It can get surreal, Catalan unionism. After all, it can count Salvador Dali among its followers.

The artist of course lived in different times when the word unionism - a recent import from these shores - would have made no sense.

There has been much talk of Francisco Franco - the 20th century fascist dictator who was feted by Dali - in and around Catalonia over the last week.

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After all, the Guardia Civil - an armed paramilitary police force favoured by Franco - was used to raid buildings and arrest people organising this coming Sunday’s independence referendum.

Some commentators thought this crackdown - referred to as a “repression”, as “authoritarian” and even “totalitarian” by Catalan independence supporters - was Francoist.

But, to me, there is as much of Dali as of Franco in Spain’s brittle, legalistic attempts to stop people voting.

Why? Well some of the police sent Catalonia arrived on a ferry decorated with giant pictures of Looney Tunes characters, Wile E Coyote, Tweety-Pie and Daffy Duck. This is one of three floating barracks. loaded with officers, including the Guardia Civil.

Cue mockery. The Catalan independence movement may not have won over everybody in the devolved nation of 7.5m people. But, inspired by mass protests in the Baltic States in the 1990s, it has developed a campaigning flair that has helped it win friends abroad, including among Scottish nationalists.

This has included clever use of memes. One features outlines of human faces with a red stroke of paint scored across their mouths and the banner “Democracy”. Tweety-Pie - or Piolin in Catalan - has now been given that treatment.

The police may not have liked the jokes. On Sunday evening tarpaulins were hung over the side of the ship, concealing the Looney Tunes characters. That generated a new hashtag on Twitter: #freepiolin.

The surreal vibe extends beyond cartoons. This weekend Spain’s Interior Ministry announced it would begin co-ordinating all police efforts in Catalonia to crack down on vote preparations.

That touched some Catalan nerves. Franco, after all, dissolved the force during his nearly 40-year-rule.

The front pages of Sunday papers were covered in claims that the Mossos were opposed to Madrid control. Spanish authorities denied it was a complete take-over. But this is the nub of the Dali-like predicament Catalans find themselves in.

Catalonia’s parliament earlier this month by a narrow vote declared its referendum above the law of Spain.

At least that is how some in Madrid saw the decision. For some Spanish nationalists this was a “coup”. For some constitutionalists, it was a legal outrage.

Catalonia, unlike Scotland, does not have its own courts. So it can pass a referendum law. But who will enforce that law? That may depend on who can wield force on the ground.

And for a 21st century democracy that is more absurd than anything Salvador Dali dreamed up.