I SEEM to have seen a lot of flags lately. Years of covering conflict around the world has made me uneasy whenever I see large crowds of people waving flags. Usually – though not always– it signals division, confrontation, sectarianism, a sure fire way of saying my flag makes me different or better. All too often it serves as a leitmotif or precursor to the most turbulent and worst of political showdowns.

Over the past few weeks, the flags I’ve seen most are Kurdish and Iraqi ones and, of course, Spanish and Catalan. Within two days of being in Iraqi Kurdistan covering the independence referendum there, I was in Spain, not for work, but on holiday in Andalucia.

It’s a region of Spain where I’ve spent some considerable time over the past 15 years, and on this occasion my visit coincided with the independence referendum in Catalonia and its ensuing political crisis. Naturally, the talk among my Spanish friends was all about the worrying events on the streets of Barcelona and where it might lead. Them knowing too that I was Scottish meant a desperate desire to sound out my own take on Catalonian independence.

This, not least, because much of the media-driven evidence presented to them they felt, pointed to Scotland being vigorously in favour of Catalonia’s secession.

Most I spoke with found this puzzling and made the point that while Scotland’s independence referendum was legal and passed democratic muster, this was not the case in Catalonia. Why don’t so many Scottish people realise that, one after another they asked?

Repeatedly, I listened to them recount how the Spanish constitution was drawn up. Approved in 1978 just three years after the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, and one year after the first democratic elections since the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, it was written precisely with the aim of preventing another Franco or other political entity threatening the sovereignty of the Spanish state.

That sovereignty, my friends reminded me, resides with the Spanish people, all of the Spanish people. On an issue as important as Catalan independence the whole of Spain must decide on such a matter, they insisted.

It would be easy to dismiss their remarks as being singularly Andalucian, but travel elsewhere in Spain right now and you will hear the same observations echoed by many. And let’s not forget that many Catalans themselves also share such views.

Indeed it’s worth remembering that many Catalans are the children or grandchildren of those displaced from places like Andalucia and Extremadura at the height of the Franco oppression. As such, many don’t want independence given they still have family ties in the rest of Spain. One of my oldest Spanish friends is one such man, with family long settled in Barcelona. He too is old enough to remember growing up in the the ominous shadow of the Franco years.

“For sure the legacy of Franco lies dormant and is not extinct, and we must guard against that, but to compare these times with then is ridiculous,” he told me, adding that such a comparison made him angry.

He, like many Spanish friends – Catalans among them – remain frustrated by the way Scotland’s referendum experience was recently held up alongside that of Catalonia.

While many Catalans mention the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, and the agreement with Westminster that preceded it, as an example of how things could and should happen, that, unfortunately, is not the reality in Spain right now.

Meanwhile for some nationalist activists here in Scotland the cause of Catalonian independence has become a near fixation. In some instances it’s almost as if they’re living out their own second Scottish independence frustrations vicariously through the secessionist crisis in Catalonia.

Listening to some of these activists you would think the time had come to reconstitute the equivalent of the Scottish volunteers who made up the International Brigade that journeyed to Spain in the 1930’s to fight against Franco’s fascist forces. Spain is not yet at that stage.

As a recent article by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) made clear, “Madrid’s conservative government is a popular and easy target for virtue-signalling commentators who lack the nerve to take on the real contemporary Francos in Russia or Venezuela.”’As the piece went on to point out, “Spain is no USSR-like Goliath, nor is the Catalan government of Carles Puigdemont a pious, defenceless David”.

In Scotland so much of the political reaction to the Catalan crisis has been characterised by a simplistic, knee-jerk political response, instead of calm, clear-headed analysis. Arguably at times it’s even contributed to the confrontational mindset that it’s in everyone’s interests to avoid, not least Spain’s. That the Madrid government itself has been confrontational and handled the situation appallingly is undeniable. It’s little wonder that some in Spain and Scotland have drawn parallels with the Francoist era after the Guardia Civil began meting out its horrific violence recently on Barcelona’s streets. But those measures aside, wider political faults lie on both sides and Scotland in its political response might serve its own interests better by keeping this in mind.

Standing up for a people’s right to self-determination is the just and correct thing to do. Democracy needs to be protected, but constitutional considerations, as in Spain, not only also have to be respected, but are an inescapable part there of seeing the democratic process through.

There is another reason why the Scottish Government might well want to take a slightly more tempered response to events in Catalonia.

However the current crisis plays out, and most likely some compromise will be reached, Spain remains a major player in the European Union.

Winning over Madrid’s support for Scotland’s future relationship with Europe given Brexit has not been easy. While signs of improvement in securing that Spanish support were becoming evident, it would be all too easy to sour or squander any gains with Madrid over Catalonia.

If Scotland remains serious about its own long-term independence and European aspirations, it may yet need every powerful ally it can muster. Just as Spain needs calm and clear heads right now in working through its own constitutional crisis over Catalonia, so Scotland needs to see Catalonia’s independence hopes in the context of its own long-term European game plan. Solidarity is one thing strategy is something else.