand it “must be adhered to” goes too far. For instance, I doubt Mr Stevenson would have happily followed the requirements of the law in Nazi Germany.

No doubt it will be argued that neither the American Civil Rights movement, nor Nazi Germany are comparable to the situation in Catalonia. There are two responses to this. First, that given the recent conduct of the Spanish police, they are perhaps not quite as different as we might have hoped. Secondly, these two examples illustrate that at some point we are obliged to recognise that there can be a conflict between the rights of a state and the rights of its citizens. We may not agree where or when that point is reached, but we do need to recognise its existence. Otherwise we lapse from democracy into something close to totalitarianism.

The rights exercised in Catalonia last weekend were those of self-determination and of democracy by voting. These are fundamental individual rights of citizens, which should not be trampled on as the Spanish state has done, and should have been protected by the EU, as at least six Articles of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights have been broken by Spain. Moreover, they cannot be devalued by the contention that we “must adhere to the law” in every circumstance.

Alasdair Galloway,

14 Silverton Avenue, Dumbarton.

STRUAN Stevenson thunders that “the need to obey the law is a core principle that must be adhered to in a civilised society.” Not always, say I. There are many famous examples from history where brave women and men have defied the law and have been right to do so.

Gandhi was a persistent lawbreaker during his campaign of satyagraha, nonviolent resistance to British rule in India. Most famously, in 1930 he walked from his ashram near Ahmedabad to the coast of Gujarat to collect a few grains of salt, thus breaking the Raj’s prohibition on local salt production. He was, of course, arrested for it by the British authorities, as were tens of thousands of other Indian citizens who followed him.

Nelson Mandela was a lawbreaker who fought the racist regime behind apartheid in South Africa. He was the founder and first leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation, a terrorist group that committed violent acts of sabotage. In his autobiography he candidly explains that he “believed we had no choice but to turn to violence.” Margaret Thatcher may have been strictly correct when she described Mr Mandela as a terrorist, but one person’s terrorist can be another’s freedom fighter.

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was a criminal act committed in protest against the British Parliament’s Tea Act and more generally in support of the principle of “no taxation without representation”. And look what that led to.

I could go on, there are so many examples of lawbreakers who are now revered as heroes. As a general rule, of course we should obey the law, but we have a right as free citizens to disobey laws that are unjust, cruel or oppressive. Indeed, in some cases we may have a moral obligation to do so. Wherever possible, the principles of satyagraha, nonviolent resistance, should be followed, but I can understand why in some situations others decide that may not be enough.

Doug Maughan,

52 Menteith View, Dunblane.

“IF the majority of the people of Catalonia reject the provisions of the Spanish constitution, then it has no validity in Catalonia” says David McEwan Hill (Letters, October 5) “It’s called democracy”. Quite so, but the issue is whether the majority of the people do feel that way.

The November 2014 vote secured a turnout estimated at between 37 per cent and 41 per cent. The latest vote secured 42 per cent. The previous all-time low for an independence referendum was Slovakia at 79 per cent. The turnout in Catalonia was catastrophically low on both occasions and the only conclusion can be that there was a massive abstention.

In the 1978 vote to ratify the Spanish constitution the turnout in Catalonia was 68 per cent and more than 95 per cent voted Yes. In the latest vote, 38 of the Catalan electorate voted for independence. This was an improvement on 2014, but far short of any credible majority of the people. It tends to support the estimates that around one-third of Catalans support independence and perhaps a half or more do not. And, in any two-sided contest, a minority, no matter how vociferous, cannot be allowed to impose their will on the majority. It’s also called “democracy”.

Russell Vallance,

4 West Douglas Drive, Helensburgh.